Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Marco Canora. After years working with and training under Danny Meyer and Tom Colicchio at Gramercy Tavern and Craft, Chef Marco Canora (@marcocanora) opened Hearth in the East Village in 2003, before the neighborhood was a culinary destination. In 2014, Marco kicked off America’s embrace of bone broth with Brodo, serving bone broth in coffee cups out of a side window at Hearth. Over the years, Brodo has been recognized consistently as a bone broth pioneer in outlets such as The New York Times, Time, and Good Morning America. Visit Brodo.com to order some bone broth for yourself, or visit one of their several locations in New York City.
Marco’s first cookbook, Salt to Taste: The Key to Confident, Delicious Cooking was nominated for a James Beard Award. He is also the author of A Good Food Day and Brodo: a Bone Broth Cookbook.
Marco has been profiled in The New York Times, Serious Eats, and Food & Wine. He was a finalist on The Next Iron Chef, a judge on Chopped and Top Chef, and he has appeared on Today, The Chew, Good Morning America, Martha Stewart, and Nightline. In May 2017, Marco won the James Beard Award for Best Chef: New York City.
He lives, cooks, and gardens with his wife and two children in Yonkers, NY.
Transcripts may contain a few typos. With many episodes lasting 2+ hours, it can be difficult to catch minor errors. Enjoy!
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Tim Ferriss: Hello boys and girls, ladies and germs, just a quick preface. There’s a delicious section of the interview that we moved to the end of the episode about how Marco taught me and my girlfriend how to make world-class gnocchi. If you want to learn the secrets behind perfect gnocchi, be sure to listen to the whole thing…
Tim Ferriss: Hello, boys and — oh, my God. What am I? 12? My voice is cracking, people. This is Tim Ferriss. Welcome to another episode of The Tim Ferriss Show. That is how excited I am today to bring to you my guest for this conversation, chef Marco Canora. Let me get into this. After years working with and training under Danny Meyer and Tom Colicchio, you may know those names, at Gramercy Tavern and Craft, chef Marco Canora, old friend of mine on Instagram you can find him, @marcocanora, opened Hearth, that’s H-E-A-R-T-H, in the East Village in 2003, before the neighborhood was a culinary destination. In 2014, Marco helped kick off America’s embrace of bone broth with Brodo, B-R-O-D-O, serving bone broth in coffee cups out of a side window at Hearth. Over the years, Brodo’s been recognized consistently as a bone broth pioneer in outlets such as the New York Times, Time, and Good Morning America. You can visit brodo.com to try some of their famous bone broth for yourself.
I’ve had many gallons of it, of every possible variety, or visit one of their several locations in New York City. Marco’s first cookbook, Salt to Taste, subtitled The Key to Confident, Delicious Cooking, was nominated for a James Beard Award. That’s like the Oscars of the cooking and culinary world. He is also the author of A Good Food Day, and Brodo, subtitle, A Bone Broth Cookbook.
Marco has been profiled in the New York Times, Serious Eats, and Food & Wine. He was a finalist on The Next Iron Chef, a judge on Chopped and Top Chef, and he has appeared on Today, The Chew, Good Morning America, Martha Stewart, and Nightline. In May 2017, Marco won the James Beard Award for best chef in New York City. He lives, cooks, and gardens with his wife and two children in Yonkers, New York. You can find him, as I mentioned on Instagram, @marcocanora, online, restauranthearth.com and brodo.com. I will warn people in advance, I know that this is family programming, we will likely have a font of obscenities from both of us in this conversation. So just strap in and be prepared for that.
Marco, welcome to the show, my friend.
Marco Canora: Tim, it’s so great to be here. I’m absolutely thrilled to be a part of this amazing cast that you’ve done and a little nervous, but more excited than nervous.
Tim Ferriss: Well, you sexy son of a bitch, let’s just get right into it. I had an opportunity to go and look back at some of our early interactions as documented in The 4-Hour Chef, because we had a lot of adventures and misadventures related to all things in that, and one of the first conversations, or I should say the beginning of one of the very first conversations we had went like this. “It’s really assy, right?” “Grassy?” I asked. “No, assy,” Marco repeated loudly over the bustle of the bar. So could you provide some context for what we were talking about? And if you can’t remember, I can certainly refresh the memory.
Marco Canora: I can’t remember the producer of the bottle of wine that we were referring to, but at Hearth Restaurant, there’s what we call the kitchen pass. So you could sit right in our kitchen and watch everything going on, and it’s very loud and the restaurant was full so there was a lot of noise and I poured you a sip of a red wine. I don’t remember the grape variety, maybe you do, but —
Tim Ferriss: It was a Cabernet Franc.
Marco Canora: Cab Franc. And we were just talking about the wine and I was smelling it and tasting it, as were you. And it’s one of my favorite wine descriptors because there’s this barnyard horse’s ass thing in some wines that I really love. So I used assy and your eyebrows went up and I don’t know if you’ve ever heard that as the wine descriptor before.
Tim Ferriss: I had not. So the sentence that I put in the book was — this excited me for three reasons. Now you’re going to have to correct my French. I’m not going to get this right. But the Chinon, which is a Bernard Baudry 2010 Loire Valley, was the best Cabernet Franc I’d ever had. I’d found a wine descriptor I could understand, and I’m very fond of ass in general. Now, my writing style may have changed a little bit since but, suffice to say, in this conversation, I just want to say this upfront for folks, we’re not going to be talking just about cooking. We’re going to be talking about living. We’re going to be talking about senses. We’re going to be talking about eating and for most of you out there, regardless of how trendy fasting is, and I’m a big fan of fasting, you can’t do it forever.
And you likely eat at least a few times a day or a few times a week. So we’re going to be covering a lot of texture around the art of living and nourishment, and that can take a lot of forms. So I just want to say that because part of the reason I enjoy spending so much time with you is that I feel like a lot of the philosophies and principles that you have formed to guide your life overlap a lot with some of mine. And that’s in part because I’ve adopted quite a few of yours. So I’m going to jump to a section right after this introduction to Hearth and The 4-Hour Chef in The Professional section. There’s The Domestic, The Wild, The Scientist, and The Professional.
And this section is called The Mantra, and here it goes: “Cooking is not hard. Cooking is not hard.” Marco repeated this five times during our evening together: “I feel like I’ve pulled the wool over everyone’s eyes as a successful chef in New York City. Anyone could do this.” “Come on,” I said, as I pointed to my vegetable salad, which was ethereal and juicy, not an adjective I use for salads, parenthetical, easily one of the best salads in my life. He laughed and waved a hand dismissively. People say, “Oh, my God, this is amazing. Just dress it while the vegetables are warm, it all soaks in. Pour the oil on after the red wine vinegar and add salt and pepper, anyone could do this.” Oil after the vinegar, why? Marco explained if you put on the oil first, it deflects the vinegar into the bottom of the dish where it pulls. So this is as best as I could recall it.
And I’m sure I passed this by you. An example of simplicity, but powerful simplicity. And we’re going to get to more crazy stories and hilarious stories, because I have to bring our friend, JZ, not not the media and hip hop icon, but Jeffrey Zurofsky. Easily mix up. He goes by the initials. So he’ll have to make an appearance at some point, since he —
Marco Canora: Sure. He introduced us.
Tim Ferriss: You never went to culinary school. Is that right?
Marco Canora: That is correct.
Tim Ferriss: Okay. Now I’ve heard you — well, I’ve read rather, you say in interviews, “Yeah. I’m not that impressed by culinary school grads. I’d rather take someone who’s done a year of staging,” or something along those lines. Could you elaborate on that?
Marco Canora: Cooking is such a trade and to think that you can get good at butchering a salmon by taking a semester of fish butchery courses is just absurd. As you know, of course there’s basic techniques that you could learn, but it’s like playing a musical instrument. Being adept in the kitchen and being efficient with a knife and being able to filet or butcher meat or fish or cut vegetables, it’s an act of engaging with your senses. In my opinion, it’s just one of those things that can’t be taught and it’s through repetition you get great. And my first job at Dean & DeLuca in New York City in the early ’90s I made soup for them at their big shop on Broadway and Prince, and they would go through 50 gallons of soup a day and like I had to cut all the vegetables for that soup.
And you know how I got my knife skills? From cutting those vegetables every day for a couple years. I mean, it’s incredible. So I don’t want to put down places like The Culinary Institute of America. They do great work. And I think the kids that come out of there are prepared and they have a good foundation, but ultimately I just think it’s a better proposition to get paid for school, and that’s what going to work young is. It’s like you work really hard and you might not make a ton of money but you’re getting paid for the knowledge that you’re acquiring. And that just seems like a better ROI to me than going in debt for 100 grand and coming out and then starting that process.
Tim Ferriss: What does it mean to stage? People may not recognize that term.
Marco Canora: Look, I’m not sure you could even do that anymore in the current world. I mean, certainly not in New York and probably this country at large. Maybe in Europe it still goes on, but it’s this idea of okay, I don’t have a lot of experience, you’re a great restaurant, I’m super into cooking and I want to devote my life to it so I want to stage at your restaurant. I’m going to go there and I’m going to watch at first and then little by little maybe I’ll help with menial tasks, and then maybe that will grow. But it’s basically allow me to be present in your kitchen so I could learn and maybe you’ll allow me to help too for free.
Tim Ferriss: So it’s apprenticing of a sort. The S-T-A-G-E, I’m imagining that’s French. So that’s basically a lost practice at this point.
How did you first get into cooking? When did you know “This is what I want to do?”
Marco Canora: It was from growing up in a household with a mom who cared about cooking and was a great cook. And we had a garden in upstate New York. One of my earliest memories is my mom picking zucchini flowers out of the garden and then dipping them in a simple pastello, which is just a flour and water batter and pan frying them in olive oil, and then putting a little bit of salt on them and eating them while they’re hot. So it was from the earth to the pan, to the plate, to my mouth in a matter of an hour and a half. And that shit resonated with me and it’s still with me today. So the very quick and simple answer is from growing up in a home with a mom who cared and knew how to cook and believed in the power of cooking.
Tim Ferriss: So for those you’ve worked with, what would they say your superpowers are? What are you good at?
