by Celia Sin-Tien Cheng
May 1, 2006
It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year since Cravings launched. Yes, it’s our one-year anniversary! Hurray! To celebrate, I wanted to once again venture into the realms of some of my favorite chefs and find out what drives them.
Cravings is my labor of love, my passion. And so the best way for me to express my feelings about the foods I love is to dig deeper and interview the chefs and purveyors who are bringing us all this goodness. By getting to know the personalities and vision behind some of my favorite restaurants, I hope to bring even more vibrance to the colors, images and words I share with you.
For this anniversary issue, I set out with a fun assignment in mind: off-the-menu tasting. I asked Rebecca Charles (Pearl Oyster Bar), Jimmy Bradley (The Red Cat, The Harrison and The Mermaid Inn), Kurt Gutenbrunner (Wallsé, Café Sabarsky, Thor* and Blaue Gans) and Jon Snyder (Il Laboratorio del Gelato) to come up with some dishes/flavors that they personally like but cannot or would not put on their menus, whether it is because the items are too outlandish or are out of sync with the style/theme of their establishments. I thought this would give them the opportunity to let loose and challenge their creative juices.
As with any assignment, the interpretations are always diverse. Though I received distinct responses from the chefs, the common thread that ties these four heroes of mine together is the love for what they do. While each has a different mindset and approach, his or her success hinges on a drive for perfection and excellence. Yes, I know that this is the secret to any success story, but in addition to strong will, Rebecca, Jimmy, Kurt and Jon have not lost sight of one of the most important elements: personal touch.
One of the most challenging and interesting assignments I received during grad school while getting my master’s in design was from designer Stefan Sagmeister. Stefan built a class around “touching someone’s heart,” teaching future designers the importance of using design effectively to make a difference in people’s lives and not just for the sake of making something “pretty” or to get a reaction out of someone just for kicks. What can I say? The man is brilliant.
I truly believe that you can’t touch someone’s heart without putting all of your own into your “project.” These four chefs have all touched my heart from the food they cook to the way they choose to run their businesses and treat their clientele. They care, and it shows.
As I embark on my second year and continue to expand Cravings, I’m excited to bring new visions to life. In a similar vein, I’m interested to see what Jon, Jimmy, Rebecca and Kurt have in store for the future. With what they have brought us thus far, I can’t wait to see how they will continue to evolve, for they have already made a big difference with their contributions in the City.
For the love of food, for the love of New York, for the love of humanity and for the love of cravings, my first anniversary feature pays tribute to Kurt, Jon, Jimmy and Rebecca. Thank you all for making my (culinary) life in New York better by doing what you do best.
*Since publication of this feature, Kurt Gutenbrunner has left Thor and is focusing on his other restaurants — August 2006.