When it comes to “godfathers,” there’s Marlon Brando and his portrayal of Don Corleone, and James Brown, the “Godfather of Soul.” The Godfather of American Cuisine title, though, belongs squarely to Larry Forgione, as it has for at least three decades. The farm-to-table, “eat local” movement that now is firmly in place has cooks like Forgione to thank.
As a freshly minted 1974 graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, he went to work at London’s Connaught Hotel and began to experience the European way of sourcing and cooking to glorify the produce that grew close to home. When he returned to the States, to Brooklyn’s River Café, in 1979, he began to foster the same sensibility, cultivating relationships with farmers and creating dishes that celebrated their produce and sense of place.
With James Beard as a mentor, Forgione went on to open his Upper East Side restaurant An American Place, in 1983, which took U.S.-made products, and all-American cooking to a new level. The New York Times gave it three stars, and in 1993 Forgione was named Chef of the Year by the CIA, and America’s Best Chef by the James Beard Foundation. It was also here that his son Marc, now a chef in his own right, learned his way around a kitchen.
Author of the award-winning American Place cookbook (1996), Forgione has helmed restaurants in Rhinebeck, New York; Manhattan; St. Louis; and Las Vegas. He’s served on the board of the James Beard Foundation, and is cofounder of the Annual American Chefs’ Tribute to James Beard, a culinary gala benefiting Citymeals-on-Wheels. At the CIA, Forgione was a founder of Fresh Start, where chefs teach inmates at the corrections facility at Riker’s Island how to cook and work together in a kitchen. Most recently he cofounded the CIA’s Farm-to-Table Concentration, a hands-on educational model for students who want to be part of a community working to create healthy, sustainable, and delicious food systems.