Marco Canora: I’m good at being demanding without being an asshole about it. Everybody wants to respect a chef or a leader who’s demanding and hold you accountable. And I think the tricky part for anybody trying to drive a kitchen or drive any project is to be disciplined and to be demanding, but to be able to do it in a way that garners support, instead of the opposite of support. Which is like, I’ve worked for some really demanding guys and I respected the fact that they wanted it to be great, but they were total assholes about it and it didn’t motivate me to want to be part of their success.
And I think a nugget of what has helped me through my career is I’ve been able to find that balance of being a total obsessive, perfectionist, demanding, hard knocks guy, but at the same time, balance that out with making sure they understand it’s from a good place and from a kind place, and for the common good of being really proud of the hard work that we’re doing.
Tim Ferriss: How do you do that? You don’t have to name names, but how might the language look? And it’s like every day you’re going to have a chance to correct.
Marco Canora: Yeah, that’s what I wanted to say. Tim, it’s not so much about language, it’s about actions, and that’s the beauty of work. And that’s the beauty of kitchens in my opinion, is that happens through being alongside and showing everybody that there’s not really a hierarchy and that you’re willing to do whatever it takes. And you’re willing to bend over backwards to support and help people achieve things and have successes on their stations. And there’s been many, many kitchens and times and days that I was running the kitchen and a cook would have a really bad night and they would go down and it would not be pretty.
Tim Ferriss: Go down, you mean like go down in flames?
Marco Canora: Yeah, go down in flames. And it’s high pressure. And I’m sure at the time, I freaked out and screamed probably too much. But the thing that I made sure I did was that at the end of the night, we would talk about it. And the next day I would show up early so that when that person showed up, I was right there with that person. We would go over the prep list and we together would make sure that we wouldn’t have a night like that again, because it’s not good for anybody. And it’s like, I was invested in their success. And I think that that’s one nugget of what I would say to answer your question.
Tim Ferriss: What were or are some of the most common reasons for someone crumbling under pressure? When they have a bad night and they just collapse psychologically or otherwise, what are the most common reasons for that?
Marco Canora: Mostly it’s like their inability to control their thinking, like this notion of getting flustered. I think it’s like you come in at 1:00 and you prep as hard as you can to be ready at 6:00. And then you’re like, “Okay, I got through the first part of the day.” And then it’s like, the tickets start rolling in and then come 7:00, 7:30, really shit starts happening. And I think people lose their composure and they get flustered, and then it’s just like a landslide, and then you just go down. And that’s the most common thing, I think, in my opinion. Obviously, sometimes people just aren’t ready and they don’t have the skills required, but more often, it’s a mind game, I think.
Tim Ferriss: So it’s just panic, basically.
Marco Canora: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: They panic and then they lose the ability to execute on the skills they actually do have.
Marco Canora: Yes, exactly. It’s an exercise in focus.
Tim Ferriss: So maybe you could tell me a story from your experience. You can’t control the whole kitchen. Or I should say, rather, let’s say you’re a line cook. So you’re not top dog. And you’re in a situation where, “Oh, shit.”
Marco Canora: It’s going down.
Tim Ferriss: “Sarah and Tony called in sick last minute. This is a Tuesday night, it’s not supposed to be big. We’ve got 50 menus up at the same time. Ah, fuck, and everybody ordered the roast chicken,” or whatever. And you’re like, “This is going to be a fucking 12-car pile up,” and things start going sideways. Can you tell a story of pulling out of a tailspin or what you do in a situation like that. What you do, in your own head, what your self-talk is when that stuff is starting to unfold.
Marco Canora: You know what’s wild, Tim, that scenario that you paint, it’s kind of like an every single night scenario when you’re running a busy restaurant in New York City. It’s not like an outlier of a situation because every night, in a really busy restaurant, I mean, I’ll speak to my experience in New York City. It’s like you get punched in the face every single night, because you serve 220. People want to eat between 7:30 and 8:45 and, or 9:00. And that happens every single night. So it’s not much of an outlying experience, but I’ll tell you, you’ve heard the word mise en place, right?
Tim Ferriss: Yes.
Marco Canora: So half of the battle, to win the battle, more than half of it is to make sure you’re listed out early, you get in and you win the prep half of the game. The world of cooks and kitchens, it’s like two halves of the game. There’s the first half, which is up to —
Tim Ferriss: I was just going to say, for people who don’t. So mise en place, or mise, correct me if I’m wrong, it’s basically having everything prepped and in its proper place so that you can execute when it comes time to actually cook. Is that accurate?
Marco Canora: Correct. Yeah. Every bit of everything that you need, needs to be in the right place. And that’s not just the food ingredients, but it’s the pots and the pans and the plates and the spoons. It’s the tools in addition to all the foodstuffs. So it’s like a holistic picture of everything. I mean, one could even say your cup of water that you need as part of your mise en place.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. And I interrupted you though. You were saying, the first half of the game is —
Marco Canora: Yeah, there’s two halves. And look, in the restaurant world, there’s two halves of the game. There’s the prep half that you have to get ready for when the curtain goes up. And then guests start coming through the door and that’s the beginning of the second half. And inevitably, because people have their habits and you can’t change it. I mean, I’ve been wishing that people would eat at 6:00 for 15 years of my life, but they don’t. So, yeah. And the second half is service and inevitably you get pummeled in the middle and you need to be able to get to the other side of that and not get overwhelmed by the stacking up of tickets. And it might sound basic and you’ll probably squeeze some more detail out of me, but it’s just like, there’s no better time than in the shit to step back and take this approach of one ticket at a time, because you will get to the other side of it.
I kind of always love those moments because it’s like, the focus, you go into this state of focus and, I don’t want to overdramatize it, but it really does become a dance. You’re in your head and you’re just doing this stuff and you’re putting up this beautiful food and it always resonated with me. I love it. And you’ve got to get into the zone.
Tim Ferriss: What type of mentorship or boss have you most flourished under? It doesn’t have to be a specific name. It could certainly. But one thing I certainly wonder about, and this may be a whole separate topic, but if the demanding chef culture can exist today in some form, it just seems like there must be so many landmines. And I’m not saying there’s also a lot of bad behavior all over the place, so we don’t have to get into that. But it makes me think of like, for instance, Jeffrey, our friend. Jeffrey Zurowski told me a story. I don’t think he would mind me telling it, where he was working for some French chef and very demanding guy, but very gifted, very good at teaching. And Jeffrey, he was always in the way.
He just could not figure out where to put himself where he wasn’t fucking everything up. So this guy would say to him, he’d go, “Jeffrey, you are like my dick, always between my legs.” And I thought that was the funniest thing I’d ever heard. They probably can’t really do that now. I’m not saying you should, but it is pretty funny. So, I’m curious though, for you personally, because different people thrive under different styles, what type of styles have you thrived under would you say?
Marco Canora: It’s interesting in my case, Tim, because I spent most of my career as the kind of chef in charge, if you will. There was very few years at Gramercy Tavern where I was under people. And Tom Colicchio, who’s a mentor of mine, he was very hands-off. He gave me all the space I needed and carte blanche to do whatever I want. And the way he infused himself was very in the shadows and it wasn’t aggressive. So, I think, for me, I respond best to people that show me confidence and faith. So I did as well as I did at Gramercy Tavern because the highers-up there allowed me the room to grow and shine.
Tim Ferriss: So in the process of doing some homework for this conversation, which I always enjoy doing with friends, because it’d be super creepy and weird if I was like, “Hey, I spent five hours doing internet research on you,” but I have the excuse when we have these conversations. So I read that when you were starting out, now I don’t know if starting out is quite the right way to put it, but you made a list of, say, five restaurants in New York City that you wanted to work for or at. And you started knocking on doors with a suit and the whole nine yards and then you ended up at Gramercy Tavern. So how did you end up, not only at Gramercy Tavern? So I want to hear the story of selection, how did you choose those restaurants? And then this can wait until later, but separately, once you landed there, how did you have free reign? Why would anyone give you free reign in such a situation? So there you go.
Marco Canora: I started as a line cook in Gramercy Tavern with no free reign, but I got to a sous chef position in a year. So the first year I had to prove my merit and I was very nervous because I hadn’t worked in any great kitchens, but I was very determined. And so it took me a year to get to that place where I got some freedom.
Tim Ferriss: Is that fast?
Marco Canora: Yes.
Tim Ferriss: Okay. So we’re going to come back to the restaurant selection, but let’s focus on this for a second. Now, I will accept hard work, but the fact of the matter is a lot of people work hard. A lot of people put in a lot of time, that can’t be the only explanation. Why were you able to do that within a year? How did you approach it differently? Or what did you do that other people didn’t do?
Marco Canora: I think it was like this. It was like every waking hour, I was thinking about it. And I tell cooks this today, it’s like, part of your success is not only during the hours you walk through this door. I was obsessed and I was determined to not fail, and that drove me to read and think and make lists outside of the restaurant. So that when I walked into the restaurant, I had, not only a list of what to do, but I had it plotted on a timeline so that I would be really efficient with the four or five hours I had leading up into showtime.
Tim Ferriss: You never showed up and then figured out what you were going to do. You showed up with a schedule and agenda for prep time.
Marco Canora: Yeah. A timeline, schedule, and yeah. And it’s like, downstairs is where you prep and where the walk-in boxes are and upstairs where the kitchen is. And I would watch cooks go up and down the stairs because they forgot this and that and the other thing. And I was like, poor time management, buddy. You’re failing because you’re not doing the work pre and you’re going up and down the stairs all fucking day, and that’s why you’re always not ready at 6:00. So this attention to detail around, not only the list of things, but also plotted on a timeline, really serves me well.
Tim Ferriss: I feel like that going up and down the stairs all fucking day is a great metaphor for people to use. I wrote it down for myself. I’m thinking to myself, where am I running up and down the stairs all day?
Marco Canora: Exactly.
Tim Ferriss: Am I going between six tabs constantly all the fucking time? If so, why am I doing that? What am I doing? Am I opening and closing my laptop 17 times a day? If so, what’s happening there? It adds up. Yeah, it’s a very good question.
Okay. So you said lists, you said you read, does reading mean, and I imagine a part of it is getting familiar obviously with the menu for that evening, so that you have everything that you need. Any other types of reading, when you say reading?
