Margaret LaVetty, a New York native, has taken on her first executive chef role in her hometown at Pounds & Ounces NYC Pub. Having graduated from San Francisco’s California Culinary Academy at the age of 19, she embarked on a professional journey that has yielded wide-ranging experience in some highly regarded restaurants on both coasts. From her beginnings as saucier at China Grill New York and sous chef at Campanile in Los Angeles, to being chef de cuisine at Nemo in Miami Beach and executive chef at Miami’s Anise Tavern, LaVetty’s comfort zone has always been the kitchen.
“From as early as I can recall I’ve been cooking. I’ve been cooking in professional kitchens since I was 14. It’s where I thrive. I know every station and have a command of broad spectrum of cuisines.”
Chef LaVetty was previously executive sous chef at Manhattan’s BLT Grill & Bar, executive chef at Ft. Lauderdale’s acclaimed The Grille, and executive chef at St. Petersburg, Florida’s famous Mazzaro’s Italian Market. It was during her time in southwest Florida when she gained local fame as a master granola maker, earning accolades in a number of regional publications. Her granola is now featured in some of the new house-made desserts she has added to the menu at Pounds & Ounces.
I was fortunate enough to chat with the fabulous Chef LaVetty about her brunching ways; she did not disappoint! Funny and outgoing, this amazing woman will do great things at her new 8th Avenue address.
Where is your favorite place to brunch?
Do you think I’m ever not working brunch?! My favorite place is Pounds & Ounces because I’m always working brunch. But on the off chance I can, dim sum is my brunch of choice. I grew up on it; it’s in my blood. My family and I used to go to The Silver Palace. I’m not sure if it’s open anymore, but we went every Sunday!
What is your favorite brunch dish to cook?
Stuffed French toast. Have you seen it on our menu? I spent 17 years in Miami, so I wanted to bring that to a dish. The stuffed French toast I make involves guava, which brings in that Miami vibe. It also has shaved coconut, cream cheese, and candied ginger. That is my favorite, though the breakfast pizza is the most popular menu item.
Which do you prefer, savory or sweet brunch?
Huevos Rancheros. It’s my absolute favorite if I get to go to brunch. I love to go to Rosarita’s. It’s a dive Mexican diner and they have the best Huevos Rancheros!
And what do you like to wash that down with?
I start with a Bloody Mary, then move onto a Mimosa, and then to cocktails, in that order.
How do you prefer your Bloody Mary?
I don’t like my Bloody to taste like food. I like them strong, and I like the celery, but I don’t want shrimp or other food in there. I also don’t like too much floating in it. At a restaurant I used to work at we actually used to blend the horseradish to avoid chunks. My Bloody order is a double Grey Goose with extra lemon and celery salt on the rim. When I’m at home I like to add a little kosher salt to that, because the celery salt can be a little bitter.
You mentioned that if on the menu, you’re ordering Huevos Rancheros, but is there any other item that is a must have for you?
Not really. Mostly I’m just not really a Benny girl. I have one on my menu, the “Benny In-a-Hole” and I sometimes do an Italian version with prosciutto and basil hollandaise, but personally I don’t really go for eggs Benedict.
If you could brunch with one celebrity, who would it be?
Ethan Hawke. He is my celebrity crush. He secretly wants to marry me, I know it. I’ve stayed single just for him. I was told he came into Pounds & Ounces once, but it was before I worked here. I’m waiting for him to return. I mean, it’s true what they say about the key to a man’s heart.
You heard her Ethan, time for another visit to Pounds & Ounces to meet your dream girl! So, women executive chefs are quite rare. What message do you have for the next generation of female chef hopefuls?
If you don’t really have to do it, find something else. A lot of people sign up to be a chef because they think they are going to become the next celebrity chef, but it’s not always like that; it’s very hard work. Unless you love it, you shouldn’t do it. Being a chef should be in your blood. You bust your ass for 14-hour days, six days a week for 30 something years, but for me, it’s my life and I love it. It’s so rewarding. But what you have to remember is it’s a tough career path.
For girls, it’s even harder. You have to persevere and suck it up! When you get started, at least from what I’ve seen as a woman, they put you at the salad station. The men get to work the warm stations. However, this works out in the long run, men end up not being able to make great salad dressings. I can make an amazing salad dressing now. You just gotta prove yourself!
And finally, what is your food philosophy for Pounds & Ounces?
I just want us to be known as a culinary-driven restaurant. 8th Avenue has had some struggles, but we have stood our ground. I’m new here. I just started in January, and since then we’ve changed some concepts and grown into a social dining experience. We’re all about community, which is why you’ll find communal tables here. A lot of my food items are whimsical and based off of something else. I just want a place where people can break bread together and enjoy themselves. Ultimately I want people to find fellowship through food.