Chef Marco Canora is more than the guy who got New Yorkers (and tourists galore) to wait in line for takeout bone broth, or its hot chocolate-flavored cousin, at Brodo. From milling his own grains in-house to favoring wild fish, natural sweeteners, and grass-fed butter, he's now bringing a healthy delicious mindset to dining at his East Village Italian restaurant, Hearth.
"You never had a restaurant in NYC ten years ago and said the word 'healthy.' It was the death knell," Canora says. By doing so he's leading the way among high-caliber Manhattan restaurants by positioning quality, nutrient-dense, and, admittedly, more costly ingredients as a key criteria for delicious cuisine. "After all, greasy takeout with tons of sugar, MSG, and sticky fatty junky protein is delicious," he points out.
What's driving him instead, he says, is "making wholesome, real food that's nutrient dense ridiculously tasty and satisfying."
And "as a guy who cooks for people," Canora loves that New Yorkers dine out a lot. "It's a real opportunity. A lot of New Yorkers are very conscious about what they eat and have strict parameters and if they're not cooking... Well, my wife and I are challenged by this all the time, do we really want takeout? They're not using clean meat, or good vegetables or good fats..."
With the new menu, Canora hopes to changes discussions at the table (even if your mouth is full).
Here, he shares his food philosophy—in handy visual form that he prints on his new menus, too—and his predictions for the future: even more ingredient transparency in fine dining, healthy food that's also decadent, and (of course) little Brodos everywhere. —Marissa Gold and Melisse Gelula
How did you personally learn about more mindful, healthy approaches to eating?
Fifteen years of working as a cook and chef in New York City kitchens made me sick, fat, depressed, and bloated. My diet literally consisted of mostly bread and butter, booze, and Marlboro reds. Throw in a sh*t-ton of stress and you can get an idea of how I got there. I began educating myself on what it means to eat well back in 2009 to 2010 after my first visit to a nutritionist.
But even back in 2003 when you first opened Hearth, you had high standards for the food.
Local produce and clean, hormone-free meats have always been the norm at Hearth since 2003, but using non-GMO food has become more important lately. Most of the wheat grown in this country is non-GMO, but the problem as I see it is that most of the "big food" commodity wheat is being sprayed with glyphosate to make harvesting easier. I am not a scientist and have a boatload of skepticism when it comes to research, but my gut tells me (no pun intended) that the millions of pounds of glyphosate being sprayed on crops in this country is doing us and our land much harm.
So you decided to mill all of your own grains in house?
We only use organic flours or mill our own grain from small production farms.
That seems labor-intensive. Is there a culinary benefit to it, aside from avoiding glyphosate?
I’m constantly trying to find new toys to keep my chefs and cooks excited and learning. As I learned more about fat and oxidation the idea of "fresh milling" was very appealing, not only in terms of healthfulness but flavor as well. Think about a fresh mint leaf—smash it between your palms and pulverize it. The oils, aromas and flavor that comes off of it are amazing, but two days later it yields a fraction of those flavors and aromas. Same goes for milling grains. It’s an infinitely more flavorful product than pre-milled flours and polenta.
How did you find the food suppliers you use at Hearth?
For close to 20 years now I’ve been cultivating relationships with food vendors and I’m always on the lookout for new players. I’ve recently been introduced to a company called Zone 7 which shares the same ethos of transparency and local as we do at Hearth.
How would you summarize the ethos of Hearth’s food?
I spent eight months distilling this philosophy down to this infographic on our menu [pictured below]—I worked with a great illustrator, Libby Vander Ploeg, on it. If I were to distill it down further to a few sentences I would say the following: We serve real food—minimally processed—with an eye on nutrient density.
Do you see this as the future? Do you think someday trans fats and GMO produce will be a thing of the past?
I think packaged food like trans fat-laden cookies and crackers and GMO produce are here to stay. What I do see as the future is much more transparency amongst restaurants. I find it fascinating that I, as a consumer, can know more about my food choices in the aisles of a supermarket than I can as a diner in New York City. As more and more people begin to believe in the power of food, transparency in restaurants will become a thing, and certifying organizations could be good too. I think that we are heading towards a time where restaurants, like packaged foods, will have labels identifying the kinds of food they serve. I hope my menu infographic will be a catalyst to help us get there.
I heard that you tried cooking only with coconut oil for a while. How did that go?
The vast majority of fats we use are olive oil, grass-fed butter, and other animal fats. The challenge was finding an oil for our deep frying! Coconut oil proved to be too expensive. We are currently using an expeller pressed, non-GMO canola oil. I’m still trying to find other options that can work. Most importantly, much of our frying is done in oil that's only used once and discarded.
What’s your personal wellness routine like outside of the restaurant?
I try to have some level of movement on a daily basis. On most days I do a 20–30 minute routine in the morning at home. It’s kind of a mix of yoga and weight training. I try to meditate, too. It comes and goes in spurts. This has been a good week; I’ve meditated five of the last seven days.
What’s next for you? How do you see yourself expanding on the mindful restaurant food movement?
I’m pretty obsessed with Brodo. I think bone broth is the perfect example of how good "healthy" can taste. I dream of a time when cities across the country are speckled with little Brodo broth shops! Broth is so much more satisfying than sugary coffee drinks.
What will it take to get there?
The real challenge moving forward will be to prove to our customers that eating well can feel decadent and satisfying…maybe even more satisfying if you ask more from your food than just great taste.
Want to try Canora's food, stat? Try his Sweet Pepper Peperonata at home tonight.
(Photos: Melissa Hom; Michael Harlan Turkell; Hearth)
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