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Q & A With Jeffrey Chodorow

Jeffrey Chodorow goes on record, following Adam Platt’s one-star New York Magazine review of the controversial restaurateur’s most recent project: Wild Salmon.  After calling it a wrap on English is Italian, Jeffrey flew in chef Charles Ramseyer from Seattle and a boundless supply of Pacific Northwest salmon, transforming the sizeable midtown space into a copper-gilded seafood temple.

Let’s rewind a few months to Jeffrey’s Kobe Club venture.  And let’s be candid: Bruni, Platt, & Cuozzo’s collective pan of the samurai sword-sleek steakhouse, all read more like personal slights against Chodorow & his entire CGM empire, than a gastronomic exposition of the menu itself.  Swanky and overpriced?  Yes, but I could make a naughty habit out of chef Russel Titland’s flavorful bacon sprinkled with black truffles.

Jeffrey retaliated by taking out a full-page ad in the New York Times to articulate his immense displeasure with the aforementioned critics – especially Bruni – simultaneously announcing the launch of his blog & an official Bruni ban at all CGM properties.

Up next for Chodorow, a collaboration with Zak Pelaccio, who put himself on the dining map with Fatty Crab & 5 Ninth.  The two have teamed up in hopes of lifting the curse that looms over the ill-fated 22nd street location.  Rocco’s “The Restaurant” and Brazilian-bent Caviar & Bananas ring a bell?  They plan to implement a locally-sourced menu that will incorporate ingredients from each of NYC’s five boroughs, aptly naming the new pursuit – Borough.  Chodorow & Pelaccio are also busy at work on Kopi Tiam, a “Malaysian coffeehouse” concept on the Upper West Side.

Without further ado, I bring you Jeffrey Chodorow…

What did you want to be when you grew up?

How did you get into the restaurant business?
By Accident!…I opened China Grill in 1987 as a hobby. A couple of years later, I found out that it needed to be a full time job, and the rest is history.

You worked with Todd English on English is Italian, a
space now inhabited by Wild Salmon.  Is he still involved in this
latest project?

He was a consulting chef for the concept.  He is not involved with Wild Salmon.

Wild Salmon is undeniably a unique concept, quite distinct from the rest of the CGM bunch…what was the inspiration?
I first visited Seattle ten years ago to celebrate my aunt and
uncle’s 50th anniversary.  For that occasion, I chose to take everyone
for dinner at Ray’s Boathouse (after seeing a story about it on the
Food Network).  I was genuinely struck by the quality of both my meal
at Ray’s and the local products available as I traveled throughout that
region comparing what other restaurants were offering.

Coincidentally, Charles Ramseyer ( our chef at Wild Salmon) was the
chef at that anniversary party and, although I didn’t know it at the
time, he gave Luke Rinaman, my Corporate Executive Chef, his first
hotel chef’s job.

Fast forward to four years ago. I was having a conversation regarding
new restaurant development my corporate chef, Luke Rinaman, when we
first played with the idea of opening a Pacific Northwest restaurant in
the space that had Tuscan Steak.  Of course, other thoughts and chefs
intervened, which distracted us from changing the Tuscan Steak space to
Wild Salmon; but, nevertheless, here we are now introducing New Yorkers
and guests of the restaurant to a cuisine that is unrivaled in
freshness and flavor and unique outside of that region.

What’s your favorite dish on Wild Salmon’s menu?
The Cedar Planked King Salmon and the Apple Wood Smoked Alaskan Sablefish.  I am also able to distinguish, as can virtually all of my diners,
the difference between the different tastes of Wild Alaskan Salmon
species we are currently serving at the restaurant: Sockeye, Coho and
King Salmon. 

It has been enlightening to see how many people come to Wild
Salmon because they know these ingredients.  Last week when we
announced we had the first catch of the Copper River Salmon run, our
reservations increased by 50% with people who knew what they were
coming for, and let me tell you, they were not disappointed when they
tried the salmon our chef brought back with him all the way from
Cordova, Alaska– just to be able to really be the first one to have it
in NYC.

