Many of New York’s best, high-end chefs have been clamoring to open fast-casual spots as of late, but that hasn’t swayed Gabriel Kreuther one bit. After spending the last ten years as top toque at Danny Meyer’s luxe museum restaurant, The Modern, he recently opened his own eponymous, equally refined, and already Michelin-starred spot, in the elegant Grace Building in Midtown.
“One of my criteria to choose what to eat when I am out is whether or not I can make it at home. If it’s not too involved, I ask myself, why bother to order it in a restaurant?” explained Kreuther of his decision to stay true to his fine dining roots. “For me, the point of going out to eat in a restaurant is to get something special.” And to be sure, the multifaceted fare at Gabriel Kreuther is anything but run of the mill — including a progression of dishes such as Colorado Lamb Rack roasted in a hay stack, and a Fennel-Cockle Veloute with blue shrimp, watercress gratine and seven grain tuile, accompanied by fanciful amuse bouche like white polenta financiers with foie gras.
We spoke to the Alsace-born chef about what kept him at The Modern for so long, his favorite places to eat out in New York, and his next, somewhat unexpected career venture (all we can say is, move over Jacques Torres!)
Did you always want to be a chef, growing up?
Yes. Ever since I can remember, at my earliest age, I always wanted to be a chef. I remember my grandfather often asking me when I was 4-5 years old what did I want to be when I grew up. Years later, they would laugh recalling to me that I would always be so consistent about saying I wanted to be a chef.
What job would you say really kick-started your career?
I would say running the kitchen at Jean-Georges, and opening Atelier at the Ritz-Carlton, Central Park South.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received from a chef friend/mentor?
Do what you believe in and do it with gusto. Don’t be concerned with trends, they come and go. Quality doesn’t lie.
In today’s day and age, there’s less and less professional loyalty; young chefs tend to hop from restaurant to restaurant, with the goal of opening their own spot at the soonest opportunity. That being said, what kept you at The Modern for so long?
From my perspective, if I want investors to believe in me, I need to be able to show them that I can run a viable business. Successfully running a place for someone that long as if it was my own, demonstrated that I could do so in bad times as well as in good. When we were hit with the recession, it required me to be extremely resourceful and I was able to avoid laying off staff and still turn in a profit.
If you were to eat at your restaurant as a guest, what would you order and why?
Depending on the day, the mood and with who I’m with, it would be either the Tasting menu or if I ordered the Prix Fixe, I would choose the Hamachi Mille-Feuille, followed by the Cider Poached Maine Lobster, and then either the Squab or the Skirt Steak. For dessert, I would go for the Black Forest Cone.
What was your reaction to Gabriel Kreuther getting a Michelin star after less than a year in business?
It was great for the whole team and was unexpected.
You’ve worked your way through some of NYC’s most esteemed fine dining palaces. And Gabriel Kreuther also offers a highly refined dining experience. But as fast-casual becomes more and more of a “thing,” what do you see as the fate of fine dining in NYC?
I think there will always be a place for great dining. I think it will evolve and find its comfort zone. To me, it’s more about the people than the style of dining that make a place welcoming and friendly, and as a guest, people need to understand that they should feel comfortable being themselves and just have a great time. Dining is not about acting; it’s about enjoying food that you like with good company in an environment that makes you feel well taken care of.
Besides your own, what are your favorite places to eat in NYC when you’re really looking to splurge and treat yourself, and what are your favorite casual spots or dives?
When I’m looking to treat myself, I like to go back to Jean-Georges. It holds a very special place in my heart for me. And then Daniel, Le Bernardin, and Per Se. My favorite casual spots are Katz’s deli, Keen’s steakhouse, and in my own neighborhood, O Mai, Txikito and Co. When I get a chance, I also like to stop in at Russ & Daughters if I’m in that neighborhood.
What current culinary trends can you really get behind, and which do you wish would just die already?
Each trend usually goes overboard at some point and people get fed up with it. I’m not really concerned about trends as they come and go fast. For me, top notch quality is more telling than a trend.
What, of your many accomplishments and awards in your career, are you most proud of?
Probably my first one, Meilleur Apprenti Cuisinier de France; it opened a lot of doors at the time and made me follow my dream.
What’s next for you? Another restaurant? A book? A stint on food television, perhaps?
Probably opening a chocolate shop and maybe a book.