Chef Blends Seasonal Ingredients With Mediterranean Cuisine

Chef Blends Seasonal Ingredients With Mediterranean Cuisine

August 21, 2002

<bt>Sitting in the middle of Restaurant 7's elegant dinning room, executive chef Mina Newman is casually discussing her short but highly successful career as a chef. "I don't feel that I'm that unusual. I just turned 30 in March. It was different when I was 25 and the executive chef of a restaurant," she said. Having just moved to the area last October, Newman has become known for her blend of Greek and Moroccan influences in her food, with a strong emphasis on seasonal ingredients and flavor.

Restaurant 7, which opened in February, has proved to be an ideal setting to highlight Newman's creativity and technical expertise in the kitchen. "The owners are really great and very supportive of my ideas. I want to do my own interpretations but keep it as authentic and pure as possible," she said. Newman hopes to have her customers get pleasure from her food but also "understand each dish, realize that things are put together for a


A native of Queens, N.Y., her openness for new flavors and food was helped by her Peruvian mother and Russian father. Mina says that her mother is a wonderful cook and that when she, Mina, was younger, she always tried to help around the kitchen. She was also introduced to more unusual foods because of her mother's background, saying, "The most American thing she cooked was spaghetti and meatballs."

HOWEVER, IT WASN'T until Newman was 15, when she began working as a cook at the Museum of Natural History in New York, that she began to view cooking in a new light. "We only made hot dogs and hamburgers, fast-food stuff, but it really piqued my interest because it was a job I enjoyed." At the same time Newman was also beginning to like Greek food because her high school was near a variety of Greek restaurants that she and her friends would frequent.

"I was lucky that I discovered my passion so early. It helped me focus on my goals and be more strategic in my planning," she commented.

Deciding that she wanted to make a career out of her new passion, Newman attended New York Technical College and graduated with honors, getting a degree in hospitality management. "School wasn't really my thing. I view it as a place where a chef learns the basics about food." She added, "That's why many chefs go abroad and study their particular interest, so they can truly

understand the food they're making."

Newman got this chance when she went to Greece to live and study for almost a year, starting in 1995. While residing in the city of Thessalonika, she also traveled to Morocco, Spain and France. It was in Greece that Newman decided to truly focus on Mediterranean cuisine, as she lived and worked with a couple that owned a restaurant there.

While Newman immersed herself in the art of Mediterranean cooking, she would also learn how to run a kitchen in a well-known restaurant when she returned to New York in 1996. After her year abroad Newman was offered the job of executive chef at the restaurant Layla, co-owned by actor Robert De Niro, where she had worked as a sous chef before leaving for Greece.

"As an executive chef I now had to know how to do so many different things, like how to buy fish, cook different Greek pastries or even spot when meat was wild or farm-raised," she said.

It was while she was executive chef at Layla that Newman began to steer the Middle-Eastern cuisine there toward more Moroccan and Greek-inspired dishes.

IN 1999, AS NEWMAN became more widely known for her cooking style, she was offered the position of executive chef at the new steakhouse Dylan Prime in TriBeCa. "I went there because I enjoyed the concept. It wasn't your normal meat-and-potatoes establishment. While I was there, we offered more vegetables along with more unusual dishes, such as stuffed calamari, and a wine cellar that contained 15,000 bottles."

Though Newman enjoyed her success in New York, when restaurant consultant Ann Brody approached her about a new restaurant in Tysons Corner, Va., she decided to join the project. In search of more personal time and a slower pace Newman also had new priorities as she was preparing to marry her fiancé, Francisco.

"I came here because I don't want to compete anymore, I want a life. In New York City it's all about how many times you get written up, like you're a rock star or something. Here, you just do what you do."

Joining Newman as her sous chef is Temple Turner, who has known her for four years. They began working together at Dylan Prime and soon became good friends. "I love working with her because we have the same passion about food," Turner said, adding that "she has a lot of creativity and is much more hands-on than most executive chefs."

This care and creativity has found a perfect outlet at Tyson's Restaurant 7, which offers two dinning options. At the front of the restaurant, is a smaller casual café that offers lunch and dinner, with a wide range of soups, salads, pizza, tapas, sandwiches, and larger main courses with meat and fish.

Hidden behind Restaurant 7's bar area is the formal dining

room, which serves only dinner. Such items on that menu include appetizers like the pan-seared corn-fed foie gras or main courses like the Maytag blue cheese-crusted filet mignon or Florida red snapper.

Bunny Polmer, a public relations consultant for the restaurant, feels that Restaurant 7 is the perfect place for Newman to be at the moment. "Everything has to work together for a restaurant to truly work. Here there's harmony, from the food to the ambiance. It all melds together," she said.