Hot Chef: Matt Aita, Le Philosophe

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Credit: Miles Dixon

Some nights, Matt Aita, executive chef of the French bistro Le Philosophe, can create up to 30 plates of his specialty, duck a l’orange. The dish transcends its retro past in the competent hands of Aita, who got his start in French stalwarts Le Bernardin and Daniel (he eventually rose up the ranks to become sous chef at Jean-Georges.) His next chapter in French dining? Creating his French mainstays at the decidedly more accessible NoHo hotspot Le Philosophe. Here, this week’s hot chef shares his philosophy on creating his own venture.

Your duck a l’orange is the runaway hit of Le Philosophe. Can you tell us more about making this dish hot again?
Duck a l’orange is perceived as a really retro dish that’s been done too many times and not very well. People have tried to reinvent it too many times and everyone just got sick of it. It usually ends up being too sweet with a candied sauce — it’s  just not very attractive. But when I approached it, I didn’t want to mess with it too much. I quickly found it’s all about the sauce. The duck is a duck. As long as it has crispy skin, it’s gonna be delicious. As far as the accompaniment, I chose turnips, because, frankly I love duck and turnips.

How did you design the menu at Le Philosophe – is it traditionally French?
Well, we did some pasta and risotto, some things like that are on the menu that aren’t French. But, it’s the ingredients and the techniques that are. I think that’s the French way – it’s almost a military discipline. The French had to organize these techniques and the flavor combinations, and to really focus on how to treat ingredients, how to cook ingredients, things like that. I think that’s why the French have really excelled. And that’s what I try to do here.


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