Athena Calderone Gets Schooled By A Top NYC Chef

Photo: Chloe Crespi/ Courtesy of EyeSwoon.
It's an incredible thing when a dream comes true. Last week, I had the opportunity to cook in the kitchen at Franny’s alongside Chef John Adler. And, a massive dream came true for me. I’m not quite sure I can express the adoration and gratitude I feel toward Franny’s — it has single-handedly changed the way I eat and inspired the way I cook. So much so that I had to split this post into two!
The first week, Victor, Jivan, and I discovered Franny’s, we ate there three times. I was just absolutely blown away by the food — how fresh it was, how simply it was prepared and how you could taste the purity of each ingredient in every bite. Six years later, we frequent Franny’s once a week, usually right when the doors open at 6 p.m. Hence, we’ve developed a long-standing relationship with Franny, Andrew and the entire team. For us, it’s really become family dining at its best!
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One of my favorite things about Franny’s is that the menu changes daily, depending on what’s local, in season, and available at the farmer’s market. Using the finest and freshest seasonal ingredients allows for simpler food that has real stand out flavor — in simplicity the most dynamic flavor combinations exist! No one embraces the philosophy that less is more better than Franny’s. And, it’s a philosophy that has educated, elevated and transformed my palette.
They’ve cracked open a new way of combining flavors and inspired me to take creative license in my own kitchen — playing with tastes and textures to create new flavors. I am always thinking, what can I do to make this dish Franny’s worthy? What’s the contrasting element that will add the unexpected texture or flavor to color each bite? What flavor will create that moment that makes you stop, take another bite, wonder what’s making it so good and swoon.
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Photo: Chloe Crespi/ Courtesy of EyeSwoon.
There’s almost nothing greater than getting to learn first-hand from someone who inspires you. A massive thank you to Franny and Andrew for allowing me this opportunity!
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Our ingredients laid out before us: anchovies, parsley, and chive blossoms.

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“The food is very simple and very straightforward," said Chef Adler. "We change the menu as the season and produce dictate, and never aim to interfere with the best way for our ingredients to show themselves."

"The most-ordered dish is the tomato, basil, and buffalo mozzarella pizza. Beyond being recognizable to people as a classic, it is a perfect plate of food — even the most ardent Franny’s lovers make this a part of their meal. It’s hard to say that a particular dish represents Franny’s. I think it is easier to classify our approach, and investigate how that plays into each dish — we go for delicious above all else. Most people in the industry praise us for our precise and overt use of acid and salt."
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As we began I was a bundle of emotions, beyond excited, and a little nervous! We were making hard-boiled eggs with pickled artichokes and anchovies.
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We began with learning the proper way to hard-boil an egg so the yolk is ever-so-slightly soft. I also learned a trick on how to easily peel the shell. Hint: Crack the egg slightly, and then submerge in water.
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John carefully placed each slice of egg onto the plate, and then shared with me the precision upon which he adds a single drop of spicy oil to each egg segment.
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Taking my lesson very seriously!
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The spicy pickled veggies is a combo of vinegar, jalepenos, sugar, salt, water, celery, carrot, onion, and fennel. You can pickle most any seasonal vegetable, and keep it in your fridge for a variety of dishes.
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John could not possibly drive home the importance of salt more during our cooking experience. It is the single most important flavor building ingredient!
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According to Chef Adler, "The menu process is very organic. The market drives the menu, and so we often buy things at the market, and the ideas just start flowing. We have our repertoire that we can draw from, as well as the boundless canon of southern Italian cuisine. Once we take inventory of what we have in-house, we make decisions about what can change that day. A new dish is always tested before the night’s service. We catalog everything, so if we want to tweak a dish, we know where the changes can be made. The menu is finalized by 3:30 p.m. every day, so if a dish isn’t menu-ready by then, it gets put on hold. I keep a 'menu forecast' on my clipboard at all times. It allows us to keep track of changes we want to make, and when we want to make them."

"In the kitchen, slowing down is always hard. During a busy service, it is loud, adrenaline is flowing, and everyone is pushing themselves to make the best food possible. That is when your instinct is to speed up, but it is more important than ever to slow down and focus. Thomas Keller’s phrase is, 'work slowly and deliberately." I love that. I try and drill that into our team: You can be precise and detailed with anything you do, as long as you are completely focused on it. The ability to speed up and remain completely focused, and in control, comes with experience, and time spent in the kitchen.”
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Always cracked fresh pepper in a mill!
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Ah, the importance of fresh herbs!
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The menu changes daily.
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I loved getting a sneak peak of John's menu ideas and notes!

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John first demonstrated how he very carefully distributes the veggies onto the eggs, so that you get a taste of each pickled ingredient in every bite.
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Only after distributing the veggies evenly did we go back and add some of the reserved pickling juice onto the dish. Finger plating encouraged!
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To finish, we placed three anchovies atop the eggs & pickles. Funny story: I once dared Jivan to try an anchovy at Franny's in exchange for a guitar. He was not a fan, but he does play guitar now!
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The plate was absolutely stunning, with each ingredient placed just so — not only adding maximum flavor to every bite, but also being aware of how the plate looked visually.
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So proud! Dream come true.
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This dish truly represents Franny's and EyeSwoon. The plate is so incredibly simple, fresh, and delicious, but equally stunning visually.
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Admiring our work, and taking in this special moment!
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Now we get to share a meal together, the best part! And, I am proud to announce that I have now been converted to an anchovy lover!