Fornino's Michael Ayoub on Children's Menus and Chefs Responding to Critics

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Michael Ayoub's grilled pizza with clams.
Earlier today we brought you Fornino chef Michael Ayoub's thoughts on Park Slope's charms and former grit, growing up in the kitchen, and why he jettisoned the wood-burning oven for the grill.

Here, in the second part of the interview, we talk about his plans for the new Fornino Park
Slope, the dustup over the restaurant's children's menu, and why chefs shouldn't respond to critics.

What's the worst mistake you've made in the kitchen?

Probably pouring five gallons of hot duck stock on my legs. That was a big mistake. Or lighting the oven on fire. One of them sent me to the hospital and the other closed the restaurant for the night.

What are your thoughts on chefs or restaurateurs responding to reviews? (As in the recent Keith McNally-Adam Platt kerfuffle.)

With critics, it's only one person's view, so really we have to consider the source sometimes. I have, for the last 33 years as a chef and owner, been at the mercy of some critics or cynics. But sometimes to make a brouhaha out of it is to play into them [into their hands].

What are your personal favorites on the menu at Fornino Park Slope?

Well, obviously I love pizza. We have some pastas that we're hand-making and filling. I've been making my own sausages -- lamb, chicken, and pork -- I'm quite proud of them ...

Will you be opening a retail shop at Fornino Park Slope?

I am. Probably in about three weeks we'll open the retail shop. It'll have fresh pastas, pasta sauces, prepared, ready-to-eat items, as well as an Italian bake shop. And I'll be able to do takeout and delivery of the entire menu from that space.

What baked goods are you planning?

We'll be selling the focaccia we have in the restaurant as well as the desserts we have in the restaurant, and a couple other specialty ones made just for the store.

Various blogs have written that online complaints from Park Slope parents about Fornino's lack of a children's menu have prompted you to add one. Did you actually get complaints from parents, and do you have a children's menu now?

I have to tell you, I'm over 50 years old so I don't Yelp, or Tweet, or have a Facebook page, OK. It [the children's menu requests] was brought to my attention by a junior manager. And this is when we were open for previews. You always make little tweaks. That's why you open in previews, to make those adjustments. Restaurants are in the hospitality business. I'm here as a neighborhood restaurant to listen to the requests of my customers. No one ever made such a big deal about other requests I've taken care of. I'm quite shocked at the brouhaha. I'm here to listen to the requests of guests, and any time I can, I accommodate them.

What restaurants or bars do you like other than your own?

I enjoy Degustation, David Burke, Nobu, and Eleven Madison Park.

Any in Brooklyn?

I don't live in Brooklyn, so to be honest with you ...

I read that you're a glassblower? How did you get into that?

From sugar blowing. Those little plastic swans on the wedding cake are not supposed to be plastic. They were blown sugar, and it's the same technique as blowing glass. I used to compete internationally, and won many first-place awards for blowing sugar [in pastry competitions]. In the '80s, when you would compete, you'd have to make your presentation piece, put it in your car, drive on the Gowanus, bribe the elevator man to get it up to the floor. ... I don't see the big deal now [as in shows like Food Network's Challenge] moving it from one table to another. Don't tell me about moving it five feet!

What's the last movie you saw?

Avatar, I loved it.


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