The Feed interview: Obama's favorite chef, Missy Robbins

Chef Missy Robbins: Work it.
Chef Missy Robbins: Work it.

One may imagine that chef Missy Robbins's crowning moments might have been the many times she cooked for the Obamas. At her former post, Spiaggia in Chicago, "the Obamas always came alone, just the two of them, and ordered the tasting menu," she tells TONY. "It was obvious they loved food." At A Voce, Robbins is busy fine-tuning her kitchen crew and seducing us with roasted sardines that were one of our top 10 eats of 2008. We talked to her about new dishes, a new pastry chef and the opening of a Columbus Circle A Voce in the former Caf Gray space.

Where are you with the plans for A Voce in the Time Warner Center?
We're still planning a spring '09 opening, May, perhaps. It will be a similar restaurant but not the same. We want diners to come in and feel that they're at A Voce. We're using the same chairs and tabletops but are also planning an antipasto bar. The old Caf Gray kitchen is being rethought to allow more a direct view on Central Park. Some of our favorite dishes like the cassoncini, the sardines and the burrata will be on the menu, but we will offer different things, too.

How are you responding to the economic downturn?
My goal is to make the restaurant more accessible, both in terms of economics and feel. On February 2, we'll launch a new weekly $32 prix-fixe lunch with three courses. Every week will feature a different region of Italy, starting with Lombardy [known for vitello tonnato, polenta and risotto to name a few]. At dinner, I also want to keep the specials under the $30 mark. It's more important to have people enjoying food instead of just using expensive ingredients.

Nice. Any other changes happening?
We're in the process of changing the menu, adding a spaghetti carbonara with duck egg and La Quercia guanciale; a chestnut pasta with butter and black truffles, and a ricotta gnocchi with lamb rag. And we have a new pastry chef, Jennifer McCoy, who moved here from New Orleans where she worked with Emeril. Her new desserts include a zuppa inglese with layers of hazelnut brittle, gianduja mousse and chocolate cake; a vanilla panna cotta with Meyer lemon and thyme, and an espresso semifreddo with caramel sauce, almonds and sea salt. I also would love to improve our cheese program. I'm a cheese fanatic and feel that a lot of people don't know much about the range of Italian cheeses.—Sylvie Bigar