As we all embrace the new dining normal, three world-renowned chefs from top restaurants in New York and Los Angeles share how they have adapted their menus and culinary signature to cater to curbside dining and return our restaurant scene to its former glory.
Chef Brendan Collins, Fia Restaurant, Santa Monica.
Describe your culinary signature?
Food that is accessible to all but also good enough for a foodie. ‘Britalian’ is the way I’d describe how I learned to cook. Great Italian style pastas, with the comfort of English food and a hint of the richness of French cuisine. The dishes that have always stayed on my menus are Capellini Lobster Bolognese, Chicken Liver Mousse with Foie Gras, and Beef Wellington.
How have you adapted to the new restaurant normal?
Initially we closed completely because restaurant food doesn’t all translate for take out and we were worried about hurting the brand and our reputation. So we bunkered down and did a lot of R&D, making the food, finding the right high-quality containers and driving around for 30 minutes to see how it traveled.
What was the culinary outcome?
We put a menu together we were proud of. We usually have 35 items on the menu and after literally road testing our dishes, we scaled it back to 18 and concentrated on quality. Our Wagyu Beef Shortribs, Crudos, Parmesan Chicken, Salads (dressing on the side of course) and two of our pastas, the Handmade Capellini Lobster Bolognese and Handmade Cavatelli with Shaved Truffle all traveled nicely. Strangely so did our Sea Bass but our Halibut didn’t. The Rib Eye also traveled but if someone ordered it medium rare, we cooked it rare as it continued to cook until its destination. We also added instructions that it’s best to give it a quick pan seal at home to caramelize it.
How is the curbside dining ambience?
The LA restaurant scene is not the same as New York and we’re fortunate with our weather and to have a huge garden patio that has always been a huge draw so it’s not all that different. Though I have been to restaurants that have set up dining rooms in parking lots and the ambience is weird. We’re operating at 30 percent less capacity than before but we’re turning tables and most people are being nice and supportive and those are the ones we will always look after.
What does the future look like for restaurants?
Ultimately it comes down to the magic formula of great location, great food and great service. You can’t have amazing food and service, every aspect from building your brand, to the design of your restaurant and bar, the chef, service team matters. All restaurants are going to change their business model and not everyone will make it. There has been an over investment in restaurants and not all are necessarily doing a good job, because of staffing issues you have waiters become line chefs and sous chefs becoming head chefs.
You’ve been hailed America’s Most Exciting Young Chef and have a #1 New York Times bestselling cookbook, tell us about your latest collaboration with Mondrian Park Avenue?
I’m excited to be doing a pop-up culinary experience at Cleo and Mondrian Terrace, which is known for its modern twist on Mediterranen cuisine and ingredients. Stephen Brandman [CEO of Journal Hotels, owner of the Mondrian] and I always planned to reunite for a project and we decided to use this opportunity to help rebuild New York City. The Mondrian Park Avenue will donate a portion of profits to City Harvest which helps feed the city’s hungry.
What’s the vibe in the restaurant industry right now?
It’s been permanently altered and we’ve morphed into compliance police while trying to still provide great hospitality. I don’t think anyone has the business model figured out but low risk seems to be the mantra for now. Menus are much more simple, staff and operating hours are light and the mandates enforce wearing masks, social distancing and only serving alcohol with food.
How have you reimagined the The Mondrian culinary experience?
We are being much more practical and efficient. We are narrowing our focus on the minimum elements, the experimental elements are being stored on a shelf for now. Even the fanciest restaurants have simplified their menus and style of dining.
Are you in praise of curbside dining?
The ambience is Jovial, a bit like the Amalfi coast with skyscrapers. Dining alfresco is always fun and guests are happy to have options beyond take out and delivery. Waiters seem to be enjoying a new level of appreciation.
What makes a restaurant a success in the new normal?
There’s no normal for restaurants, we’re in a constant state of controlled chaos, firing on all cylinders at all times. The food, service, ambience and decor has to be even more exceptional and there’s a true and sincere desire to make people happy.
Executive Chef, Marjorie Meek-Bradley, Pastis New York
Share your culinary signature?
I grew up in the kitchen cooking with my mother at a soup kitchen, she and my father started. I have always looked at food as a way of showing people that you care about them. My style reflects this in the sense that I like to cook very seasonal items with techniques that help the ingredients shine.
How has Pastis reimaged the dining experience?
We had to edit the menu to be able to practice social distancing in our kitchen by spaing out our stations more. The positive is that with a more focused menu we are able to develop new dishes more often and keep rotating items to reflect the seasons.
Describe the curbside atmosphere?
I think it’s awesome. I love sitting outside and enjoying the energy of NYC. I think restaurants have done an incredible job of creating unique spaces that reflect their personalities as a business.
What’s the magic formula to reignite New York’s famed restaurant scene?
You must be passionate and relentless. It takes tenacity and drive to be able to make a restaurant come to life. Our number one priority is to provide a safe happy place for people to work as that is reflected in the atmosphere and service. You can’t fake that kind of energy. I believe there will be more challenges to come and restaurants need to be very fluid in how they adapt, ultimately I think we will see a simplistic approach to cooking and dining.