‘If it’s not broke, break it’: Meet chef Edward Forster - INTERVIEW
blog by Nick Mendola • September 12, 2013 @ 1:38pm
Raised in North Tonawanda, educated in Hyde Park, trained in England, and refined in Philadelphia, Atlantic City and Chicago… just to get home and do it right.
You gotta get up to get out, and to get where you want to be.
That’s the message from supremely talented chef Edward Forster, who’s spent kitchen time with the biggest names in the world and is now harvesting his labors to grow his dream back with The Workshop Buffalo. It’s an intriguing idea from the former Mike A chef, not unlike the path to its blossoming.
But before talking about The Workshop Buffalo, there needs to be some exposition. Forster’s a grinder in the way his city likes to view itself. He found something he loved and is relentless in how he sharpens his tools: metaphorically, and, presumably, physically.
After going to the Culinary Institute of America downstate, Forster went to England for six months and really hit his stride when Buffalo chef Mike Andrzejewski took an interest in the self-described “punk kid.”
“I met Mike A when I was 19 after I was working in England, kinda chatted with him and hung out,” Forster said. “He let me hang out in his kitchen for about two weeks when I was on vacation. He got me a gig at Oliver’s when I was 21 and we started exchanging emails and messages as I got older.”
That job at Oliver’s was his springboard to working with some colossal chefs. With opportunities to work with Charlie Trotter and Michel Richard, Forster found a home with French chef Georges Perrier in Philadelphia.
“That’s where the traveling and cooking thing got serious, got real,” Forster quipped. “Once I got there I interviewed and showed off what I could do, they liked my personality and liked my work ethic so they offered me whatever spot I wanted on line, which was incredible being a 22-year-old punk kid. They pretty much said do whatever you want to. It worked out really well.”
And he went to work at the job of out-working everyone else.
“If we started our day at 1, I’d show up at 11, work for two hours for free and hang out with the lady who was butchering fish and learn how to do it even better than I knew before,” Forster said. “I would make pasta with the lady who made pasta all day long, beautiful gnocchi, stuffed tortellini, cannelloni, cavatelli. They made amazing things.”
“I never really thought of doing that stuff and I wasn’t expecting someone to pay me to learn. That’s what culinary school is for and that’s your own thing. I’d basically just show up every day and work for free for a couple hours. On my day off, I’d just show up and work for free. I was new to the town and didn’t really have anything going on, so I just dug my heels in. I really committed to work.”
While the attitude reaps benefits for the restaurant, it’s an even bigger boost for the worker himself. Forster found his talent’s tentacles picking up skills and knowledge of which many chefs merely hope.
“It really taught me that Napoleonic system of, ‘I’m currently here. I’m bigger than you. I’m taking you over now because I know all of your (expletive),’” Forster said. “I think I got promoted three times in three months just out of work ethic. It’s something I try to profess here, but it’s difficult.”
Perrier dragged Forster with him through several projects, including a stop in Atlantic City before the young chef felt he needed to break free; it wasn’t that Perrier couldn’t teach him anymore—far from it—rather that Forster wanted to find his own way.
He headed to Chicago where he met up with “MasterChef” judge Graham Elliott and was a part of opening a few more restaurants.
“It was a lot of fun, going in every day, listening to whatever hard rock music we felt like and trying to make the best food,” Forster said. “The ethos was, ‘If it’s not broke, break it.’ It doesn’t have to be staid and stoic kind of mentality. It’s ‘What can you bring to the table?’ To develop and make the restaurant better was awesome.”
Sadly for any immediate Elliott-Forster joint, Forster could no longer ignore the call of his home.
“It just got to a point where Buffalo’s home, I needed to be closer to home and I wanted to start working on opening my own restaurant,” Forster said. “So I packed up the bags again and drove across the country.”
It was here that Forster found a home with his old friend Mike A, cooking at the chef’s eponymous Hotel Lafayette home. For 18 months, Forster raised the eyebrows of Buffalo’s food community (see a gallery of some of Forster’s creations) before breaking away with The Workshop Buffalo project. This is the next step for Forster, and from where his own place will sprout.
“At the moment, I’m working on a series of what’s called pop-up dinners,” Forster said. “So if you’re a cafe and you do eggs at day, I can come in and do dinners at night in two entirely different concepts. I could be on a food truck. I could be in an open field, doing different dinners, styles of food and aesthetics on kind of a bimonthly idea right now.”
“I have three spaces that I’m ready to go on now and the idea is to keep it a secret until the afternoon of, so people get that fun experience, ambiguous and not knowing where they are going to be eating and what kind of food.”
Like Forster’s career in food, which he let “envelope” him, he wants patrons to throw caution to the wind, not to dip their toes in the pool but to dive right into the water.
As the pop-ups go on, Forster is looking for a traditional home for The Workshop Buffalo.
“We’re shopping for restaurant spaces and have a couple friends ready to play ball and help out,” Forster said. “So we’re looking for a permanent place that works and we’d be happy to call a home, and if we find another investor along the way, that’s great, too.”