Marco Canora: It was just immersing myself in food culture and food magazines at the time. And I mean, it was before the crazy digital world we live in today. I was so in love with the dining scene, the restaurant scene, the food scene, plating food, seasonal ingredients. It was deeply embedded in my soul and it was singularly focused. I was singularly focused. To this day, I commiserate with my wife: I’m the opposite of a Renaissance man, Tim. I have been embedded in the world of restaurants and food and cooking for my entirety of my adult life. And it hasn’t really afforded me the ability to dive into other, especially deeply dive into other pursuits. And that’s fine with me. I’m not begrudging it. It’s just like, I think one of the keys to success in the world of restaurants and cooking and chefing is this all-in type attitude.
Tim Ferriss: One thing that’s always impressed me about you, and honestly, there’s part of me that’s really envious of this covet sounds too weird, but I do have this kind of pang of envy when we’re texting or talking. Because God, it’s got to be coming up on 10 years, if not just past 10 years now that we’ve first met, which is fucking bonkers to think about.
Marco Canora: Yeah, it’s more than 10, for sure.
Tim Ferriss: It’s definitely more than 10.
Marco Canora: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: And when I ask you what you’re up to, what you’re excited about, very often, I mean, there are other things of course, but very often you’re like, “Yeah, I’m super stoked about cooking this, and I’m doing this, and have this garden.” And you are as excited as I have ever seen you about good food and making good food when you’re home. I mean, it’s so refreshing to see in a sense, because what I am used to very often is someone who is, this includes many people who are successful in whatever given field, is they have their thing they do for work. And when they are not working, the last thing they would ever want to do is more of what they consider their work. But that’s not you. That definitely does not seem to be you.
Marco Canora: No. In my later years, it’s like I’m on this mission to spread the gospel of cooking. I think that it’s one of the most valuable things one can teach themselves. And I do more cooking at home today than I do in the restaurant. And yeah, the wonderful thing about food and cooking and the reason why it could become all encompassing is because it’s that act that we all do. So it’s like, my daughters need to eat every day, I need to eat every day, everyone needs to eat. Well, not every day, some people have fasting practices, but you get the idea. And it’s ever changing and it’s constantly dynamic and it never ceases to feed my soul. It never does.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. It’s incredible. So, bookmark, coming back to bookmark, I promised I would cover this with people. And I want to know, selecting those five or so restaurants where you put on your God knows what. I would love to see a photo of that suit back in the day.
Marco Canora: Oh, my God.
Tim Ferriss: So you put on your suit and you go to knock on some doors and smile.
Marco Canora: For the record, I also had hair to my ass and I didn’t know what to do with it. Because I was like, what am I going to do with my hair going into these interviews? So my girlfriend at the time convinced me that the best approach would just do a single braid down the back of my head. So I was in a suit with a single braid to my waist. So, yeah, it was quite something. And the list was formed in my apartment in San Francisco, because I was living in San Francisco at the time and my girlfriend had gotten accepted to NYU Film School. So we both decided to come back together. And it was one of these trends — I was in my late 20s and I was like, “Okay, well, up until now, cooking has just been a means to like, for…” I loved it and I was good at it, but I never thought seriously about what a career would look like.
So that was a big moment, like moving back to New York and deciding that this was going to be my career. And the list was really — at the time Gourmet magazine did restaurant reviews and I had a stack of them because I subscribed to it. And so, basically, I looked at the restaurant reviews over the last nine months and took notes, looked at the New York Times reviews, took some notes, and then based on what I was excited about that drove the list. So I wanted it to be Italian-ish. I wasn’t super interested in the old school French restaurants, I was interested in fresher vegetable types. So Diane Forley had a restaurant called Verbena and she got a lot of play for working with botanicals and vegetables and that was her big schtick, and I was really turned on by that.
And Lidia Bastianich had her fancy Italian restaurant, Felidia, and that spoke to me and I was excited about that. And then, Danny Meyer and Tom Colicchio partnered, and Danny just did Union Square and Tom had an Italian bent, so that appealed to me. So, yeah, I got to the city with this list and hit the streets, old school style, with my resume and my suit and my single braid to my ass.
Tim Ferriss: So what was your pitch?
Marco Canora: Yeah. It was tough because I didn’t have a whole lot to go on. I had worked at a few restaurants here and there, but I had a business degree from Pace University and I worked in a handful of restaurants that nobody ever heard of. So my pitch was “I’m ready to commit to this as my life, and I want to find the right place that I could really learn and really dive into.” And the pitch was this idea of selling these folks on the level of commitment I would have if they were to hire me.
Tim Ferriss: Okay. That’s super interesting, because I’m imagining you’re going through these reviews in Gourmet magazine, and at the time this is probably 2010/2011, and I know COVID may have affected things, but I wrote, I’m just saying this to provide some context for folks, right?
Marco Canora: Sure.
Tim Ferriss: So in The 4-Hour Chef, wrote all about my first real inebriated five and a half hour orgy of gastronomical delights. And at the end of that section I said, “By the end of the evening,” I concluded what many others had, “Hearth is the most underrated restaurant in all of New York City.” This is saying a lot in a city of 24,000 restaurants. So there are, no matter how you slice it, we could debate the number, but there are a lot of restaurants in New York City. And you have just picked a couple of the hottest restaurants. You can’t be the only person knocking on doors, right?
Marco Canora: Oh, yeah.
Tim Ferriss: And so I’m thinking to myself, “Well, wait a second now, you’re going to, if we’re thinking of it, almost like college admissions, you’re going to Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and you’re like, “Hey, let me in.” “Okay.” The percentage of the time they say, “Yes.” Has got to be pretty low, because surely, they’re going to have 70 people working as line cooks.
Marco Canora: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: And so, if I were in their shoes and you offered that, I would have to out think, I would have to have a high degree of confidence that you could at least handle the work that I would be throwing at you, right?
Marco Canora: Mm-hmm (affirmative)
Tim Ferriss: But I understand the commitment was first and foremost. This is the commitment that I plan to give if you were to hire me. What else was there to the pitch that would help them say yes?
Marco Canora: The beauty about that world at that time is, you come in and you do what they call a trail. So it was very easy for —
Tim Ferriss: A trail, T-R-A-I-L?
Marco Canora: Yeah. Trail. So they say, and this happened pretty much everywhere. They were like, “Well…” They didn’t say this, but like, “Your resume is not that impressive, why don’t you come in and suit up and just hang out and watch, and…” And that’s common practice. I mean, not so much today. You come in and you spend a full day in the kitchen, you suit up, and they get the people, the cooks and the sous-chefs and the chefs, they get a sense of your vibe, and your energy, and your ability to just navigate the kitchen. It’s like when you said Jeffrey Zurofsky was always in the way of the chef, right?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Marco Canora: Part of what you need to do on your trail is you need to be adept to the movements of a kitchen and show them that you’re not a deer in headlights, not knowing where to fucking stand. You know what I mean?
Tim Ferriss: Are you just playing tag where you’re avoiding anyone touching you? Or do you have responsibilities? Are you just the ghost; they’re like, “Here, we don’t want to hear you, we don’t want to see you, be a ninja.”
Marco Canora: That’s the thing. You need to have a good EQ and you need to go in there and you need to figure out when it’s okay to poke and try to work, and can I lend a hand. Or when it’s time to be quiet and be in the corner. And so a lot of it is nuance and you need to be able to read the situations, because maybe the first two hours of the prep day is very different than the first hour of when the shit hits the fan, right?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Marco Canora: So you need to have sense about you, and that helps guide whether they’re going to make a decision to hire you or not, right?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Marco Canora: So I’ve had trails who were absolutely useless and they didn’t know where to stand, they didn’t know when it was the right time to help or not help, and at the end of that, the cooks are like, “Who was that freakazoid? Please don’t hire him.” Or all the cooks and the sous-chefs are like, “Wow, that guy was really helpful.” Or, “That girl that was really helpful, and he really helped out.” So that’s what it’s about during a trail. And I did well during my trail, because I was offered a job.
Tim Ferriss: Do they give you any direction beforehand? Or they just like, “Hey, come trail,” wink, wink. And the understanding is like, “I want to see if you can figure out when and how to help.”
Marco Canora: It’s unsaid, but of course, there’s a little bit of guidance. They’ve got to show you where the chef whites are, and change in there and like, “We’ll start your day here.” So there’s some guide rails for sure, but generally, I mean, I know my approach is to like, “Say less because it’s a better test.”
Tim Ferriss: What do you mean? Oh, say less to the person who asks you for a trail?
Marco Canora: Yeah. When the trail comes into our kitchen, it’s like I try to not set up too much of a framework because I think it speaks to their level of ability.
Tim Ferriss: Adaptability.
Marco Canora: Yeah. Adaptability and ability and just to follow cues if you will.
Marco Canora: As I think about my future, Tim, and the fact that through — I’m in my early 50s and through my 60s, I really want to figure out a way to teach people to cook, because I believe in the power of cooking so much, and it’s the thing that I know how to do best, and I love the process of teaching, I love what it does for somebody when they learn how to cook, because there’s implications to being a good cook that’s wide implication.
So like to one’s own health and to one’s ability to connect with the people under their roof or the people they love, and there’s just so much to be gained from devoting some time and energy into learning how to cook. And I want that to be my next-phase mission in life.
Tim Ferriss: I endorse that. I endorse that wholeheartedly. And you think a lot about nutrition, I mean, this is, I think in part how Jeffrey initially connected us is because of The 4-Hour Body slow-carb diet, and so on. I see a bullet here in front of me and my prep notes that I want to ask you about, and we’re going to move all over the place, obviously, but that is the way my brain functions or malfunctions, recent 45-day CGM, tha t’s continuous glucose monitor experience, why did you decide to use a continuous glucose monitor? And what did you learn from that experience?
Marco Canora: Why? Because I’m a bit obsessed over the physiology of my own body and what are the things that drive that physiology, whether it be sleep or cold plunging or fasting or diet, and having the ability to test and learn around my dietary choices was so intriguing to me. And once it was available and I knew it was out there, I reached out to Frank Lipman, who’s a friend and a doctor that I go to see in New York, and he figured out a way to get a CGM on my arm.
And so I did it just at a sheer curiosity and a desire to just, it’s so cliche to say this, but just optimize my diet a bit, and understanding blood sugar, I totally buy into keeping blood sugar levels steady, I think is hugely critical to all kinds of health.
Tim Ferriss: So what did you learn? What were the biggest takeaways?
