By Torey Van Oot
Photograph by Bob Rozycki
At an age when most kids are content to chow down on hot dogs and macaroni and cheese, Jeffrey Warshaw’s palate was decidedly more sophisticated.
Before graduating from grade school, he became a devotee of The Galloping Gourmet, as TV chef Graham Kerr was known, subscribed to a cheese of the month club and scanned menus for escargot.
“When I was like 8 years old, I ordered snails and I asked to speak to the chef and the chef came out and I gave him a little lecture on why his preparation was not the same as a classic preparation,” Warshaw says over tea at the Westport location of Aux Delices, a gourmet food shop and café he frequents.
Despite dressing up as Kerr for career day in the first grade, Warshaw didn’t pursue a profession in the culinary arts. But the broadcast executive, who now owns and operates dozens of radio stations as chief executive officer of the Westport-based Connoisseur Media, has continued to feed his passion for food, traveling the globe to track down the best meals and ingredients.
Recent trips have taken him and his 21-year-old daughter, Brette, a fellow foodie who now works for the site Food52.com, to Denmark, Italy, Morocco, Sweden and Spain’s San Sebastián, which boasts a high concentration of top-rated restaurants.
On one trip to Copenhagen, where they dined at the renowned Noma restaurant, Warshaw and his daughter scheduled a last-minute overnight trip to Sweden just to check out an establishment known for serving marrow scooped fresh from a bone over diced raw beef hearts in the middle of the dining room.
“We read about it and it sounded so cool, and we decided to go on a day trip,” he says of Fäviken. “We went and flew there and we pulled up to the restaurant … and there was literally a pig’s head sticking out of the window, they were butchering it, and we knew we got to the right place.”
Warshaw likes to bring the tastes from his trips back home, packing the pantry of his Westport home with ingredients he’s discovered during his travels.
He goes online and to specialty shops to buy noodles from Gragnano, a small town in Naples he describes as the “epicenter of dried pasta.” He adds zest to his dishes with Ras el hanout, a blend of spices he picked up in Morocco. He swears by Poggio Etrusco olive oil, a peppery blend he orders from Tuscany by the case, and bacon from Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams in Tennessee. Locally, he heads to Fjord Fisheries for seafood, Stiles Farmers Market for meats and Westport’s Double L Market for artisanal goods.
Having high-quality ingredients on hand allows Warshaw to make simple but delicious meals in no time.
“If I have Benton’s bacon, if I have greens, an onion or dried porcini in my cupboard, or real Italian tomato paste or an egg, walking in the door, I can whip up anything,” he says.
Simple is key for the mostly self-taught chef. He usually skips recipes that involve complicated sauces or reductions while cooking at home, figuring he gets enough of those preparations and styles during his family’s frequent trips out to eat.
His specialty is his roast chicken, which he rubs with oil, salt, cumin and freshly smashed pepper, a twist he said that adds more flavor and texture than the ground variety, before roasting the bird on high heat over a bed of onions, fennel, butternut squash, potatoes and carrots.
“My kids and wife, if you ask them their last meal on earth, it would be my roast chicken,” he says.
Warshaw’s also not afraid to seek out time-saving tips in the kitchen. Extra containers of the dipping sauce that come with takeout dumplings go straight into the fridge. A dash of vinegar, a little sugar and fresh garlic and ginger turn the condiment into a flavorful but easy stir fry base.
“It’s great with rice noodles and it’s great with shrimp, it’s great with vegetables,” he says. “A little dark sesame oil on top and you think you’re in a Chinese kitchen. It takes two minutes.”
Those “guilty shortcuts” will likely come in handy now that Warshaw and wife, Wynter, have welcomed their first child, Shane, together into the family. The proud dad is hoping this newest addition inherits the adventurous taste buds that he himself already shares with daughter Brette and 18-year-old son Sammy, who is fond of sweetbreads and foie gras.
“I’m really looking forward to my kids cooking with the new baby, my daughter teaching my son and them eating together and then turning the baby on to the foods,” he says.
The infant is already getting an introduction to some of the region’s top restaurants. He visited LeFarm, the farm-to-table restaurant in Westport opened by James Beard-nominated chef Bill Taibe, when he was just seven weeks old.
But even more important than expanding his younger son’s palate, in Warshaw’s mind, is exposing him to the values of the culinary-oriented community.
“There is nothing like food people,” he says. “If you’re not shy, you’ll find that people who are into food or who make their livelihood and lives around food are the most generous.”