How Flow Saved a Chef
A Renowned New York Restaurateur on Using Flow to Run His Business, Make Decisions, and Guide His Life
A few years back, I was screwing around Instagram and I stumbled across some cooking videos made by this dude called Frank. He had a strong New York accent, and maybe he was a little abrasive—but he could be funny as hell too—and it was pretty easy to tell he had a lot of heart.
So I gave him a follow. Why not?
Even on a tiny screen this guy was a magnetic presence, an explosion of kinetic energy. Extolling the virtues of arugula, Sicilian dried oregano, and cooking healthy food for your loved ones while chopping heaps of garlic one minute and cranking out ravioli the next.
I soon came to find that whenever this guy showed up in my kitchen—looking out from my iPhone through his big-ass glasses and telling me what to do and how to do it—good food seemed to appear in my pots and pans.
With his evangelical enthusiasm for good cooking, and for the Italian food that is his birthright, he soon had me using his methods to crank out some truly amazing dishes: scrumptious spaghetti limone, complex Neapolitan ragù, some wicked marinara, and his signature crispy eggs.
Here’s what really hooked me, though. The next time I was in New York, just for grins I dropped him a DM asking where I might buy some decent olive oil in the city. I was flabbergasted when he took time out of his busy day to chat back and forth (I later learned that he answers all his DMs) and he personally guided me to DiPalo’s on Grand in Little Italy.
That’s how Frank Prisinzano flowed into my life. And it turns out that ‘flow’ is something Frank has thought a lot about.
It was in the kitchen that a young teenage Frank discovered how to flow, and it was the power of flow that guided his evolution from a misfit outsider kid from Queens into a confident, ambitious chef and restaurateur. Frank’s flow is behind his three wildly successful restaurants, Frank, Lil’ Frankie’s, and Supper. They’ve become integral and beloved parts of the community landscape of New York’s East Village—and they serve the very food that Frank shows his followers how to flow with on Instagram.
Frank says that when he’s in flow it’s like autopilot: ‘You’re doing what you love and it doesn’t feel like work. You can even escape your body’s movements so that your mind is free to wander and see the future.’
Wow, that’s pretty heady metaphysical shit from a guy who in one breath can wax eloquent about the invisible flowing forces that guide his life… and in the next bark out ‘Al dente or I’ll break ya legs!’, and ‘Olive oil—you should be pourin’ it down ya neck!’
But that’s the kind of rich contrast I and Frank’s other tens of thousands of followers have come to expect and love from this inspiring, complex, emotional, Novello olive oil-anointed man.
There’s no one quite like him, so let’s chop some garlic, get the pan nice and hot, and see what’s cooking with Frank Prisinzano.
Frank Prisinzano introduces himself
I’m a chef, and I want to share the very profound moments that you can have with food. I do this in my restaurants, on Instagram—and through the way I live my life.
I’ve reached the point where I’ve got my life pretty much figured out—I really do not work, so I can pretty much do what I want, and be where I want. Everything for me is play, otherwise I won’t do it.
My main mission now, with the security and reach and trust that I’ve built, is simply to find out how much good I can do. Through Instagram, I’m personally tutoring tens of thousands of people in cooking at this point. If I can help them figure a few things out in the kitchen—and get them and their friends and families eating better and healthier—that’s amazingly fulfilling for me.
But through all of this, my hands are not on the wheel. I basically just flow.
The feeling of ‘flow’ saved me, and it guides how I set goals and make decisions.
I discovered flow really early in my life, back when I started working at a pizzeria in Queens when I was 13. I was kind of an outcast as a kid, and I didn’t have a lot of friends. But the flow I discovered in cooking saved me – I’d be working the line and I’d feel it—it felt like I was dancing. I would work a whole night and not make a single fucking mistake.
I became obsessed with creating food, and everything changed for me once I started doing that. I got addicted to the flow of that job, and I wanted to do it every fucking day—and I basically have for the last forty-three years.
I love the feeling of being in the zone and just knowing that I’m doing what I’m supposed to do—in cooking and in my life, that’s flow.
Flow for me is a kind of meditative state—it’s a plateau of balance and creativity. I’m flowing constantly. If I’m out walking around, what’s in front of me is what I should be asking questions about. If I happen to run into a friend, that means I’m supposed to stop and talk to them. Whatever I do, I have to feel like I’m supposed to be doing it.
