The Great Ones is a celebration of humans we admire — and an exploration of why they cook, not just how. Will Malnati is a restaurateur and podcast producer, which seem like very different things, but, as he tells it, both stem from his entrepreneurial genes. You must recognize his surname — his family owns Lou Malnati’s, the beloved Illinois-based deep-dish-pizza chain. At home in New York City, he showed us how to make his elaborate weekend brunch spread.
The easiest way to describe my career is that hospitality is what I do. I spent my 20s building and growing the Toro restaurant group — we now have four Toro locations around the world — and I’m still very involved. But, in the meantime, I've always had a love for creating content, and four years ago, I started producing podcasts, many of which are about food.
Hospitality has been the through line, as I still spend a lot of my time in the restaurant world. I'm in the middle of replacing a boiler at the restaurant. Very exciting. That was my morning, figuring out the boiler, and now my afternoon is figuring out an episode that we're putting out for a show.Growing up in the restaurant business taught me so much — of course, the very natural progression for me was to go into the restaurant industry, having grown up in it. My dad took Lou Malnati's over when his dad passed away and they had just two locations. As much as some of the foundation was there, he took over that business and grew it from 0 to 100 real quick. It was entrepreneurial, what he was doing. And so for him to see me take Toro, something that existed in Boston, and imagine it being in New York and elsewhere is bonding.
Growing up in the restaurant business taught me so much.
My grandmother — who is Lou's wife, my dad's mom — her thing is old-school Italian cooking. My grandfather Lou came over from Italy and didn't speak English. He started working at Pizzeria Uno and met my grandmother. He'd be working every single night, but when he got home at two in the morning they would cook together.She knew all his recipes from Italy, and she really adopted and adapted them. The kitchen is where my dad and my grandmother built their relationship; she passed down everything to him, and my dad has done his best to do the same for myself and my sisters.
There's a difference between running a commercial kitchen, like at Toro or Lou Malnati’s, and cooking at home. My dad always made an effort to cook at home, too. I’ve taken things here and there from him, but, at the end of the day, I make five things that are really great. Four of them are Italian, and one of them is brunch. I love brunch. I don't like going to brunch. That’s my — not my worst nightmare — but a nightmare.
I love brunch. I don't like going to brunch.
I make breakfast for myself every morning, and my weekend brunch is an extension of that. It's my routine. I have to have my breakfast as a start to the rest of my day, or else my knees slowly fall and I unravel.
Every morning, it's eggs, avocado, coffee, and sometimes bread. It’s on the weekends that I really ratchet up, making bacon, tomatoes, potatoes — the works. Everything you see in these photos is what I actually cook — it’s not exaggerated.Cooking eggs properly is a very delicate dance, as everyone knows. But if you cook eggs a lot, you start to really become one with the egg. I cook mine over medium, and that's the most delicate dance because you're dealing with an egg that's sunny-side up that's already ready to rock. For most people, it's ready to go. I like to do one flip, but if I wait five seconds too long I have a well-done egg. I don’t set a timer because I have now become one with the egg.You have to perfect the application of heat. You can't look away from it. Especially after that flip. But what I'll actually do is pull the pan, flip it, and let it cook outside of the flame. But if you scoop too early — am I being too geeky for you? — if you scoop too early, then you crush it. The egg has to have just enough time to be solid enough to withstand the scoop from the spatula, but not too much that it's well done.I feel like I'm perfecting it, and I’ve done it every day for the past, I don't know, five years. You can never perfect it enough.Otherwise, I roast the tomatoes in The Dutchess, which is a bit of a story. I love pizza, but up until maybe eight years ago I didn't love whole tomatoes. It's almost been an acquired taste for me, the whole tomato thing. But I like cherry tomatoes, which if you cook them right they burst.
Other things I’ve mastered: rigatoni in a mushroom-cream sauce; a tenderloin that I marinate in spicy mustard; bolognese. It’s funny: My dad and I, before Toro, had always dreamt of opening an old-school, family-style northern Italian restaurant. We even named it. I could see us still doing it at some point. But it wouldn't include pizza.