Gramercy Tavern was Born at the Food & Wine Magazine Classic at Aspen. Tom Colicchio Remembers.
[Welcome to a new feature I’m introducing here on Toqueland: Amuse-Book. Basically these are a quick way for me to share a nugget from interviews from the book research trail that seem especially timely or relevant and that I don’t want to sit on until publication day. – AF]
NEW YORK, NY – I had the chance to spend a few hours interviewing Tom Colicchio yesterday. It was a far-ranging conversation that turned up a timely tidbit for this day, on which Food & Wine Magazine announces its Best New Chefs for 2014, and fetes them at a party in New York City tonight: Gramercy Tavern began life at the Food & Wine Magazine Classic at Aspen.
As Tom tells the story:
“In 1991, I got a phone call saying, You’re going to be a Best New Chef.”
Was it a big deal?
“Oh, yeah. It was one of the big [four]: Getting reviewed in the Times, getting reviewed in New York Magazine, Food & Wine Best New Chef, and the Beard Awards. These were all good things. You checked the boxes.”
[Note: For Toqueland’s thoughts about the early importance of Best New Chefs, posted at the time of the 2010 inductions, click here.]
“It was the same year we got three stars [at Mondrian restaurant, from the New York Times]. They announced it in Aspen then; it wasn’t the same as it is now … so you had to keep your mouth shut until you got to Aspen.
“I remember the dish I did [in Aspen]; in fact, I’m cooking Tuesday, so I’m doing the same dish Tuesday that I did in Aspen: a squab dish with soubise … I had ramps then– there are no ramps yet, so I’m doing baby leeks tomorrow – pickled chanterelles, honey-glazed onions. So it’s essentially the same dish I did then.
“It was great. This was awesome stuff. I remember going there. I brought Kerry [Heffernan, his sous chef at Mondrian] with me. And another chef named Jeff Perry, who was a sous chef at Mondrian, and it was, like, ‘road trip.’”
Those were heady days for Tom. In addition to being named a Best New Chef, his three stars from the New York Times came at a time when only about a dozen restaurants could claim that distinction.
But the truth was that Mondrian was under-performing, and Colicchio was beginning to think about shutting it down.
“In 1991, Michael Romano [of Union Square Cafe] won Best New Chef so I had met Danny [Meyer] there. Plus he’d been coming to the restaurant, so I knew him there, but spent more time with him in Aspen. In 1992, I went back and I was having lunch with Danny [in Aspen]. I said, ‘Danny, in about a month you’re going to hear I’m closing Mondrian.’
“He said, ‘Why are you telling me?’ I said, ‘Well, maybe we should do something together.’…