Marco Canora: I’ll tell you, the craziest biggest takeaway that I feel like should be on that billboard, you might ask me about, it won’t, but it’s like, “Take a walk after you eat.” It is astonishing. And how can it be that I’ve never heard that in my whole life. That should be taught in first grade, because the effect of it is insane. And I saw it firsthand. And I think that the folks at Levels are seeing it more and more and more, because this message is getting out as they accumulate data, but the power of a 14-minute walk to reduce the spike of your blood sugar, regardless of what you eat, is extraordinary.
Tim Ferriss: Wow. No kidding. And so you use Levels in this experiment?
Marco Canora: I did.
Tim Ferriss: That’s incredible. Why 14 minutes? Is that the length of your favorite Guns N’ Roses?
Marco Canora: Oh, no, no, no, no. Did I say 14 or 15? Just a little walk.
Tim Ferriss: Okay.
Marco Canora: 10 minutes, maybe five minutes. I didn’t really test the length of the walk, but it was nothing severe. It was just like — I would walk around the [crosstalk 01:20:11]
Tim Ferriss: So it’s not exercise? It’s not go to the gym or doing pushups? Just going for a walk around the block a few times.
Marco Canora: Yes. Totally chill, walk around the block, and I couldn’t believe it. It’s amazing to me. So highly, highly recommend that, it should be taught everywhere because it’s incredibly effective.
Tim Ferriss: That’s wild man. I haven’t thought, you just prompted something to come to my mind, which I haven’t thought of in a few decades. And I’m going to apologize to anyone who hears this and understands what I’m saying, because I’m going to probably butcher it because my tones are off these days, but there’s a, I want to say, well, maybe it’s not so much a proverb, it’s an expression in Mandarin Chinese, which is something like [foreign language 01:21:03], which is, “If you walk a hundred steps after you eat, you will live to be 99.” That’s literally the expression.
Marco Canora: That’s amazing.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. And it’s just like, huh. It turns out a few thousand years of trial and error —
Marco Canora: How did you find that expression?
Tim Ferriss: I mean, I was living in China, and this is a long time ago. I mean, this is 1996. So this is back when Beijing was like people’s liberation green army jackets in the winter, these green jackets and bicycles, right? So Beijing is a different city now. And I was there for six months at two universities, and I mean, that was the last time I studied Chinese was around that time. But you just saying that prompted that to pop up in my brain, which is wild. So —
Marco Canora: There’s a lot there, for sure. I mean, that was my experience and many others, and I find it fascinating and sitting here in 2021 and like, I’ve been embedding myself and trying to learn about nutrition, and health, and we have some mutual friends and people we follow and it’s just amazing to me that I’ve never come across that.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. How wild. Any other insights that [crosstalk 01:22:35]?
Marco Canora: Yeah for sure. Yep. The other big one was to combine the macronutrients. If you just eat a carb, a complex carb or a simple carb by itself, as opposed to eating it alongside fat and protein, so this idea of a well-rounded plate that made a huge difference as well. And one night in particular, it was a fun game too having this thing on my arm, by the way. So one night I went and I had a business dinner at Hearth and I approached it with this idea of like, you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to eat everything and I’m going to eat a lot of it. So I went nuts, and I just ate all the things. Like garlic breads, and wine, and cocktails, and desserts, and I probably consumed 3,000 calories.
And I was like, “I want to see if I could make my Levels app blow up.” And the astounding thing was, because it was a lot of fiber, and a lot of protein, and a lot of fat in addition to all the bad, simple carbs and sugars and wines and all that, the blood spiking — I didn’t spike that high, and I think it’s because having fiber, and having fat, and having protein alongside these bad players of simple carbs and sugar helps mitigate that spike.
Tim Ferriss: Did you exercise earlier in the day by any chance? Do you?
Marco Canora: Yeah, my exercise is always — I’m an exercise first thing kind of guy.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Marco Canora: Although my lifestyle is active because I live in New York, I’m always on my feet and I’m walking a lot, right?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Marco Canora: So that must play into things as well.
Tim Ferriss: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Fascinating.
Marco Canora: I loved having that thing on my arm. I want to do it again because there’s so much cool testing and learning you can do.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. You can do some cool stuff. I’m going to do another CGM experiment soon, because the last time I did a continuous glucose monitor experiment was in 2008/9 for The 4-Hour Body, with the version one Dexcom, which you had to implant in your abdomen, which I had to basically get off the back of a truck, meaning through gray area means, because it was only intended for type one diabetics and you couldn’t get it otherwise. And there was an external screen/device that you would hang on your belt, like a beeper. There was no iPhone. And it was very much —
Marco Canora: Different experience.
Tim Ferriss: Gen one. And it’ll be much more interesting to do now with the vastly improved technology. And I’m so curious to see my takeaways, because the tools are just so much better. And I have more tools. Because I have the Oura Ring, which I wear for sleep. I have Eight Sleep, which I use to cool my bed typically. And I noticed something just in this last week and I was like, “Wow, that’s really wild.” I still need to replicate it. But A, I’ve noticed, and I knew this already, but that the most obvious takeaway from the Oura Ring is, if you drink certain types of booze past a certain point, your sleep is just garbage. It’s so clear.
Marco Canora: Totally.
Tim Ferriss: Especially deep sleep. However, what I noticed when looking at my recovery and sleep scores on the Oura as an experiment recently, I had two large glasses of wine, Rosa in this case. And that is usually enough to completely destroy my sleep. But what I decided to do was to decrease the temperature of my bed more than usual, to turn down the temperature, because one of the symptoms of drinking too much alcohol is my resting body temperature goes up at night.
Marco Canora: Yep.
Tim Ferriss: And so I did that, for those who have an Eight Sleep, I went from like a -3 in the beginning to a -4. And that would usually ascend up to waking. So I lowered it, let’s just call it 33 percent, an additional 33 percent. And what I found was I woke up feeling much more refreshed and my numbers on the Oura Ring look totally different. So I need to replicate it.
Marco Canora: That’s incredible.
Tim Ferriss: It’s super interesting as a hypothesis to be like, “Okay. If I suppress some of the symptoms of alcohol consumption, which would — so some of the symptoms would include lower heart rate variability. So normally I’d be like 33 to 40, I guess it’s milliseconds, I think it’s ms is this increment, I’m not sure actually what the unit is. So the 33-40 on the Oura Ring, if I drink, it drops down low to mid 20s. So that’d be one symptom.
Another symptom would be the lowered, sorry, the higher temperature, higher resting heart rate. And it’s hard to know if all of these symptoms happen simultaneously, or if some of those phenomena caused the others, right?
Marco Canora: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: So for instance, does the elevated temperature then result in the lower heart rate variability, right? And so what, at the very least, I mean, it’s an interesting idea because I don’t drink a lot these days because I feel it much more as I’ve grown older, but I enjoy it. I’m not going to lie. I know it’s very out of vogue, and all the hip kids are like, “Oh, I’ll just do ketamine.” And I’m like, “Well, I don’t know.” And maybe a time and a place, but I still like my wine with friends.
You know, I don’t want to be a truffle pig snorting ketamine at the dinner table. So the idea that you have these tools, and if you’re able to form a hypothesis and then try to replicate it, which is super important because it’s easy to fool yourself, is super exciting. And the take a walk after you eat. Because I could look at it, “Okay.” Because I have noticed that if I’m going to drink, if I give my body four or five hours to metabolize before I go to bed, my sleep is much improved.
So if I’m going to have three glasses of wine, if I have it at an early dinner at 5:30, I’m going to be much better off all my markers, than if I have it at eight o’clock dinner, right?
Marco Canora: Sure.
Tim Ferriss: There’s a question of, “Well, what happens if I still have the eight o’clock dinner, but then I go for 30 minu — Let’s say I make it, it could be a 10-minute walk. It could be a 30-minute walk, right?
Marco Canora: Yep.
Tim Ferriss: See how that affects things. And it’s super tricky because you’re an amateur, obviously we’re all amateur, if we’re doing it this way, scientists, in a sense. And there are a million variables, but you can start to play with these things. You know?
Marco Canora: Absolutely. One of the other things I noticed that I found intriguing was this idea of metabolizing alcohol. And every time I drank, I would see a blood sugar spike that would come at 3:30 in the morning. And you hear about the fact that it takes a while for your liver to metabolize liquor, and the reason why you wake up, you spoke about overheating and stuff, but it’s also because that’s when your liver finally metabolizes it, and you have a blood sugar spike. And it happens like five hours later. So yeah, all kinds of cool stuff around that Levels app or any CGM app. And yeah, I’m dying to do it again. And funny, I know that you’re into sauna. I actually bought a barrel sauna after I saw yours in Austin. But I had to figure out a way to not stop my sauna, so I had a huge wool felt thing that I would put over my sensor, and then I would wrap it with string, so that’ll protect the sensor because it doesn’t like 208 degrees.
Tim Ferriss: So you put a Russian banya wool hat on your arm to protect —
Marco Canora: That’s exactly what it was. Yeah. And then I wrapped it. And then I wrapped it.
Tim Ferriss: That’s pretty gangster. You looked like some kind of, I don’t know.
Marco Canora: Yeah. Badass.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, badass warrior from Last of the Mohicans or something. That’s amazing. Great book, by the way, I’ve recently read, but very dated for those people who are sensitive to such things, but beautifully written. So let’s jump into some nutrition stuff. And this is going to be a segue into talking about Brodo, which I want to ask you about. So one thing we chatted about in your kitchen when we were bullshitting over tea and waiting for the oven to heat up was, I think you actually brought it up, this book Metabolical, which is: it’s not what’s in the food, it’s what’s been done to the food. And I think the example you gave was some snack food made out of chickpeas. And I would love for you to sort of replay or just speak to that because it —
Marco Canora: Sure.
Tim Ferriss: — highlights something that’s super, super important that I also need to think more about, honestly, which is that the ingredient panels and nutrition facts panels are just not enough if you’re trying to assess the health value of your food.
Marco Canora: Totally. Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Could you speak to that? And maybe you could just use an example, right?
