Who do you suppose will do the cooking when Bobby Flay marries Debra Ponzek in May? Ponzek is the chef and star of New York City's wonderful Montrachet Restaurant. Flay, who gathered considerable steam as the chef of Miracle Grill the last two-and-a-half years, is picking up the pace at the new Messa Grill, also in Manhattan. "You kidding? We're going out to eat," says Flay, who hasn't had much time for anything but the creation of a new kitchen and menu for the Messa, a Southwestern style restaurant much like MIracle Grill.
During his stay at Miracle, Flay was lavished with great reviews from New York critics, which explains why he was lured from Miracle to Messa. Routh Street Cafe's Steven Pyles, Dallas, an established star in his own right, says of Flay: "I'm really impressed with his work ethic and his dedication to learning this style. This kid is definitely a rising star." The 26-year-old Flay is one of a few New Yorkers who are doing "casual" American food with a Southwestern flair.
While one might argue Southwestern never caught fire here like other regional foods did, Flay says his approach is what's putting him on the culinary map. "My food is healthy, and healthy is not a trend or fad that's going to disappear. I also use ingredients people have seen before, which doesn't scare them away." Items like his blue corn salmon cakes with pineapple tomatillo salsa have in fact scared up business where the bottom lines of most restaurants are a fright.
Flay didn't begin using indigenous Southwestern ingredients until six years ago while working with Jonathan Waxman. He grew up in New York at his dad's restaurant, and, at age 17, went to the French Culinary Institute. Upon graduation he donned whites for Brighton Grill, then for Waxman at Jams. Flay is a fanatic about refining a dish to the point where it will taste exactly the same from one year to the next. "If you want repeat business you have to give customers what they expect."