Wondering what to have for dinner tonight? Marcy Blum’s problem is a little more complicated:
Planning the food for 2,500 meals a week at a new midtown Manhattan restaurant, the U.S. Steak House Co.;
Figuring out what to buy for a just-opened SoHo eatery with a relentlessly bohemian clientele;
Organizing a new menu for Charley O’s, an Irish pub in Rockefeller Center that recently began staying open 24 hours a day.
Marcy Blum manages all three assignments with distinction in her job as freelance food consultant, menu planner and kitchen organizer. And she’s only 23.
Peter Aschkenasy, formerly public relations director of the famous Rainbow Room, acknowledges her contribution to the launching of his U.S. Steak House. The restaurant now grosses $30,000 a week, thanks to full tables and opening night parties for such showbiz celebs as Bruce Springsteen, Mike Nichols and Shirley MacLaine. As for Marcy’s youth and inexperience, says Aschkenasy, “That’s the tax on the bill I will gladly pay.”
Marcy’s particular talent is for combining homegrown American staples—crunchy ears of corn, bittersweet apples, roasted nuts and even potato skins—with a French flair. One example is her chopped steak with a core of béarnaise sauce.
Her interest in cooking was stimulated early by her father, a New York food wholesaler who took her to a bagel factory “to show me how things were done,” and a mother who “baked from scratch.” Marcy put her training to use in 1970 when she set aside her stage aspirations (she had just graduated from Manhattan’s High School for the Performing Arts) to join a hippie commune near Marshfield, Vt. Every night on a wood-burning stove she tried to produce “something interesting” for 15 vegetarians. “The marvelous thing about food is that it works or it doesn’t,” she says, “and you know right away.” Yet after months of being snowed in at the commune, she felt “dull and stagnant. I could no longer afford to do what I considered unimportant. I felt I had to find a profession.”
Her quest took her to Paris where she studied at the renowned Cordon Bleu. “I was looking for something I could do well,” she explains. In Paris Marcy also abandoned vegetarianism, deciding that “to really learn I would have to eat everything.” Upon returning to New York, she took “every Hannah Housewife cooking course,” including three expensive sessions with Simone Beck, co-author of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. “It was like watching the Bolshoi.”
In January 1973 Marcy enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. Her training included classical pastry, how to treat food poisoning (“in case you fail”), and such manual skills as cutting turnips to the precise quarter-inch.
After graduation Marcy worked briefly as sous-chef responsible for sauce dishes at a Scarsdale golf club and later on the cold buffet at Maxwell’s Plum in Manhattan. Last year she turned to private catering “because a chef’s job is not creative. He has only one grandstand play a day.” A brunch she arranged for her brother’s friend, Peter Aschkenasy, led to her present job.
The others followed. She has also been teaching a five-week cooking course at Gimbels department store. In the future she wants to set up a restaurant consulting firm whose advice would range from accounting procedures to zabaglione recipes. For now, success at an early age means “I’m on the way to being best at something I enjoy.”