Chef Lauren DeSteno has been sharpening her kitchen skills by cooking and creating at an array of esteemed spaces. At Eleven Madison Park, she was both a savory and pastry sous chef. After, she took a short hiatus, focused on food styling and recipe testing. And just three days before Chef Michael White opened Marea in May 2009, DeSteno joined as Garde Manger.
DeSteno has worked her way through the ranks to her current position—the Group Executive Chef of Luxury & International Brands at Altamarea Group, overseeing the company’s portfolio of restaurants. Amid COVID-19, though, her practice has shifted, and she spent considerable time juggling a new structure for the Michelin-starred restaurant—for the first time, delivery and takeout.
A few weeks ago, Whitewall spoke with Chef DeSteno to hear how she’s being mindful, growing vegetables inside, and baking lots of bread.
WHITEWALL: How are you doing?
LAUREN DESTENO: This is such a loaded question now, am I right? My family and I are all healthy—that is the biggest thing at this point. I am so grateful for that. This is just a really bizarre existence at the moment. We all have to do our best to roll the punches, pivot, and make changes as needed.
Also, more than ever, we need to be aware and empathetic to those around us. Everyone is responding differently to this crisis, which is completely understandable, and it takes a bit of an emotional toll. There are a lot of people working harder than ever to get and keep people healthy; my daily grind really pales in comparison. Staying positive and grateful, and meditating, are getting me through.
WW: What are you listening to, reading, or watching?
LD: My husband and I have had our fair share of Netflix binges—like “Ozark,” the “Waco” series, and the “Homeland” final season. Other than that, I’ve been reading a lot of guides on foraging and gardening. I’ve been listening to some podcasts, Johnny Cash, Bruce Springsteen, Lizzo, ‘80s playlists… It’s all over the place.
WW: What are you cooking?
LD: Before COVID-19 took hold stateside, I was in Istanbul, Turkey representing the Altamarea Group at the international Parabere Forum (I am also the U.S. Correspondent), and paying a visit to our property there—Morini Istanbul.
I was able to experience a lot of amazing food on that trip and that shaped a lot of what I was cooking in the early days—simit (Turkish bagels), lamb stuffed eggplant, etc. I made batches of stock (chicken, turkey, vegetable, and lobster), “Sunday Gravy,” and some requests by my husband—doughnuts, dumplings, and hot and sour soup
Even though I am back at work, the days off are a bit different these now and it’s nice to take on some time-consuming meals here and there.
WW: How are you staying connected?
LD: There have been some Zoom calls, phone calls, and FaceTimes early on. Once Marea reopened for delivery and takeout, text messages and photos have been key. It is hard for me to stay connected, but I am really trying to up my game!
WW: How are you staying creative? Are you able to make work at this time?
LD: We were lucky enough to reopen Marea for delivery and takeout. Having some normalcy of work is good, but it is such a different experience than I ever thought I would have. It is still a very surreal feeling walking through the empty dining room to get to the kitchen. You have to adapt and be flexible in this time—and that can actually spark some new corners of creativity. We are planning how we want to present the menu of Marea when we open for dine-in business, so that has been a great outlet.
WW: Where are you finding hope or inspiration?
LD: My husband and I live in an apartment, but we are lucky enough to have a small terrace that I think is a five-acre farm. We grow some of our vegetables inside using the OGarden, but my little terrace farm is a real source of hope right now. I have been perfecting it over the past three years and this lockdown time has actually given me a chance to start it properly and in a timely fashion. The miracle of planting a tiny seed that then grows into a delicious food will never cease to amaze me. Even if I can’t spend time “farming,” just stepping out among those plants is an instant source of hope and inspiration for the future.