Visitors to Soho have an exciting new breakfast and lunch option that strikes the most difficult balance in modern dining: creating food that’s both extremely healthy, and amazingly delicious. Maman is more than up to the task, as it’s the first New York outpost of chef Armand Arnal, whose La Chassagnette in the South of France holds a Michelin star for its inventive, all-organic menu. From the moment you enter Maman, a charming French country cafe and bakery full of artfully mismatched wooden chairs and delicate porcelain, you know you’re in for a treat. Arnal’s kitchen dishes up artisanal breads, quiche, soups, sandwiches, and salads made with some of the freshest ingredients in town, and given the stylish, body-conscious residents of this neighborhood, it’s bound to be busy.
Along with his business partners, restaurateur Benjamin Sormonte and baker Elisa Marshall, Arnal believes that the secret to unlocking the flavors of healthy ingredients can be found in the most comforting of places–mom’s kitchen–with a menu filled with items inspired by the finest recipes of each partner’s mother. While preparing for the restaurant’s grand opening, Arnal took a moment to chat about his new venture, where to buy the best ingredients for your own culinary endeavors, and the one herb you should be growing at home right now.
What type of cuisine and atmosphere should we expect at Maman?
The cuisine will be very comforting, seasonal, and familial. We want to make people feel like they’re at home. It will be all about sharing. Maman is unique since it combines the recipes of three different families–everything comes from the partners’ mothers. While we have unique backgrounds, we are able to bring it all together with Maman. Everything will be made in-house. Our menu will follow the season — thus, every day, the menu will be unique. La Chasagnette and Maman share this same philosophy — we will work with farmers to obtain the season’s freshest ingredients.
What are your favorite items on the menu?
My favorite dish is pain bagnat, a sandwich with homemade brioche, tuna belly, red onions, lettuce, tomatoes, black olives, and hard-boiled eggs. This is the first sandwich I had ever eaten and the first dish that made me want to be a chef. Of course, we will make our own bread for this sandwich.
La Chassagnette is gluten-free. Why is that important to you? Are there gluten-free options at Maman?
It is important that there is something for everybody. The first idea I had was to create a bread with rice flavor since Camargue red rice from Southern France is one of the best. There will definitely be some gluten-free options as per La Chassagnette, such as chickpea pancakes.
Why New York? What do you love about the city?
I love New York because you can find all sorts of people and communities. My ideal day in New York consists of simply walking around and discovering new things. During my downtime, I usually hang out in the amazing museums, like MoMA, The New Museum, and The Whitney.
Fresh ingredients are a key part of your cooking. Where are the best places in New York to find them?
The Union Square Greenmarket is one of my favorites. I also like Ramsey Farmers’ Market in Ramsey, New Jersey, Blooming Grove in Monroe, New York, and the Hudson Valley. One piece of advice though: Wake up early, because the best products usually go quickly.
You cook with a lot of fresh herbs. What herb should everyone grow at home?
Fresh thyme. It is easy to grow and easy to cook with – you can infuse it for a drink but you can also use in salads and dishes. On top of that, your whole house will smell amazing.