Last night, Michelin-starred Copenhagen chef Christian F. Puglisi (Relae) hosted a panel discussion as part of the 92nd Street Y's Kitchen Arts & Letters series. Joining Puglisi was a rockstar panel made up of some of New York City's hottest chefs, including Ignacio Mattos (Estela), Danny Bowien (Mission Chinese, Mission Cantina), and Carlo Mirarchi (Blanca, Roberta's). The discussion centered around the current state of fine dining around the world and how it has, in many ways, evolved to become less intimidating. The chefs touched on the concepts behind their restaurants and the idea of serving sophisticated cuisine in an environment that is comfortable and, more importantly, approachable to every diner. Below, the ten best quotes from their conversation.
1) Ignacio Mattos, on his lack of exposure to fine dining growing up: "I'm from Uruguay, a little country down in South America, and there weren't many fine dining places [because] people don't necessarily go out to eat, it's very rare. So, it wasn't something that I was completely aware of until I started working in restaurants."
2) Danny Bowien, on open kitchens and seeing chefs in the restaurant: "Now more than ever people want to go to a restaurant not just for an experience, but also [because] now people's names are attached to it. It's a chef driven thing and people want to see that."
3) Carlo Mirarchi, on the difficulties of opening Roberta's: "We all had other jobs because we couldn't pay ourselves. A lot of us worked mornings and we'd come in and do dinner service at night. The first two years were very difficult, day to day we thought we were going to have to just close the doors."
4) Christian Puglisi, on the importance of the people behind the ingredients: "When a person transmits whatever he puts into the way he raises his pigs or his produce, the work and passion that is put behind it, that can blow me away to the point that it gives more quality to the produce that he's bringing in."
5) Bowien, on the competitive nature of the NYC food scene: "You're working with some of the best chefs in the world and everyone is opening a restaurant every other month. I can't tell you how many of my cooks left Cantina to go work at Cosme, which is good. I'm happy for them and when they left I'm like, 'He's a fucking better chef than me, I can't teach you what Enrique [Olvera, the chef of Cosme] can.'"
6) Mirarchi, on what changed when Roberta's became successful: "It went from just the three of us doing everything to being in a position to hire people that were better at certain things than we were, that's when it really clicked for us. There's that saying, 'If you're the smartest person in the room then you're in the wrong room.' We took that to heart."
7) Mattos, on the ambiance at Estela: "It's not anything really defined, we are just trying to put tasty food on the plate in a comfortable and fun environment. I think that's the key part, making a place that is accessible to yourself and to your peers and the people around you."
8) Puglisi, on why he drives 30 kilometers (roughly 19 miles) to buy fresh cod at noon on the day it's caught: "The end customer may not understand this, but the people around me, they understand it. The people that know where we got it and the people that are working with it get super inspired and super excited and they transmit that passion."
9) Bowien, on minimalism and simplicity: "The more you take away the less there is to hide behind and that's when the true talent comes out."
10) Puglisi, on his version of fine dining and making it all about the food:"All the formalities become a little bit unnecessary. When I ventured out to do my own restaurant I didn't want to deal with those things. It's about getting value for your time and value for your money, it's about making it essential, not about all the shit you put around it. I think that's why the fine dining scene is getting a little bit dusty"