Marco Canora: Sure. So this has been on my mind for a while, especially since I’ve been trying to build and grow the broth business, because the more I learned about the consumer packaged goods space, the more this came obvious. And chickpeas are a good example because through the years, I’ve spoken to a lot of people trying to commercialize a packaged food product, and the perfect kind of metaphor is hummus because you could read an ingredient panel, and it could say organic chickpeas and organic lemon juice and organic whatever, whatever, and it has all the buttons, and the nutritional facts panels has what it has, but there’s no way of a consumer to know whether the person who made that hummus boiled beans or just got powdered chickpea and added water.
So there’s no transparency around process in so much of the foods that we consume. Another easy one is seed oils. The process you have to put rapeseed through to get the oil out, it’s like they’re washing it with chemicals, hexane, and then they’re putting it through a high heat process that oxidizes the fats. And what comes out the other end is an oil that has residue of chemicals and that has been oxidized by the heat, but there’s nowhere — where do you know that as a consumer if you’re in the aisle reading the back label of the organic canola oil or the organic chickpea that has all the right buttons and all the right marketing on it?
What’s been driving me for six years, is I want to get a traditionally made broth out to the masses. And that’s really hard to do. The food system we live in today, there’s a lot of room for improvement, and it’s going to be a long, hard battle, but I’m not afraid of long, hard anything, so I’m willing to go after it.
Tim Ferriss: Well, I was just going to say —
Marco Canora: But yeah, transparency. I guess to put it in a little bullet, it’s like, there is no transparency around the process, and that’s a big problem as we navigate the food world.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. And to build on that, there are cases where you can sort of deduce that A does not equal A in quotation marks in the sense that if you buy hummus from the farmer’s market with a certain set of ingredients, and then you go to the hipster grocery store and you find chickpea crisps that are completely different texture, completely different form factor, are shelf stable for 175 years — not to say that’s true for all crisps. I’m just making up a kind of arbitrary example. You can safely assume that something has been done to the ingredients that was not done at the farmer’s market.
Marco Canora: Correct.
Tim Ferriss: And it’s just unclear what has been done, but there has been some level of manipulation for it to take a different form. Right? That’s just how it has to, has to be. Now, in notes here, I wasn’t aware of this, but apparently there’s a NOVA classification? Do you want to describe what this is, the N-O-V-A classification system developed by researchers at University of Sao Paulo?
Marco Canora: Yeah. And I’d like to believe that this is the future for us as well, because I think consumers, we’re getting smarter and smarter, and we’re caring more and more about the things that really drive health. I mean, I think it’s unquestionable that the choices we make daily about what we eat and drink is the biggest driver of health. And so I’d like to believe there will be a time where the big food companies will have to be more transparent around the process. And the NOVA system is happening in South America, and it basically sets four categories of ultra-processed, processed — Oh, I can’t remember the other two names, but basically it provides a framework to define what foods are ultra-processed, as opposed to processed, as opposed to culinary ingredients that are minimally processed.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. It looks like, so to summarize that the NOVA classification system, which was developed in Brazil by researchers, separates out food into four groups based on the level of processing. So the first level is unprocessed, the second is processed culinary ingredients.
Marco Canora: Right.
Tim Ferriss: Do you say culinary or culinary? What do you say?
Marco Canora: I say culinary.
Tim Ferriss: God damn it. All right. So processed culinary ingredients. The third is processed, and then the fourth is ultra-processed. And this is so important, and there are a lot of questions that you unfortunately seem to add a lot of complexity to the lives of end consumers because they’re like, “Good God, can’t I just know that a fucking banana is a banana, for God’s sake?” You know?
Marco Canora: [crosstalk 01:39:29]. Yeah. Yeah, right.
Tim Ferriss: But there are certain questions that I think are worth asking. How processed, if you had to put it — I’m not totally clear on unprocessed and then processed culinary ingredients versus processed. Maybe you can tell me what the difference is between processed culinary ingredients and processed. I don’t know. Do you have any idea what that means?
Marco Canora: Well, culinary ingredients are things that you would find in a kitchen pantry as opposed to a food scientist’s pantry in a food manufacturing plant. When I cook at home, I don’t have a pantry full of emulsifiers or stabilizers, so I think this notion of culinary ingredients is the things that you would imagine, like spices and herbs and dried tomato and —
Tim Ferriss: Flour.
Marco Canora: — things like that. Yeah. Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Got it. Okay.
Marco Canora: And look, I just want to say, there’s a lot of ambiguity around a word like processed, right?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, for sure.
Marco Canora: Because everything is somewhat processed, and I think that’s what NOVA’s trying to parse out a bit.
Tim Ferriss: Codify it. Yeah, to define it. Right. Well, if people say, “Our food is all natural,” it’s like, okay, let’s take a look at what that means.
Marco Canora: Right. And I’m by no means an expert in the NOVA system. I just wanted to bring it up because I believe it’s where we’re going in the space, and I believe it’s needed. And I haven’t really vetted or done a lot of reading around NOVA, but I like it conceptually because it’s a huge gap.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Yeah, for sure. I mean, I think the processing question is a huge blind spot for people. Another blind spot, which we don’t have to dwell on, but it’s something I think about a lot, is thinking about what you eat, ate, if that makes any sense. So people say —
Marco Canora: Oh, yeah.
Tim Ferriss: — “You are what you eat,” and it’s like, well, you’ve got to go a step further. The food —
Marco Canora: You are what you eat [crosstalk 01:41:42].
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Your food that you are eating, what nourished that? Because if you’re like, “Hey, I’m eating fish and that is so much healthier than beef,” you’ve got to double-click on that and take a look, because if it’s some really disgusting industrial level farming operation where they’re just dumping food and antibiotics and so on into the water, they’ve basically taken the worst practices of terrestrial agriculture and just poured it into the water. So you have to look a lot.
And then if you compare that to, just say, grass-fed, grass-finished beef, putting aside environmental concerns for the moment, because I think both can be degrading, but if we’re just looking at individual health, those are very different from, say, industrial level cattle farming versus a different source of salmon. And by the way, this isn’t just limited to animals. It’s also true of plant matter.
Marco Canora: Yeah, fertilizers and, yeah, the nutrient density of the soil that the vegetables were grown in, right?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, yeah, exactly. Right. I mean, are we dealing with a few inches of topsoil with tons of fertilizer poured on top of it, or are we talking about something else? I happen to be fascinated by this stuff, so I don’t mind digging into it, but it’s really unfortunate that it’s so complex, in part because there are so many incentives to hide this kind of shit. You know what I mean?
Marco Canora: Exactly. Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: There are so many incentives, because if a company can get you something bigger, faster, cheaper, and leave the details off of the packaging, of course, a lot of people that are going to take that. So let’s talk about Brodo. Unlike many restaurants, you were open throughout the entire pandemic, is my understanding. And I didn’t know that until we just recently spent time together. I was kind of afraid to ask, honestly, because of so many horror stories that I’ve heard, and love you, love the restaurant, and I’m ashamed of that, so I’m sorry that I didn’t ask, but I was just like, oh, God, I can only imagine how hard it must be, and I was afraid to ask.
But the fact of the matter is, you kept the Brodo window open. You sold frozen foods. You also, I don’t want to say liquidated, maybe you did, but you realized that you had all of this valuable inventory of wine, and so sold wine, and you were able to kind of figure it out. So I think it’s just incredible and inspiring. I don’t know if you’d like to add anything to that. I just wanted to sort of preface the discussion of Brodo with that, that it’s sort of a great metaphor in a way also, that that window ended up being like the portal and the lifeline.
Marco Canora: Yeah. Yeah. It’s what allowed us to stay open, because we were mandated by the city that if you were a sit-down restaurant, you couldn’t stay open if you wanted. You had to close. And that’s what Hearth was. And it was the fact that I had a Brodo window, selling these hot cups of broth out of a little window, it was like a little lifeline that allowed the entire restaurant to stay open. And COVID, as hard as it was, Tim, it was an incredible 16 — I mean, we’re still in it, but it was an incredible time for the restaurant and the team, because the small group of us that came together to keep that place alive, it was like everybody thought outside of the box. Everybody did things and learned things that they didn’t know before.
And the fact that we all came together and did all of these fun, creative things to stay relevant and to find some revenue, we all thrived on it. So as hard as it was, it really engaged us all in a way that we hadn’t been after — because the restaurant’s 17 years old, so it was like a really nice swift kick in the that got us thinking in a way that we wouldn’t have, because as you know, something that’s 16 years old, you’re in the groove. And then COVID came and turned everything upside down, and it was kind of thrilling.
Tim Ferriss: Long and hard. You’re not afraid of long and hard.
Marco Canora: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. You’re surfing. You’re very accustomed to surfing, paddling out and serving 100 foot waves, which is just wild. And why don’t we take a step back, and I would love for you to tell the story of how Brodo came to be.
Marco Canora: Sure.
Tim Ferriss: Brodo’s turned into one of those things I look forward to when I visit New York City. And I remember some very early, super early taste tests.
Marco Canora: Just FYI, you’re one of the first people I called when I realized that the launch of the Brodo window out of the side door of Hearth — I got a sense after about two months that I was kind of onto something. And I poked at you, and I don’t know, seeking advice or something, and I think you said something to the effect of, “Well, Marco, it’s more about you needing to ask yourself what you want.” Which I thought was great advice. But yeah, you’ve been part of this since the beginning. And you were at our first shop in the West Village. I hosted you, and that’s when I gave you the full broth tasting of that whole world of hot beverages around broth.
Tim Ferriss: Yes. Yeah.
Marco Canora: So yeah. Yeah, you’ve been right there alongside me, and I really appreciate that.
Tim Ferriss: It’s been fun to see its evolution. I mean, I think that on one level, the experiment with the window is a beautiful case study of low-risk entrepreneurial experimentation, right?
Marco Canora: Totally.
Tim Ferriss: It’s not like you found another retail shop. It’s not like you pushed all your chips in on broth. You’re like, “Hey,” correct me if I’m wrong, but you’re like, “What can we do with these amazing ingredients that we already have?”
Marco Canora: Totally.
Tim Ferriss: “I understand broth. We have this location. Open a window, see how it does.” And you’re like, “If we cover our costs or maybe make a little bit of money, we’re in great shape.” So the downside risk was super low, and you’ve got to test it. You’ve got to test it —
Marco Canora: Totally.
Tim Ferriss: — and then develop it and start with the basics, but with really, really good ingredients. Again, for people listening, I think of the gnocchi. There’s, yes, okay, flour and potato. Okay. Anybody can go out and get flour and potato, but many different types of flour.