What’s your least favorite dish on Wild Salmon’s menu (and yes, you must pick one)?
Without a doubt, the Pan Seared Washington Coast Sand Dab with Kasha
Pilaf and vermouth lemon chive butter, reason why it’s off the menu
(has been for a couple of weeks). 

Interestingly enough, this is a dish Adam Platt wrote he liked, which
shows you how different people’s tastes are.  And I just took it off
the menu. 
He missed the whole point of Wild Salmon.  He doesn’t mention the
wines, the beers, or the fact that all of the product is flown in from
the Pacific Northwest.  He should probably stay out of Seattle, seeing
as the people there revere their product.

You were obviously disappointed by both Frank Bruni & Adam
Platt’s reviews of Kobe Club?  What compelled you to take out the
full-page ad?

I had never before felt there was such a wide gap between what these
two writers had to say and what other food experts and the public had
to say.  I also wanted to bring to light that the fact that these two
gentlemen are good writers, does not qualify them as “Restaurant
Critics” per se. 

Anyone can be a “Critic” of anything but few are qualified and
experienced on the subject matter, and they shouldn’t be held out to
the public as such by otherwise well-respected publications.

Is it true that they are in fact banned from Wild Salmon as well as
the rest of CGM’s haunts?  Might there be actual WANTED POSTERS of the
two critics hanging in all of your kitchens?

Not anymore!  It’s a waste of time and energy.  My customers are the
best judge and critics, and, based upon the response from them, I feel
they see through the bias in the reviews.

You just started your own blog.  Welcome to the club.  How’s it going?
Too much work, I am weeks behind!

What was your experience with the reality show “The Restaurant” & Rocco DiSpirito?  Do you regret that project?
It was a very tumultuous experience, to say the least.
Unfortunately, neither one of us, Rocco or myself, came out as winners
nor have we benefited from being portrayed as we were.

I don’t regret the project, just regret the unexpected turn it took.  I wish things had been different and that Rocco’s had been the successful restaurant that both Rocco and I imagined it would be.

 Which is of the 25 China Grill Management restaurants is your favorite, perhaps the most sentimental?
Without a doubt, China Grill and Asia de Cuba in New York are my most sentimental restaurants, followed by China Grill in Miami.  They were what launched my career.

But, my current favorite is Kobe Club, not only because I love what we serve, but also because that’s the restaurant about which I get the most positive feedback from our customers, when they see me there or go out of their way to drop me an e-mail about how good their meal was, particularly after my public dispute with the NY Times. 

Do you have a least favorite…?
Of course not. This is like asking a mother for their least favorite child.

Other than your own, what are your favorite restaurants in NYC?
So many, I could write a book!….however, Sette Mezzo, Fatty Crab, Peter Luger’s, Rao’s, Il Mulino and Cipriani is where I find Linda and I are gravitating most lately.

Your new concept for that space is Borough food & drink with chef Zak Pelaccio.  How did you meet Zak and decide to embark on this Gramercy venture?  Will you elaborate on the concept behind the restaurant?
I met Zak while dining at Fatty Crab.   We started talking and I found him to be knowledgeable about food, engaging and focused.  One thing led to another (including the opening of Suka at Sanderson in London this past  March)
I always wanted to do a restaurant in New York City where we would feature my favorite foods from the NYC area, and Zak had similar thoughts.  So, we gathered our respective resources (including those of personal friends and foodies) and started to research the best ingredients and foods found in the 5 boroughs of New York City.  Zak is compiling a menu incorporating these ingredients and foods in a really fun way, to be served in a cool and casual environment.

What’s next on the horizon for you?  Any new ventures or restaurants in the works? Spill the beans…
Borough Food & Drink opens at the end of this month.  China Grill Fort Lauderdale and Stay Social (hotel and restaurant also in Fort Lauderdale) open at the end of 2007 and Spring 2008, respectively.  Asia de Cuba opens in Miami Beach in 2008. Maxim Steakhouses (under the names of Maxim Prime and Maxim Steak) in NY, Miami, Atlanta and Las Vegas are on the way.

Until we eat again,
Restaurant Girl
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