Q&A: Celeb chef Nick Liberato talks Restaurants on the Edge and lockdown cooking
Nick Liberato fills us in on his new TV show Restaurants on the Edge and how the food scene is recovering—plus shares his go-to quarantine recipes
Nick Liberato is a restaurateur, business mastermind and chef to the stars, with over 28 years' experience in the food world. He's prepared meals for the likes of Will Smith, Tom Hanks, The Beastie Boys, Barbara Streisand, Cher, and plenty more. His latest project is Netflix' hit food show Restaurants on the Edge, in which Liberato and his team help breathe new life into restaurants in exotic locations, from Malta to Costa Rica.
What was the most challenging aspect of making Restaurants on the Edge?
I would say just landing the location and hoping the weather works in our favor. Going into other countries can be hard with language barriers but I must say we were very lucky with how well we were taken care of. I saw boats break down, cars and equipment freeze, heavy downpours and roads blocked due to fallen trees. Never a dull moment.
From the beginning to the end, this show evolved into something I don’t think anyone could have imagined. Every person involved made the show what it is today. I had initially brought the idea to the table, but in order to make the show come to life, much was added to make it dynamic and relatable.
What do you hope viewers will take away from the show?
The fact that we are uplifting everything positive and highlighting the culture in the best possible way. Too many other shows display people being belittled just for the sake of shock value. We come in with the best intentions to impact the business the best way possible while setting them up for success that will be consistent.
Why was it important for the show to tap into local communities and tastes?
Because it helped reincorporate the culture and local vibe back into the space and the owners. Outside eyes looking in bring attention to details that the restaurant owners take for granted. Putting that into a space in another country is important as someone traveling there wants to experience what that country has to offer.
How did you approach transforming the owners’ outlooks/perspectives?
We always start off experiencing what a guest would see and eat. We sit down for a meal with them to get a feel for who they are and what experience they are giving. I then go over reviews of the restaurant, which isn’t easy for most to hear but that is when we build from the ground up to transform the space and the owners.
Did you have a favorite location/restaurant that you transformed?
Absolutely, I would say it was between Slovenia and Austria. Slovenia because the country offered so much, from the Alps, beaches, the city and the wine country. The people were so inviting and I felt very safe there. Austria was a dreamland of snow-capped mountains, waterfalls, great food and of course Schnapps!
Restaurants on the Edge season two is released on Netflix on May 8
How has covid-19 affected your work as a restaurateur?
It’s changed the face of the business all across the world. It was very tough closing down all the restaurants, laying off employees, then readjusting to takeaway/delivery solely. That is not sustainable for most restaurants and we will most likely see 50% plus go out of business. With that said there will be that much more opportunity after this to fill that void. It’s so important to use this time wisely to adjust, adapt and most importantly create so coming out of this you will have something new to adapt to the times.
What’s your prediction for how the food scene will recover?
I’m already starting to see it! Lots of chefs that were once behind the scenes are now starting to do pop-ups which I think is great. Ghost kitchens and other small venues will be on the rise as it has less overhead and is easier to manage. Probably less front of the house along with many other things to adjust to such as disposable menus, masks, and cashless transactions, just to name a few. We need to hope for the best but be smart with how we move forward.
How do you think our behaviors as diners / customers will change?
Clearly we all want to be in the safest environments when we dine but at some point people will have to adapt to the new ways. Everyone has been cooking at home, which can get old after a while to some but has showed everyone to be more independent instead of going out all the time. Especially with the economy hit as hard as it has, it may be tough for people to afford to go out as they did before. That’s why it’s so important as an owner to simplify and prepare for what is to come.
What's the best way to show our support for restaurants right now?
Buying gift cards for friends, takeaway cocktails and food and posting about it. Social media is more important now to a business than ever. Take your precautions and remember to tip. That’s something I don’t see a lot of people doing when picking up. This business was hit very hard and every little bit helps.
Photo by Amber Garceau – Compass Collective
What are you cooking at home these days? Any repeat faves in your kitchen?
Everything! I’m pretty much back to my private chef days except now instead of cooking for actors, musicians and politicians, I’m cooking for my wife and three little girls. Lots of bbq, cast iron pan meals in the oven and of course, desserts.
I like my family to eat healthy so a lot of protein and vegetables. Grilled steaks, roasted chicken, salads and salmon. If I had to say one of them is a favorite I would say it’s my whole roasted paprika turmeric chicken with sweet potatoes and corn on the cob. I’m cooking for kids so I have to keep it simple. They also love when I make them fruit popsicles!
And finally...why do you think banana bread so popular right now?!
It’s interactive and fun for a family to make together and what’s better than pulling hot banana bread out of the oven and taking in that lovely smell. We put chocolate chips in ours and make sure the bananas are brown to make it that much more sweet. We have made a few batches already to drop at our family and friends doorsteps to spend some love to the ones we can’t hang with. Every little thought counts.