Flowing is all about the moment you are in. Your goals are the decisions you make in those moments—the ones that push you toward the life you want to flow into. When I’m in a flow state, the coincidences that happen guide me. Usually they guide me towards my goals, but often they don’t—which is what makes me start to consider a change.
Right now, I’m having the time of my life. I feel like everything I’m doing is worth every second of my time—and I didn’t plan any of it. I’m flowing better than ever, just following the coincidences—which happens to be exactly how I fell into the way I use Instagram.
How I flow with Instagram.
When I first started an Instagram account, I used it as a travel notebook. I go to Italy all the time, because it’s my heritage and a massive part of my life, but also to do research for my restaurants. I was posting photos of everything I was eating and seeing, and I started to get a big following.
A few years back, though, I started working on what I call the ‘crispy egg method’, and it occurred to me how valuable that method could be as a teaching tool. So I posted it on Instagram using Stories, and it blew up really quickly.
The method teaches people about searing—it helps them conquer their fear of a super hot pan and super hot oil—and harness it in the kitchen. If you can learn the cadence of how to make a crispy egg, you can learn how to properly sear fish, or chicken, or a steak—anything.
From there, my Instagram morphed into me posting detailed videos of whatever I was doing in the kitchen. As I started posting more and more methods, I got more and more followers, and it became clear that I was helping people build confidence in the kitchen and experience some real epiphanies about cooking—exactly what I was hoping for.
I never post recipes: you can’t flow using recipes. Instead, all the tutorials I post are methods for making the things I eat over and over again. These methods are a part of my life—they’re how I make the food I cook at home for my family and how my cooks make the food in my restaurants.
Teaching and sharing the flow gives me purpose.
I’m so excited by how much I’ve become able to reach people. I’m literally reaching into their minds, and talking them into doing things in their kitchens that make them end up feeling amazing about themselves. The feedback has been enormous, and it makes me feel great.
A lot of people have never flowed—they have no idea what it feels like, and how therapeutic it can be. That’s why I've been trying to teach flow from the beginning—the joy of getting into the zone in your own kitchen and creating an amazing meal that just blows your family and friends away. That feeling will change your life.
It’s such immediate gratification for me and for my followers—it’s just beautiful. I know how many people I’m helping, and I’m so overjoyed that I have the ability to do this. I’ve always felt a really deep need to help people, and now I’m finally tapping into how it feels to be able to accomplish that.
It’s blowing me up as far as my own confidence goes: I have more purpose than I’ve ever had before, and purpose is what we all need.
Once instagram really got rolling for me, though, I realized that it gave me far more power than just the ability to teach.
Answering all my direct messages helps me fine-tune my methods.
I encourage my followers to DM me with any questions they might have. It depends on how much I'm posting, but the more cooking methods I post, the more DMs I get. Even when I don't post, I often get 150 to 200 DMs a day.
People think I’m fucking nuts, but I answer all of them—except for complete nonsense and bullshit from dummy accounts. Answering questions about the methods I’m posting is a great exercise for me.
I actually work things out in the process of explaining them—that’s how my brain works. The DMs force me to sit down and walk somebody through something in my head. That helps me perfect what I’m doing, and refine it.
Being under my followers’ scrutiny and having that give-and-take with them really makes me up the ante on all the things I’m doing. It helps me evolve and perfect the methods I use to cook at home, that I also teach online and to the cooks in my restaurants.
A lot of times, I have huge discoveries or epiphanies, and sometimes my followers even make suggestions that are brilliant—things I didn't even think about. It happens all the time, and it makes me a better cook and a better teacher.
I solve problems that come up in my restaurants in real time using DMs with my customers.
I hate it when something gets screwed up in one of my restaurants. I’m mortified if somebody has a bad time—I want everyone to have a fucking great time! But sometimes we make mistakes, and I want to be involved in every complaint as it happens, so we can address it immediately.
When a problem comes up, I usually hear about it instantaneously because a massive amount of my customers follow me on Instagram. Instead of leaving a bad review somewhere, they’ll interact with me by DM instead. They know I’m listening, and they know I’ll solve whatever the problem might be.
When people complain, I think of it as an opportunity for me to meet them and start a personal relationship with them. I usually just say, ‘Look, can I get you to come in again, and we'll do the whole thing over—on me?’ As soon as that happens, they know they can trust us, and we have a lifelong client.
Besides customer service, the other advantage to this is that I can use DMs to keep an eye on what’s happening in my restaurants: people message me to tell me what’s going on all the time. In fact, my waiters—who all follow me on Instagram too—can’t even believe the shit that I find out!
