After working in high-profile NYC kitchens including Gotham Bar & Grill, Le Bernardin and Judson Grill, chef Bill Telepan opened New American restaurant Telepan in late 2005. Since then, the elegant Upper West Side eatery has been widely celebrated by diners and critics for its seasonal menu and use of fresh, local ingredients. “We buy locally, we buy as much organic as we can,” Telepan says. “It’s important because seasonal and local means you’re getting the freshest ingredients that are really well grown by someone I know. It’s just a better product.”
I recently spoke with chef Telepan about his passion for seasonal cooking, helping make schools healthier, and more.
Why has the philosophy of sourcing local ingredients been so important to you over the years?
It’s very simple — when things are seasonal and local, they taste better. When a carrot is pulled out of the ground that day from less than 100 miles away, it’s going to taste better than a carrot that was pulled out of the ground a week ago and flown in from another part of the country.
What type of meals do you cook at home with your family?
We try to keep things quick and simple, but it changes. If I want to try something new, like something with Chinese ingredients, I’ll mess around with that at home. My daughter and I love to make our own pasta, but it’s all about keeping things simple–and we use the crock pot a lot!
So your daughter is a little chef-in-training?
Yes, she likes to cook and she loves to bake—she has officially become the family baker.
What are some of your favorite dishes on the menu right now at Telepan?
Wow, that’s a tough one because I love them all! Right now, we are pulling our own mozzarella to order. Through Murray’s Cheese, I found a great grass-fed milk producer that makes curds that we pull into the mozzarella—it creates an amazing cheese. I also recently started buying whole veal from a farm in upstate New York. We feature it in a dish on the menu, which is amazing, but we also make sausage with it for pasta. I obviously love everything on the menu, but those are definitely a couple things I am very excited about!
Sounds like there’s a bit of Italian influence in there…
Yes, well, I was trained in France and have visited Italy many times, but I’m from New Jersey. France and Italy are so hyper-seasonal, so it has been nice to gain influences from there, but given my background, I am able to take it a few steps further.
How did you get involved with Wellness in the Schools?
Very simply, my daughter is in a public school and I had met some parents who were trying to make some changes, and given that I am a cook, I figured I could help them move it a long a little quicker. 70% of the kids in public schools are getting a majority of their calories in a day by eating school lunches–and this mostly includes breaded chicken, hamburgers, french fries and nuggets. I figured this could be something I could help with by making those calories healthier. Over the last four years, we have been able to eliminate types of food like this from the Wellness in the School menu.
Has getting the school system to make change been a challenge?
Well, it’s really just about getting back to cooking and getting rid of the processed foods. It’s that simple. The school system has a large selection of food that they are able to buy, and it’s all about what foods they should be buying and how they should be preparing it. It’s not local, organic or even seasonal, which is fine, but we made it a point to get rid of the processed foods and get cooking again. This is the first step–and hopefully 50 years from now, everyone will get back to buying local.
Congratulations for being named one of the top ten chefs in Food & Wine’s Chefs Make Change campaign! How did it feel to participate?
That was so exciting! And such a surprise because we’re such a small organization. To be recognized in the same light as Emeril, Mario Batali, Rick Bayless, José Andrés and Alice Waters—we were extremely honored. It was a great feeling to be included in that team of chefs. And it created such a big awareness and raised a lot of money for all of our charities.
Inspired by Ingredients was a fantastic first cookbook. Do you plan on publishing another?
Yes, I am always putting down outlines and thoughts, so hopefully by this summer I will have something in the works.
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Photo of Bill Telepan by Alan Batt. Additional photos courtesy of www.telepan-ny.com.