Marco Canora: [crosstalk 01:49:24].
Tim Ferriss: Many different types of potatoes. Many different types of preparation. And then when we did the taste test in the West Village, I still remember that because I love bone broth, and even I got to a point where I was like, maybe I need to slow down on today’s intake of bone broth because I had like a gallon of bone broth.
Marco Canora: [crosstalk 01:49:46].
Tim Ferriss: And it was amazing. I couldn’t stop myself. But what were the flavors that we tested that day? Do you remember? We had tom kha. That was one.
Marco Canora: Look, I probably forced the entire menu down your gullet, so some of the top five are the Deeply Rooted, which is fresh turmeric and ginger, inside of — we have four different broths, so I probably gave you these combos in a variety of different base broths, but definitely you got the Deeply Rooted. You got the Spicy Nonna, which is some Calabrian chili and roasted garlic puree buzzed in. The Tom Yum, which is coconut and lime and chili, and a little bit of curry powder. You definitely got that. You got my favorite one, which is the Oishi Oishi, which you know better than I do what that means, but it’s tasty, right? Oishi Oishi?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Yeah, Oishi, Oishi. Yeah.
Marco Canora: Oishi. And that is a little bit of shiitake tea and grass-fed butter and garlic buzzed into broth. And yeah, so you had them all. I probably made you, at the time, what I called the Flu Fighter, because I’m a bit obsessed with mortar and pestles, and the Flu Fighter is basically fresh ginger, fresh turmeric, peppercorns, some fresh oregano, all pounded to a paste, and then I add a little grass-fed butter, pound it into the butter, and then you take that mixture, and you burr mix it into really hot broth.
Also some chili in there for heat, and a big squeeze of lemon. But anyway, it’s an incredibly restorative beverage, that Flu Fighter, and just broth in general. The thing about Brodo for me, Tim, is it’s the perfect distillation of the simplicity that I’ve been seeking my whole life. And I felt like Brodo is the perfect thing to try to bring to the masses because it really, in a way, is the simplicity I’ve been grasping for throughout my whole career.
Tim Ferriss: So to that point, and I’m excited about this. Obviously I got a preview when we were making the gnocchi, or before we started making the gnocchi when I was having more coffee, I got to see a preview, because you can’t serve the world through a window in New York City. So what is the latest and greatest? I know this is a big, big step, so what is going on with Brodo?
Marco Canora: Well, Brodo is what they call, right now, much to the chagrin of many people I get in front of as I try to raise money, but we’re an omni-channel business. So we have shops that I really love and I’m really proud of. COVID kind of pressed pause on the shops for a bit, but I do believe that we could have a shop for every 50 Starbucks in the world because broth as a hot beverage is incredible. There’s a lot to it, and I would put it up against coffee any day of the week. So I’m very excited at pursuing shops. That’s one piece of our business. And then Brodo.com is another big piece of our business where we sell our base broths.
And then the other part of the business, which I think is what you’re alluding to, is our new product launch that we’re really excited about, which is we finally figured out a way to get these shop drinks, i.e., the Deeply Rooted, the Spicy Nonna, the Tuscan Sun, Tom Yum, et cetera, into a single-serve format, full strength, and frozen. So you’re going to be able to get eight ounces of these combo drinks that we’ve been serving in New York City on the shelves of 456 Whole Foods. And certainly, it’s been a beast to get into Whole Foods and get the manufacturing, and I won’t bore people with that stuff unless you want more. But anyway, we finally, after six years, are getting these combo broth beverages out into the world in a real way, and we’re super stoked.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. I saw the packaging, which is gorgeous. And what can people find on Brodo.com currently? So if they’re more inclined to go to a website, what are their options on Brodo.com?
Marco Canora: Well, at the moment of this recording, we have 22 ounce tubs of four base broths, and we have a grass-fed beef broth. We have a chicken broth. We have a vegan shiitake and seaweed broth. And then we have my favorite, which is what I call Hearth broth, and that’s made with turkey, beef, and chicken. It’s a combo broth. So up until now, that’s what we’ve been — we’ve been selling those four SKUs on Brodo.com. But hopefully by the time this drops to the world, we’ve been working on our website, and we’re going to have the new format, which is the eight ounce single-serve available in these super flavorful combo drinks.
Tim Ferriss: And when you get the single-serve, how many single serves are in a case or a box?
Marco Canora: Yeah, we do eight to a box, but in grocery you’ll be able to buy them individually.
Tim Ferriss: Nice.
Marco Canora: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Let me ask a couple of those closing questions and see where we go.
Marco Canora: Okay.
Tim Ferriss: So I’ll start with one that I know you’ve heard before, which is the billboard question. So if you could put anything on a billboard, metaphorically speaking, to get a quote, comment, question, image, anything out to billions of people, what might that be?
Marco Canora: I think it would be “Cook your own food.” I think our obsession with convenience and our beliefs that we can outsource something as important as cooking has been one of the main drivers in the ill health of this country.
Tim Ferriss: Cook your own food.
Marco Canora: Yep.
Tim Ferriss: Dig it. One more thing, which is most or frequently given books. So what books have you gifted often to other people? Besides your own.
Marco Canora: Yeah. At work every year, I kind of give my line cooks and my management team books as gifts around the holidays. So This is Water by David Foster Wallace is one I commonly give because it’s so short and the message is so perfect in my opinion. So I’ve given that a lot. And then for cookbooks, I got to say, the Marcella Hazan Essentials is just, I adore that woman. I adore her simple approach. It is like, she’s the OG of Italian grandma cooking. And so those are the two books.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Marcella Hazan. I remember the roast chicken. I think she has, I mean, she has gotten a lot obviously, but —
Marco Canora: Oh, my God. A ton.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Yeah. I remember just being so impressed with her roasted chicken.
Marco Canora: Especially for young cooks that come through my kitchen. I always ask them, I’m like, “Do you have this book?” And if they say no, then I get them that book.
Tim Ferriss: Favorite failures. Any favorite failures come to mind? Things that set you up for later success or that you wouldn’t trade in?
Marco Canora: Yeah. Favorite’s a tough way to frame it, but the failure of my, you know, when I opened Hearth in 2003, I had a partner, a business partner and at year 10, that thing got dissolved. So I would say that first business partnership failure, I don’t know if I would call it a favorite thing. It wasn’t a fun process, but it was a very valuable one.
Tim Ferriss: What did you take away from that? What did you learn from that?
Marco Canora: Just to do a little bit more inquiry and vetting around common — you know, we were so caught up in the romantic vision and dream of what it would mean to open our own restaurant that we forgot to step back and do some work around defining things that we should have. And it got in the way and it ended poorly, but now I know better. So what else, what more can you ask for from learning?
Tim Ferriss: When you said define things, certain things that weren’t defined, are there certain things that you would encourage people to define that you didn’t, that they could consider if they’re looking at a potential partnership?
Marco Canora: One of the pet peeves I had, like a minor thing, but I think I’ll mention it just for the hell of it. My partner was obsessed with Riesling wine, and I was obsessed with simple Italian cooking. And so my food and his wine didn’t really go well together because he was obsessed with Riesling, and I wanted Aussie Chiantis on the menu and it sounds minor, but that’s the thing to learn about these kinds of partnerships, whether it’s romantic partnerships or business partnerships, don’t underestimate those little minor nags because over time they become big things.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. That’s super, super important. Well, Mr. Marco, I think we are coming to a close.
Marco Canora: We’re not going to talk about our sauna?
Tim Ferriss: We can talk about sauna.
Marco Canora: I’m kidding.
Tim Ferriss: We could, what have you learned about your sauna experiments? What is your best practices now, and why?
Marco Canora: So you know, I got a —
Tim Ferriss: Because you are a hard charger when it comes to saunas. I mean, I do sauna as well. I just did one yesterday. I’m impressed by how much of a hard charger you are.
Marco Canora: I’m super obsessed with sauna lately. I love this idea of pushing the boundaries of what you think you’re capable of and hot and cold is a great way to do that. And I think it just builds immense mental capacity to deal with hardship. And I feel like being resilient is something that I love the idea that I could do something that helps me practice resilience. And maybe some people get that through exercise or whatever, but the fact that I could sit in my sauna at 210 degrees for 20 minutes is something that I get excited about. And then plunging into 48 degree water after that. And sitting in that water for four minutes, it’s just a good mind fuck of a game. And I’ve been obsessed with it lately and what do I get out of it? Other than the mental exercise of overcoming the cold and the hot, I don’t know this because I don’t have an Oura ring, but it really helps my sleep. And it really helps me calm down at the end of a stressful day.
Tim Ferriss: What time do you usually do the hot cold?
Marco Canora: I usually do it after an early dinner.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Too late, and it’s tough. Too late, it’s tough. But exactly. On the earlier side, I usually do it before dinner, because I’ve tossed my cookies from too much heat before. So number one, for everyone listening, we’re not giving medical advice. These are two wackadoodle guys talking about what they do. So get proper medical clearance before you do any extremes in hot or cold. However, I will note just for people who can’t put it in context, those are hot and cold temperatures. Also, I have a cold plunge about a hundred feet from where I’m sitting, which is just —
Marco Canora: How cold does it get?
Tim Ferriss: I’m not really sure. I mean, it’s a chest freezer full of water and ice. And that is unplugged at the moment. My guess is that it’s —
Marco Canora: High 30s.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, high 30s, low 40s. And I will say to anyone wondering, at least in my experience and the experience of many friends on the cold side, and I’d be curious to hear your thoughts, Marco, but there isn’t a linear, incremental perception to cold. In other words, it’s not like going from 65 to 55 is the same as going from 55 to 45. Once you get into the 40s, it is a different game. It is, like the perception of cold is so different. And just be aware of that before you get in. It is chilly. And I’m a fan. I’m also a fan of both. And I know that you like pushing the edges and that you like experimentation. And you also like preserving the essence, right? I mean, I think that from my exposure to you, like one thing you’re not a fan of is faddish new ingredients or the quest for kind of magic bullet, P.T. Barnum components of food, but you are all about experimentation with whole food ingredients. I see you conducting experiments constantly, right?
