Two of New York City’s Rising Chefs on Pushing Themselves, Young Success, Kitchen Collaboration, and Restaurant Lifespans
Photographs by Evan Sung.
Jeremiah Stone and Fabian von Hauske are riding high on the Lower East Side. Their tasting-menu hit Contra turned two-years old last weekend, and their sophomore effort, the wine bar Wildair, has shot to the top of New York diners’ must-visit list on the strength of strong reviews, such as last Wednesday’s two-star love letter in the New York Times. Contra is also a popular stop for European chefs, such as Chateaubriand’s Inaki Aizpitarte, who did a guest stint there last weekend. The two chefs collaborate on their menus with Stone taking savory duties and von Hauske bread and pastry, and tag-team expediting turns at their two businesses. We sat down at Contra earlier this week to talk about this moment in their lives and careers, how they do what they do, and how they see the restaurant business in 2015.
[Ed. Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity; some of von Hauske’s answers have been “spliced” into the first part of the interview as he had to join a few minutes late due to unforeseen circumstances on the day. – AF]
Friedman: I had dinner at Wildair the other night. At the end of the meal, it was late and the kitchen was winding down. I saw you, Fabian, with some of the cooks outside on Orchard Street, and I was watching you, thinking, “Two-year anniversary coming up, two-star New York Times review this week, two days away from the Chateaubriand weekend.” It was a beautiful night, with a light breeze, and you just looked so happy. At the moment, I thought, “I wonder what it’s like to wake up and be you guys right now?” I think you must be feeling like you’re on top of the world. What’s the feeling you have in the morning when you get up these days, when you come over here?
Stone: I’d say it’s definitely not Cloud 9. I mean, it feels good in the sense that it’s motivation. And I think we’re both the type of people to be constantly pushed by those things instead of content. I was thinking of that the other day. It’s all happening this week: Things are going super well. The review was super ‑‑ it was really great and a sense of relief almost. And with bringing in Inaki and celebrating the two‑year, it felt good to have these really comfortable things, but …
Friedman: Does it also create a pressure?
Stone: Pressure is not the word. It’s more that it keeps us on our toes just to make sure we’re still driving. For example, this morning I woke up and I was very much thinking what to do at Contra next to really keep up with what everyone is expecting and making sure that it’s still very comfortable and how we can … not keep making it more upscale or fancy or expensive, just how to elevate it in small ways.
Friedman: So keeping the identity but tweaking?
Jeremiah: Yeah. It could be something as little as what farm are we looking to next to help us get the right product all year round, or how do we need to change the schedule to make everyone perform at a really high level? I think all those things are just motivation to make us do better. They’re not really rewards to say, “Oh, we did a good job.” They’re like, “You’re doing okay.”
Friedman: Well, that’s the nature of what you do, of cooking, right? You have to prove it every night.
Stone: Don’t stop now, yeah. And we always feel that. The fact that we change the menu here weekly means it could be going smooth and the reservations are good and everyone’s happy, but that small thing of changing the food is a reminder that everything needs to constantly change in its own way.
von Hauske: Me personally, I feel that we’re at a cliff the entire time and someone’s trying to push us off it….