How I choose a space for a new restaurant.
When I open a new restaurant, I think about it as something that I’m going to have for the rest of my life. I really score when a place is open for ten years or more—by then everything is running tightly, and it’s obviously a great business at that point.
I know that if I'm going to sign a lease on a space, I have to really like the area it’s in. Obviously I’m going to be spending a lot of time in that restaurant, so if I don’t want to go to the neighborhood it’s in, I’m sure as hell not going to open a restaurant there. I also have to like the landlord, of course, and the structure of the deal.
I found the spaces for my first three restaurants back to back. It was really fucking crazy: I opened all three restaurants within two years simply because I fell in love with those spaces. Then I went six years without opening anything.
Right now, I’m in the process of opening a new restaurant as well as a grocery because I feel that the opportunity is right. I had been looking at spaces for the past six years, but I didn’t find a single one that I liked, and everything was overpriced.
But since things started opening back up in New York, I’ve been able to find a couple of spots that I know will work out great. There really was no plan—I just went out and saw a bunch of different spaces for myself—I like doing that. When I arrive into the right spot, I just know it will work out—I can see in my mind how the space itself will flow. Where the kitchen will be. Where the bar will be. Where the tables will be, and how the wait staff will move around the restaurant.
At the end of the day, I let the space decide—I know when it’s right and I’m going to nail it. Once again, I just fucking go with it!
I use flow to create menus and train my staff.
I’ve been taking notes about my thoughts on what might make it onto the menu of my upcoming restaurant. But when it actually comes time to create the menu for real, I’ll just let flow take over.
I’ll bring everyone that I’ve hired—the waiters, the bartenders, the busboys and cooks—into the new space and start cooking for them.
That's the real moment of creation—when I’m there feeding everyone who will be working for me. It's one of the most fun things that I ever do, because I get everyone’s reactions right there and then.
For the wait staff, when they’re the very first people to try the dishes they’re going to be selling, it gives them a story to tell and a level of excitement at the table that can’t be matched.
When it comes to training my cooks, I’ll show them the cadence of a dish by making it once for them, then I’ll step back and let them do it. That way they can see how I’m flowing, and learn that flow for themselves. Usually they’re spot-on after I’ve made a few comments, and all of a sudden the dish becomes theirs.
Art comes out of chaos.
Organized chaos is how I run my restaurants. It’s the place where I live—it’s my mantra, and it’s what I look for in life. I feed off that feeling where everything is just teetering on the brink of being out of control—and at any moment it could go entirely out of control!
Organized chaos is what it feels like in my restaurants when you’re at your table eating, with my guys flowing around you—it’s frenetic, but it has rhythm.
All of sudden, the kitchen could be all backed up and everything’s going nuts. I have no control, so I just let things fucking happen.
That’s when you can revel in the details of the chaos that ensues! All the characters you surround yourself with will be involved, and you’ll create solutions on the spot and make them happen. I want to be part of those solutions and the art that comes from that.
It’s important to ‘design the bite’ to truly flow with food.
I make it a point to always be mindful and present with the flavors on the plate every time I eat, and I encourage my followers to do the same thing. So many people just eat, and they never think about what they're putting into their mouth and tasting.
I say stop, slow down, and design the bite—set up your plate up so you can be deliberate about what you're going to eat with what. Every forkful should be amazing, and every one should be different.
You can put a little more kale on your fork, for example, or a little bit less sweet potato, or a little bit more steak. If there's extra kale in your mouth, the bite's going to be different. What does the sweet potato remind you of? What does the kale feel like to eat? What do you want in your next bite?
That constant training and testing of your palate is an education for your mind that you'll apply when you start flowing in the kitchen, because your palate is part of what makes you a great cook. Everyone has a mental palate—you just have to exercise it.
When it has, and you’ve learned some techniques, it will eventually feel like you’re floating above your body when you’re in the kitchen. You’ll be able to truly flow when you’re making a crispy egg—because you know the cadence of exactly how to do it. Instead of worrying about the movements, you're in your head tasting the egg before it's even served.
For me, ‘design the bite’ is a beautiful lesson that keeps growing as you keep thinking about it—cooking, tasting, and learning.
Fasting helps me keep control of my diet.
Getting in control of your diet and staying nutritionally sound is a huge part of the message I try to get across. For me personally, fasting is a major part of how I do that. A naturally functioning body needs some fasting to give it a break from digestion. All the most advanced cultures in the world do it: it's the biggest power move that you can make in your life.