So it’s not as though you’re saying like, “Hey, this is the way spaghetti is made. This is the only way spaghetti should ever be made.” You’re constantly running experiments, but it’s with the integrity of whole food as the base of your elements that you are allowing yourself to work with, which I admire. Because I think the conceit that we would possibly understand everything that is going on a multifactorial when you eat foods in combinations is just at this point, given our technology and ability to assess these things pretty ridiculous.
Marco Canora: Yeah. We need some humility around that, for sure. I mean, it’s like, there’s so much we don’t know in that space and yeah, I couldn’t agree more, Tim. It’s like, we’re learning every day and we all have to acknowledge that there’s a lot left to learn. And one of the reasons why I love Peter Attia is because, that’s a fundamental point that he launches off of is this idea of, I might believe this today, but I might not believe it next week. And we all need to get comfortable with that.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, for sure. It makes me think of this story. Coming back to that Chinese proverb, and who knows, it very easily could just be coincidence. And maybe it’s just some bored Chinese guy came up with a saying that rhymed really nicely, but it does coincide very well with your experience as validated through the latest and greatest continuous glucose monitor. Maybe a few thousand years separated. That’s interesting. Right? At least it raises questions like, is that just chance or, have humans figured out a lot by trial and error. And in fact, even our primate predecessors figured out, right? Because we’re not the only animals who use plants as medicine. And I was reading this book recently called Medicine Quest by an ethnobotanist named Mark Plotkin. And I’m hoping to excerpt some of it on the blog because there are a few chapters that are really just incredible.
And he tells this story of a number of, I suppose it would be ethnobotanists who were, they might’ve actually been at a research institution. They weren’t doing this for commercial development, but there was some type of concoction that a medicine man in this case, some type of healer, which is much more than psychedelics and psychotropics, which bothers me when the assumption is like all these people whose dose people with hallucinogens. And they’re, they’re basically pharmacists who use the, in this case, the jungle to treat ailments of all different types, including fungal infections, parasites, et cetera. And if I remember correctly, these researchers were able to observe with glucose measurements, that this concoction, which included three plants, reliably lowered blood glucose in type two diabetics. And they’d never seen these plants, never IDed this type of concoction.
So they asked this medicine man which plants he used. And he said, “No problem. You’re welcome to take them back and analyze them.” He gave them these three plants. They took them back. They looked for what could be active molecules, ran all sorts of tests on these three plants, negative, negative, negative, nothing, all three together, negative. And they went back and because they discarded one step, and they forgot they discarded one step. And they’re like, “We need to watch you prepare this.” “Oh,” they said, “your concoction doesn’t work.” And he goes, “What do you mean my concoction doesn’t work? You measured the results in patients taking it. How do you conclude it doesn’t work?”
And they go, “Well, we tested them all separately. We need to watch you make it again.” And so they’re watching him make it, and he’s doing what he’s doing with the three plants. And then at the very end, he drops a crab in. And they were like, “What was that?” And he’s like, “It’s the crab.” And they go, “What?” And they go, “We asked you what was in your concoction.” And he goes, “No, you didn’t. You asked me which plants were in my concoction.”
Marco Canora: Oh, my God. That’s amazing.
Tim Ferriss: And for some bizarre reason.
Marco Canora: It changed everything.
Tim Ferriss: It’s like, plant, plant, plant, crab, and all of it together, somehow that was figured out to have this effect. Now, putting aside, this is not randomized controlled trials. I understand that. Could a huge part of it be placebo effect? Maybe. Could it be contextual based on the culture? Yes. But there are so many phenomena that we cannot explain at this point in time. It’s just the pinnacle of hubris to think that we have a full understanding of food when we’ve demonstrated throughout our history, including recent history, how piss poor we are at deconstructing these things. So that’s, I’ll get off my soap box, but I really —
Marco Canora: Thank you for saying that because I couldn’t have said it better myself. And it’s so at the core, it’s really at the core of my belief system too. I look backwards to help guide my nutritional path forward because I believe that as well. The best trial is looking through the history of man, not the current state of research science in this world, because it’s like a mess.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. And you can look at both, but make sure to look at both. There’s another story, I think this was actually told to me, if you don’t mind, now I’m like on a roll just cause I get so —
Marco Canora: I love this stuff.
Tim Ferriss: I get so spun up about this stuff. There’s —
Marco Canora: Me too.
Tim Ferriss: So like, look, yes, there’s a lot of superstition and bullshit and there’s a lot of nonsense and dross that humankind has accumulated. Yes. And right now, like the scientific method is the best way we have consistently of asking questions of nature and trying to sort answers out without fooling ourselves. I mean, I fund a lot of science, so I believe that, but —
Marco Canora: A lot of their funding is bogus. I’m sorry to interrupt you, Tim. Because you’re on a thing, but it’s worth noting that it’s important to follow the money of the funding. And one of the things I respect and admire about you and the things that you fund and Peter Attia and the way he goes through the world and life around research is you have to ask those really hard questions. And you read the studies, but it’s hard to follow and analyze and understand who did the studies and where the money’s coming from. And it’s a big red flag a lot of times.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, yeah. Yeah. And so, hundred percent agree with that. And you know, for-profit companies will establish foundations and institutes and all sorts of weird stuff to hide sources of funding for sponsored research or studies. So yes, there’s a lot of bad behavior. You’ll have people fund 20 studies and 18 of them will say this stuff is terrible for you. Two will say it’s good for you. They’ll be like, great. We’ll take those two. Thanks very much. There’s a lot of bad behavior. You should always look at the conflict of interest section, and so on.
Marco Canora: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: With all of those warts, science and the scientific method is still very important. However, we assume we know more than we do. This is true of humans for as long as we’ve called ourselves humans. And one story that I remember a friend told me, we did a lot of work in, I believe it was South America, but it may have been Africa. And he said, “We went with this NGO to help this local group. And they had really low yield or like moderate yield on a crop. And they always put it way up on the hillside. And we asked them why they put it way up on the hillside.”
I’m paraphrasing this, but it’s something like this. And they said, “Well, that’s because that’s the way our grandparents did it.” And then, “Why did they do it that way?” “Well, that’s the way their grandparents did it.” And so these bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, like 20 and 30 somethings in this NGO are like, “Oh, well we have some news for you. You’d have much better yield if you did it down in the valley and did it this way and that way based on modern agriculture and what we know about A, B, C, D, and E, and let us show you how this is done.” And you know, these villagers are like, “Fantastic. We’ll try it.” And so they put them all down in the valley. First winter storms, it must’ve been more central, maybe, probably not Africa, or it was at altitude, I think. And there was this frost that came through and like wiped out everything in the valley. And they’re like, “Yep. Turns out: shouldn’t plant shit there.”
So don’t assume the past is the path forward, but I think it is safe to assume that hidden amongst the false positives and false negatives, there’s also a lot of signal in the past. And that’s been made clear in my adventures and conversations with you. That’s been made also super clear in reading about and experiencing firsthand a lot of the traditions in Italy, which it’s a great cuisine to study because there is complexity or there are nuances. But you’re not dealing with dishes. At least in the central and south that have 27 ingredients generally. Right? Like you’re —
Marco Canora: Absolutely not.
Tim Ferriss: You’re able to actually look at the variables and it’s so much fun. Well, we could go for hours, I’m getting all spun up. So I’m going to try to land this plane.
Marco Canora: Okay.
Tim Ferriss: So Marco, people can go and should go to brodo.com, B R O D O.com. I recommend everyone try it. They can find the restaurant at restauranthearth.com, certainly in New York City. If you’re in NYC, give a visit, they can find you on Instagram @marcocanora, that’s M A R C O C A N O R A. Is there anything else you would like to say? Any closing comments, requests of the audience, anything at all that you’d like to add before we wrap this up?
Marco Canora: Well two things and I’ll be quick, cause we’ve been going on and on, but one is I want to just thank you for the incredible work that you do. And I found you many years ago and I’ve been following you ever since, and you’re incredibly generous and so thoughtful in your work. And I am one of many who really, really appreciates it. So I want to say thank you to you.
Tim Ferriss: Thank you.
Marco Canora: Yeah. And then no, again, I just want to put a point on the cooking thing. It’s like, cooking is an incredible process that engages all of your senses. That gives you a high reward from health to flavor, to community, to connectivity, to other people. And it’s really a path to so many of the things that I think we need to be better humans. So I just want to encourage anybody who’s fearful of cooking or is like, I don’t know if I want to do it or not, please, please do it. And you will grow to love it. And it will reward you forever.
Tim Ferriss: Hear, hear, brother. You know, as you’re saying that, I’m like, I need to go thaw out some venison, go to the farmer’s stand, and get some food. I’m going to cook dinner.
Marco Canora: There you go.
Tim Ferriss: I’m going to cook dinner on Sunday night. I’m so fired up, it’s fucking great, man. Marco, you’re a mensch. I look forward to spending more time together. It’s so nice to see you.
Marco Canora: You too. I can’t wait to visit you wherever the hell you are.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Wherever I will be, wherever I am, for sure. Can’t wait and keep going, man, keep going. And I recommend everybody check out again Brodo.com, B R O D O.com. Check it out. Do a taste test. You’ll thank me later. And to everybody listening, we’ll have show notes, links to everything as per usual at tim.blog/podcast. And until next time, thank you for tuning in.
Tim Ferriss [addressing the listener]: And now, we bring to you “The affair of the oven that wasn’t on” and how to make delicious gnocchi. Enjoy!
Tim Ferriss [back to the interview]: So let’s talk about the affair of the oven that wasn’t on.
Marco Canora: You’re jumping ahead. I love it.
Tim Ferriss: I’m jumping ahead. I’m jumping back. We’re going to go all over the place.
Marco Canora: I love it.
Tim Ferriss: So I sent you a voice memo not too long, this is a few months ago, and it was a question about gnocchi, G-N-O-C-C-H-I for people who don’t know the spelling. And we should probably describe what gnocchi are for people who don’t know. But the reason I sent you a voice memo is I was trying to think up a birthday gift for my girlfriend. My girlfriend is half Italian and she and her mom have been trying to recreate this family recipe for gnocchi for a decade, something like this, maybe more. And there was always something missing or something they weren’t getting because the gnocchi would just not turn out. And so I asked you if you might know how to make gnocchi, and if so, if you would be open to — I wasn’t quite that stupid about it, but I asked you if you might be open to teaching my girlfriend and her mom, via Zoom, how to make gnocchi properly.
