Jenny Xu: You graduated from New York Tech for Culinary, Hotel, and Restaurant management. When did you decide to go into the restaurant business?
Neil Kleinberg: I knew when I was twelve I was going to be a chef, when it wasn’t fashionable. It’s all I wanted to do. I came from a family of six; we lived in Brooklyn. One of my specialties was that I made sandwiches for my whole family everyday for school. Even at twelve, thirteen, I knew I was going to be a chef. My dad and mom worked so I would do six lunches. I really made a good sandwich.
JX: So what did you eat while you were in school?
NK: There was a great falafel stand outside of New York Tech. I was poor, I lived at home, I didn’t really have any money. I worked in a bagel shop baking bagels. So I would get free bagels and I would eat that.
JX: Did you cook at all for yourself while you were in culinary school?
NK: Well I would cook at home. I would have culinary labs, six hour culinary classes. Let’s say we make a four course dinner: we would do a soup, an appetizer, a main dish. Whatever we made in class that day I’d would go home and take my dad to the supermarket or to the butcher and I’d make him buy the same exact thing so I’d practice the same exact meal I made at school at home, and it was with his money. I’d cook it, I’d make some mistakes. I wouldn’t really fuck it up; I had a knack for it, a love for it, but it was constantly going into the kitchen tweaking or to make it better or to figure out how the chef did it at school. That’s what I did for the first two years. I would be up to two or three in the morning making rye bread, sometimes it would come out and sometimes it didn’t.
JX: Our magazine’s geared towards college students; as a chef, why do you think it’s important to eat well in college?
JX: What’s a dish that any college student should make, especially following your tips?
NK: It’s really good to know how to make a good grilled cheese sandwich. If you have an ironing board, you can make a grilled cheese with an ironing board. There’s nothing more comforting on a cold day than a grilled cheese sandwich.
Culinarian fully agrees–the grilled cheese is a magical gift to the college student. Stay tuned for the full article and many more photos in the first issue!