Gabriel Kreuther, one of Food&Wine's Best New Chefs of 2003 and current chef at the MoMA's Modern restaurant, won this year's James Beard Award for Best New York City chef. I recently spoke to Kreuther about what he'd like to do if he weren't a chef, what it's like to cook in a modern art museum, and where he goes out to eat in New York.
Louise McCready: Your grandparents and parents owned farms, your mother was the first person to teach you how to cook, and you then worked in an uncle's hotel. It seems as though cooking is in your blood and your destiny. If you weren't a chef, what would be your dream job?
Gabriel Kreuther: One dream job that I would love would be to work in the winemaking business.
Any place in particular?
I love Bordeaux wine, but you never know. A winemaker of red wine.
You worked at several of Europe's most renowned kitchens before moving to New York in 1997. Were there any significant differences between the way kitchens are run or the restaurant style in Europe versus those in New York?
The difference between the kitchens in Europe and in New York is mostly related to the output, to the number of guests that you serve each evening. Not only are the kitchens bigger in New York, but a big difference in the kitchens is service in the evening is faster. You seat guests twice in the dining rooms in New York, but mostly only once in Europe. The increased output at the high level of quality is harder.
Any differences between what customers or what diners expect?
I've worked in Germany, France, and everywhere, people are a little bit different in what they like. In New York, people tend to eat out more often than in the US--I think they tend to eat in a smarter way because of the amount of times they go out to eat during the week.
After three prior nominations, you won this year's James Beard Award for Best Chef in New York City. Any thoughts to why this was the year?
Because the process is an elimination process, when you find out at the end you're part of the five last ones, it's a great honor to be there. Obviously all five of last ones love to win, but at that point, it's a nice group of people to be around. Most of them you know and they're friends, so I don't think there's any rivalry at that point.
Does cooking for a restaurant inside a museum affect your menu?
Yeah, it definitely affects you a little bit, but it's more in the back of your mind in the way you present things. Maybe you pick up things because of the great artwork here, but you cannot just have that all the time in your head because it's kind of a weight some times. You cannot just think about that. You think about it a little and then you let it go.
What is your favorite piece of art in the MoMA?
I love sculpture, and I love the genius Giacometti. I love some paintings--some Picasso, some Miro, some Dali. Last year or a little bit more than a year ago, we had a big beautiful exhibition of Cezanne together with Pissaro. When paintings at that level come together at the same time, it's amazing. MOMA had a whole set, about 60 paintings, from Vincent Van Gogh, and for me, it's a great learning experience to see 50 paintings from Van Gogh.
The Modern's summer menu was unveiled a couple weeks ago. What is your favorite ingredient to use during the summer?
In the summer, peaches and tomatoes come in season. At the beginning of summer, I love asparagus, the morels. The pea season is great. The black cod season is beautiful. We had the carp season a couple weeks ago for two or three weeks, and then--it's just like that asparagus for three or four weeks--it's over. With the seasonal things, you know it's only going to last for a little while but you know it will come back again. If you have it every day, you don't appreciate it. You have to wait.
Do you have a favorite dish on the menu right now?
I'm fond of fois gras, but a dish that I've done for a very long time is a tartare of scallops, tuna, and caviar. Last week, I did the black cod cooked slowly with a nice warm salad of peaches, fresh almonds, celery, and asparagus with some wild rice on the bottom. Very refreshing. Another thing that we have on the menu right now that I love is poached pheasant. I think it's one of the best ways of doing it because pheasant tends to get dry, so we poach it. It's a great dish and I love it. It's hard though as I say because I love what I cook.
No, I understand it's like asking a favorite child. What are your favorite restaurants in New York?
It depends on who you are with, how you feel, and the mood you are in. If it's something casual in the late evening I love to go to some place like Balthazar. When I'm in the mood to eat sushi--I love to eat sushi--I eat at Sushi Yasuda. I love that place. Once in a while, I see my friends at Le Bernardin, Jean-Georges, but I don't want to sound like I'm going there all the time. When people come visit me from Europe and they want to see something really New York, I take them to Katz Deli for a pastrami sandwich and a beer - I think that's part of a New York experience. If they want a steak, I take them to a very good steakhouse. Sometimes I take them to Peter Luger's steakhouse and sometimes I like to go down at Keens Steakhouse. I've also been at Wolfgang's, who is a former Peter Luger person. There are nice things to eat here that are just part of the New York experience.
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