Fasting helps me manage any weight gain from all the crazy shit I do like eating in restaurants in Italy for weeks at a time! It also helps me get in control of problems that come up with my digestion, and boost my immune system when I feel like I’m getting sick. Your body has everything it needs to heal itself—you just have to give it a chance.
Basically, when I do intermittent fasting, I’ll start by eliminating breakfast. I might just have a handful of blueberries, or a piece of watermelon—something low in calories but high in nutrients. Maybe I’ll eliminate lunch too, in favor of something light like a banana or an apple, and I make sure to drink a lot of water. If I can do that just two days a week, I find I’ll lose about half a pound to a pound a week.
If I need to be more aggressive, I’ll eliminate more meals, or even do a Master Cleanser fast. I did a pretty extreme fast recently, because I had been drinking coffee—which always gives me an irritable bowel problem—and I’d been treating myself like shit in general.
Within two days of starting the fast, I was feeling much better. Within five days, all the irritation was gone, and by day eight I felt super-fucking-human, and I’d lost fifteen pounds on top of it.
Through fasting, I’ve put in the time to learn what my body likes and what it doesn't like. It honestly changed my whole life—I’m more alert, I’m happier, I’m healthier, I get more done, and I have complete control over my weight. I mean, come on!
Processed food really, really bothers me.
Processed food is dogshit—it’s fucking poisonous. I know for a fact that if everyone just stopped eating processed food, their health would jump tremendously.
All that shit—fucking pre-grated cheeses and all that horseshit—can you imagine what they put in that garbage? How about store-bought broths? Do you think they actually put any decent meat products in there at all? No! They use all the worst shit they can find—and it’s not even a real broth, you can’t even reduce it and turn it into a sauce. There’s no food value in it at all!
I just don't understand why you can't just boil some fucking bones, put it down to a simmer and let it go for a few hours, and strain it. It's not that fucking hard to do—and it's such a joyous experience.
There’s so much misinformation about food out there, and people don't know who to believe. There are all these lobbies pushing that processed shit on us, and no one is really protecting us or pushing back against their fucking advertising rhetoric—I’m one of the only chefs with any notoriety who does.
If you just ditch all the processed food, stop eating anything that comes in a package, and learn a few simple methods for making delicious healthy things at home—how to cook some real food—you can completely transform your health and your life.
I’m fiercely devoted to New York City.
New York is everything to me—even when I was a kid, it was always calling to me, and it’s made my fortune. My restaurants have truly become part of the neighborhoods they’re in, and so many of our regulars are close friends with me and with my employees. We all feel so connected to our New York community.
After COVID hit, I heard that all the hospital cafeterias were being closed—there must have been some kind of pandemic protocol—and hospital workers had nowhere to eat on the job. Instead, they were giving them McDonald's vouchers. Imagine you're working seventeen- or eighteen-hour days, and all you get to eat is fucking McDonald’s?!
I completely lost my shit—but then I thought, since we were already open, why not help out with what's going on? I went on Instagram, and immediately reached out to hospitals. Administrators started flooding us with calls, too.
I set up a whole system to prepare the simplest, healthiest foods—pastas, lots of fresh vegetables and greens, trays of raw arugula—just to help the hospital staffs stay healthy. My guys stepped the fuck up and got on it—that’s the kind of crew I have—and they crushed it.
We did meal drop-offs at something like seventy-five different hospitals. They were sending us pictures and videos of them eating our food—they went nuts. When word got out, we even had people calling us to sponsor drop-offs at different hospitals.
All the new connections we made doing that were just unbelievable. It was such a beautiful coming together of everyone and everything New York—and it was obviously one of my proudest moments.
It was just extreme flow.
A book I love
The Order of Time, by the Italian physicist Carlo Rovelli, is one of my favorite books. It’s a beautifully poetic work about the physics of time. Rovelli breaks down the concept of time, and explains how time is completely relative—it’s different a hundred feet about your head, it’s different when you’re walking three miles an hour. It’s always changing.
This book completely changed my reality. I’ve known for a long time that when you’re flowing—when you’re in the zone and you’re doing everything by touch and feel—you’re not worried about time. It just doesn’t exist. Rovelli really helped me to understand the physics behind time, and why it doesn’t work anything like we think it does.
As it was, I already wasn’t paying much attention to time. This book is like the bible for not paying any attention to it at all!