And I really wish I had that voice memo, your response, to put into this podcast. It was great, but it was basically like, “Yes, I have made 10,000 plus rounds of gnocchi and it’s been featured in these following outlets and actually quite famous for the gnocchi. So yes, I do know how to make gnocchi.” And then you very graciously offered to teach. And so I think the gnocchi is a great jumping off point because it offers some fertile ground for, I think, a pretty hilarious story. And it also shows how simplicity and elegance can be the by-product of trial and error, if that makes any sense.
Marco Canora: Absolutely.
Tim Ferriss: And so before we get into the stories and the affair of the oven that was not on, what are gnocchi? Just so people know what we’re talking about.
Marco Canora: It’s a potato dumpling. It’s like a version of pasta, if you will, but it’s made with potato and some people use egg, I don’t. What I’m really proud of about my approach is there’s only two ingredients and that is potato and flour.
Tim Ferriss: Okay. So just so we don’t bury the punchline here, what are some of the keys? Either the keys to making gnocchi that are delicious and fluffy and amazing, like the ones that we made and by we I mean 90 percent you, but we participated. Or what are the common mistakes? if you could just walk us through maybe a few of the things that make great gnocchi great. And why so many gnocchi are not great.
Marco Canora: Look, gnocchi has a bad reputation of being super heavy. So you eat them and they end up being gummy and they’re like lead in your belly. And that’s the biggest complaint I hear most about a lot of gnocchi out in the world. So getting them to be very light and airy is something anybody making gnocchi should try to get to. And then the flavor of the potato should come through. And that means not adding too much stuff to it. I think a lot of home chefs and even professional chefs, they always try to infuse other things and sweet potato gnocchi or butternut squash gnocchi. And it’s, again, back to the simplicity idea, it’s no, gnocchi are made with potato. Sorry. So I think keeping it simple and keeping it light is the goal.
And some of the pitfalls is people add a lot of egg and I don’t think egg is necessary. As an amateur, you might want to add egg because it’ll protect you a bit and keep it together but you’re making a dough and that dough should not be overworked because you’re using flour and you’ve got to think of it like a pie crust or a biscuit crust, and you don’t want to work the gluten too much, or else they become what I said, which is sticky and dense.
Tim Ferriss: So there were a few things that hopped out at me, and there are many things that are counterintuitive. So one of the first was don’t get your hipster $10 a potato potatoes that are as fresh as possible. That is a mistake. Right?
Marco Canora: Yep.
Tim Ferriss: In fact, you want the opposite. So I’d love to hear you speak to why that’s the case.
Marco Canora: Sure.
Tim Ferriss: And then I want to clarify, and please fact check me, one thing that you said, which was related to, I think, I would imagine a common error, which is people are kneading with their hands, and kneading with a K, the flour into the potato, but by doing so you’re creating this elastic, gummy, glutinous response. And instead what I saw you do, and we did some of this too, is to use a pie scraper to chop the flour into the potato. Which is very counter intuitive for someone who has not made gnocchi before. So first, what types of potatoes are the ideal potatoes to use and why?
Marco Canora: I like a classic Idaho potato, because there’s a high starch content and you can cook the water out of them and then there’s less moisture so then you end up with a dough that has less flour, and then ultimately a dough that ends up being lighter on the palate.
Tim Ferriss: And should they be — You like older potatoes?
Marco Canora: Yeah. So I often point to fresh peas. I don’t know if you’ve ever gotten fresh peas that are in a pod. But the thing about peas is you want to pick them and you want to keep ice on them so that they keep their sugar because that’s a sweet pea. But when a pea loses its sugar, the pea goes to starch and that process happens with a lot of vegetables. And with an Idaho potato, you don’t want a fresh potato because it’s holding onto the sugar and it’s the starch that’s going to help you create a lighter dough. So we used to literally buy cases of potatoes and put them in the cellar and I mean, we kind of age the potatoes if you will, because we found that a potato that’s aged, that almost is starting to sprout, ends up being less water and less sugar and more starch, and that always lent itself to a better gnocchi.
I know you always reference things in the show notes, but I was on The Dave Chang Show and we talked about gnocchi quite a bit on that show because he was at Kraft when I was doing all of these things. And we kind of like two old dogs talking about kitchen stories, but we went on and on about the gnocchi on that podcast, if anybody wants to hear more about the origins.
Tim Ferriss: And you came to this, it sounds like largely through trial and error. And part of what impressed me is the detail in the simplicity, if that makes any sense. So for instance, if you’re trying to, in the process of cutting the potatoes, evaporate as much moisture as possible, cutting them lengthwise in a particular way so that you have the maximum amount of surface area exposed. Where the inclination for anyone who hasn’t spent a lot of time in the kitchen would be like, “All right, let me just take the potato, cut it right down the middle,” the way you would think of cutting a tomato down the middle, where you just have the ends of the cigars, so to speak, exposed to air, but that’s not going to actually accomplish the job. So even though, technically, both are easy. You’re making one cut, the direction matters a lot to the outcome. And so I love the simplicity, but the thought behind the simplicity. There’s a lot that goes into it.
Tim Ferriss: When my girlfriend and I were in New York City, before we move on to other questions, because I mentioned in somewhat cryptic phrasing, “The affair of the oven that was not turned on,” I wanted to make it sound like a Sherlock Holmes novel or something, I got to see what a delivery of bad news/discipline looks like without yelling and s creaming, which I thought was very fascinating.
And I’m just going to bookend this story and then I’ll let you tell it. So the only part that I heard that I then asked you about was you said pretty calmly, you said, I heard you say around the corner to a bunch of staff, you were like, “This isn’t going to be fun for anyone.” So we met up, I want to say the plan was either 10 or 11:00 AM. And why don’t you tell the story of what the plan was and then what happened?
Marco Canora: Yeah. So first I got to say, “I was really thrilled when you reached out to me and were like, Hey, do you know how to make gnocchi? And would you do this?” I love teaching. And to get a ping from you and ask that question, I was overjoyed and fully invested in this notion of teaching your girlfriend and your girlfriend’s mom how to make gnocchi. It made my day to get that, that text.
So it took us a while to schedule it and plan it, but it’s like oh, you’re going to be in New York this weekend, so I had it all planned out and I thought really hard about it. And if you remember, we had a lot of back and forth leading up to it because we were doing this via Zoom and her mom was going to be far away, so she needed to know what equipment to have. So it was like, “You need a potato ricer and you need a bench scraper”. And so we did a lot pre.. As I was alluding to earlier, it’s all in the mise en place, right?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Marco Canora: So we did a fair amount of work around what’s required, you guys showed up, and I had everything laid out and we had our little food meal to pass the potatoes, and it was a little mini cooking class on a Saturday morning. I had aprons, and towels, and here’s some tea, and it was so fun. I was so excited and it was plotted out because we opened for brunch at Hearth. So the kitchen is a functioning kitchen, so we only had a certain window to do this, our lesson, and furthermore, everything we were doing was happening in parallel in [BLEEPED] or wherever?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Exactly.
Marco Canora: So it’s like, I don’t want to say it was pressure, but this idea of somebody else is going to do what we’re doing too, added on to the need for — we had to run in parallel. But that’s all cool. And the potatoes take an hour and 10 minutes to cook in the oven that I have in my basement, because we do it every day. So I knew how long, and so you showed up on time, and I had put the potatoes in, because you had the time. That’s the only thing you have to time is the cooking of the potato.
The forming of the dough, and the rolling, and then the cooking of the gnocchi, that’s pretty easy and pretty fast, but the big thing is the hour and 10 minutes. So it was great you showed up and we had our niceties, and we had some coffee, and our hugs, and all that stuff. And then, it was like, “Okay. Here’s your apron.” And we got all the tech figured out and everybody’s on and it’s go time. And I go downstairs and I opened the oven and the oven was not on.
And the potatoes were rock hard, and the oven was cold, and I swear, I had a mental breakdown because I didn’t quite register and fathom the fact that, that was an hour and 10 minutes lost and we have to start over. And yeah. There was a lot of moving parts because the mom, now that’s all messed up. I don’t know what your day is like, and our brunch service starts. So that was where, “This is not going to be fun for anybody.” Because now I’m going to be teaching, I wasn’t going to not teach you how to make gnocchi, now I’m going to be taking up a big part of the past during brunch.
So those that were responsible for brunch had to basically work in a corner of a kitchen, and that’s what I meant by, “This will not be fun.”
Tim Ferriss: And yet, it all came together and —
Marco Canora: It did, and it was fun.
Tim Ferriss: It was fun. And you are an incredible teacher and the gnocchi were spectacular. And if I remember correctly sage, and butter, and —
Marco Canora: And Parmesan.
Tim Ferriss: And Parmesan.
Marco Canora: Reggiano-Parmesan, and salt, and pepper, and that’s it.
Tim Ferriss: So good. So, so good. And we went to Italy, my girlfriend and I for the first time, and it was [crosstalk 01:12:41].
Marco Canora: At Umbria, right?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. That’s right. We went all over. We were in Rome, then went to Umbria, then went through a couple of smaller places like Gubbio. I wanted to go to Gubbio because there’s a story of St. Francis of Assisi brokering a truce with this huge wolf.
Marco Canora: Oh, wow.
Tim Ferriss: Story I’m fascinated by. And supposedly it was thought a myth, because how could it not be? And then there was a huge wolf skeleton discovered right next to a church at some point in history, not within the last 100 years. And then, that was put within the church, there’s this whole story.
Marco Canora: How cool.
Tim Ferriss: And I found the whole thing really interesting. And it turned out that Gubbio was going to be on the way to our next spot. And so we stopped, relatively so, and then we went to Pompei and then drove down and spent time on the Coast and went to a few spots there. And we had gnocchi a few times and they were good. They were really, really good. They were not as good as the ones that we made in your kitchen, in my opinion.
Marco Canora: Awesome.
Tim Ferriss: I got to say, man, that is saying a lot. Because, as a friend of mine put it who’s Italian, he said, “In Italy’s,” he’s like, “It’s all going to be good. You just have to find the excellent restaurants. It’s going to be really hard to find a terrible restaurant. Your job is just to find the excellent spots.” And we did find some excellent spots and took a cooking class with his grandma who was hilarious. And it was all outstanding. But those gnocchi that we made in that kitchen that day, despite the circumstances, were just incredible.
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