"My aunt and my cousins were always around for holiday meals and it was always a big deal -- Easter was a big deal, Thanksgiving, Christmas -- they were huge deals, and my aunt and my mom would cook for days before. And then we would eat it in 20 minutes. Which was always the joke, you know, 'Three days to prepare it and 20 minutes to scarf it down.' But yeah, they're really great memories, and they've informed me moving forward."
While at Pace University in Manhattan, Canora took a job in the prepared food section at the new Dean & Deluca gourmet grocery store in Soho. When he graduated he left the kitchen. The next episodes of his life he tells in fast forward, as if racing to get back to the kitchen, back to his favorite part.
"From there I graduated college, did the motorcycle cross-country thing," Canora said. "Stopped in Boulder, worked in a kitchen. Stopped in San Francisco, worked in a kitchen. And although I really loved it and I did it for a living and made money, I hadn't really convinced myself that it was going to be -- you know, that it was going to define who I was or be my career, moving forward. And not until I moved back to New York City from San Francisco, at around [age] 27, did I say to myself, 'You know what, I'm going to really -- this is it.'"
It would have been hard for Canora to find a better place than where he landed: the Gramercy Tavern.
"I did all this research, and I put on a suit and I went to all -- like, I made a list of five restaurants I wanted to be at, and you know, old-school style in the suit, like knocking on the door, 'Give me a chance, chef' kind of thing. And I ended up taking a job with Tom Colicchio at Gramercy Tavern, and they had just been open for a year-and-a-half.
"And I had never seen anything like that. That kitchen was just grand and beautiful and the brigade of chefs, and it was awesome. And I fell in love with it again, and I think it was good for me to start at a later age because I really -- when I took that job at 27, you know, I was done with the partying and the drinking and all the fun; I was really focused and I really wanted this to be my future. And I took it really seriously and I excelled and I did well, and then from there, Tom asked me to open Craft, and I was the opening chef at Craft. Those were really great, great years, and I learned a ton from him and those restaurants. And then I came and opened Hearth in 2004 and that's where we are today, six years old."
Canora said he didn't miss his partying days.
"You know, this business is about sacrifice," he said. "This is about not going to weddings and not going to parties and not having weekends off, and Super Bowl Sunday, who cares -- all those things that you think are important to you, like, you better reevaluate if you want to come into this world because this world is the opposite of what everybody else does, which is what I loved about it! I loved having Monday and Tuesday off in this town because I could actually go see a movie, you know, it's great!"
The chef said he is a little disturbed by the way the world of cooking -- and the world of eating -- have changed since he came up.