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WHAT DO YOU DO AND HOW DID YOU GET HERE?
I am a New York-based chef, restaurateur and cookbook author. I grew up in rural Vermont and I've cooked in kitchens throughout Spain (including San Sebastian and Barcelona), San Francisco and New York. I currently own two restaurants in Manhattan: Tertulia in the West Village and El Colmado, a tapas bar in Hell's Kitchen; we're currently opening a second El Colmado in the Meatpacking District. Right now I am in London about to open the Sea Containers restaurant in the new Mondrian London hotel.
TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOUR LATEST PROJECT AT MONDRIAN LONDON.
Sea Containers is the signature restaurant in the Mondrian. Like the rest of the hotel, it's designed by Tom Dixon, a designer I've been in awe of for a long time (and with whom I happen to share a birthday!). It's a stunning, stunning space that sits right on River Walk overlooking the Thames. The food I'm cooking here is inspired by great local British ingredients. I try not to use the phrase "farm-to-table" as it's so overused these days, but we definitely care about seasonality, sourcing local products wherever possible and just creating clean, honest, delicious food that is also good for you.
WAS HOSPITALITY SOMETHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO DO? WHAT DID YOU WANT TO BE WHEN YOU WERE GROWING UP?
I don't know that "hospitality" as an industry or a career was something I was really aware of when I was young. I fell into the restaurant world (by way of delivering pizzas - and without a driver's license) as many people do, it was just a job to make some money. But I grew up around good food, and as I got older, I loved cooking, and cooking for other people. After college I was a little aimless and without direction, until my English grandmother took me wine tasting in Napa and just said to me very sternly and matter-of-factly, "Look. You love cooking, you are happiest when you are cooking. You should just cook." And that was that.
WHAT'S THE BIGGEST CHANGE YOU'VE SEEN IN THE INDUSTRY OVER THE PAST FIVE TO TEN YEARS?
The industry has changed so much, and so quickly. I think the internet and media have completely changed the way we interact with each other, whether it’s between chefs and guests, guests and restaurants, chefs and brands, chefs and journalists...it’s endless. It's created a hyper competitive environment, especially in a city like New York. It also means that there is a TON of information available at all times, which is a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, general food and culinary awareness is at an all-time high, which I think is great. People are much savvier, more adventurous, more interested in educating themselves about food, which in the long run, is incredibly important to both our health and environment. On the other hand, all this information out there means there is a lot of noise, a lot of clutter, a lot of mis-information. Anyone with an internet connection is suddenly a food writer; expectations for restaurants are intensely high, and it's like, we haven't even taken the plywood off yet! Sometimes there is such a thing as TOO much buzz.
WHO OR WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST INSPIRATION IN THE INDUSTRY TODAY?
Dan Barber. He's done so much to further the cause of local, sustainable agriculture and has done an incredible job of educating people about the importance of their food choices. I think the breadth of his influence is what is most impressive. He’s not just a chef talking to other chefs, he's a chef who is truly changing the way so many people think about their food - industry people, regular guests, New Yorkers, people who have never even heard of Blue Hill but who have read his articles in the New York Times; and perhaps most importantly, he has the ear of decision makers working in food and agricultural policy. It will take a long time before we turn this country's bad food habits around, but we are making progress slowly but surely. And for that we have Dan Barber to thank.
IF YOU HAD THE DAY OFF TODAY, WHERE WOULD YOU BE?
I'd be cycling through the mountains of Piedmont, Italy.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE HOTEL IN THE WORLD?
The Four Seasons in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
DO YOU HAVE A CAREER ANECDOTE YOU'D LIKE TO SHARE?
When I first worked for Jordi Vilá at Alkimia in Barcelona, I really wanted to impress him with all the technique I had learned over the years in various kitchens. I was making wild loup de mer, and he stood there right next to me, watching me as I seared this beautiful piece of fish skin-side down, then basted it with plenty of butter and herbs. I was feeling pretty good when he just gave me this look and said, “if I wanted my fish to taste like butter, I'd eat butter." And that is how I learned to cook fish in olive oil.
WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE MINI BAR ITEM?
Whatever has chocolate in it.
IF YOU COULD COOK FOR ANYONE DEAD OR ALIVE WHO WOULD IT BE AND WHY?
Our First Lady, Michelle Obama. I have a huge amount of respect for her and how she's tried to implement real change in the way our children eat, and educating younger generations about food and health. For me personally, eating healthfully is of incredible importance, as I've battled years of health issues. I think we would have a really fascinating conversation about food and brainstorming on how we could effect real change in our society. Also, she just seems like a super cool lady.
WHAT WILL YOU BE DOING IN TEN YEARS FROM NOW?
I guess you can take the boy out of Vermont, but you can't take the Vermont out of the boy. I would love to have my own little farm upstate or something, where my (future) kids can grow up learning about growing their own food, run around with animals, etc. My ultimate dream would be to run a culinary and cycling-focused villa in Italy.