Marcella Smith is the General Manager of L’Ecole, the restaurant of the French Culinary Institute, where aspiring chefs hone their culinary skills and where their homework is your meal. Highly regarded in the foodie community, the Michelin-recommended restaurant has received praise from Zagat’s, New York Magazine, and high marks from the hoi polloi on Yelp and Open Table. We met Smith during a screening of Blood Into Wine, a documentary about Tool lead singer Maynard James Keenan. Read below to see how Smith likes to waste time…
Describe a typical workday.
Emails, wine list changes, menu changes, staff meetings, meeting with chefs and students on the day’s specials, taking reservations, working the floor during service which includes: bussing tables, opening wine, taking orders, seating guests, answering the phone, running food, etc. and last but not least….wine tastings!
What made you decide to become a sommelier and delve into the restaurant business? What do you love most about your position as General Manager?
I was an actor bartending on the side when my husband and I decided to have our first baby (Hazel is three now). I couldn’t fathom being a pregnant bartender, so I quit acting and took a restaurant management job. I went back and got my sommelier certification right after Hazel was born. I think as general manager, I truly enjoy trying to create an atmosphere that is both welcoming and exciting for guests. Other than that…..cocktail experimentation is pretty damn fun!
For those inexperienced wine drinkers out there, could you recommend two or three great wines to break them in? And for those who hit the bottle on the regular, what are some old standards that you love?
For beginners I recommend starting with rosé. It is unpretentious, light, fruity and goes with any food you can imagine. My go-to wine is anything sparkling. Love it….anytime. For those looking for something different, turn to the Jura region of France. Oxidized whites and obscure reds, both really good with food. There is also some amazing sparkling wine coming out of the Jura.
Are there any new promising wines that we should look out for?
Cru Beaujolais (100% gamay [a type of grape]) is an amazingly under-appreciated wine. It is ridiculously versatile for food pairing:light enough to go with some fish and structured enough to stand up to meat. It is also a great value.
Can you recommend some great wine shops in the city?
Since you’re a part of the city’s restaurant/hospitality community, I’m curious about your favorite places to eat and imbibe.
What are some of your favorite NYC neighborhoods and why?
I actually do love Williamsburg. A close friend of mine lives there. When I visit, it seems like I just took a trip back in time to the 80s of my youth. They also have killer restaurants and boutiques. I love Hudson Heights (between Washington Heights and Inwood) because it is hardly like you are even in Manhattan. It is right by Ft. Tryon Park which houses The Cloisters and The New Leaf Café.
Since we met at a TOOL event, I’m assuming Maynard and his projects encompass some of your favorite music. What are some of your other favorite bands/musicians?
Hmmm….some of my other favorites are Jane’s Addiction, Lucero and Marvin Gaye.
What are some of your favorite films?
I don’t seem to have the attention span to watch movies anymore. Now I just Netflix TVshows and power watch an entire season in a week. I am a major fan of The Wire, Weeds, Californication, Dexter, Party Down and Mad Men.
What do you love most about the city?
There are a million things to love about this city, but mostly I love that it makes me feel special. Weird right?
What is the best way to beat this darn heat in the city?