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Q & A with Chanterelle’s David Waltuck

A 25 year stint with no end in sight, Chanterelle has ripened into a Tribeca dining institution.  Husband-and-wife team, Karen & David Waltuck, have charmed their way into New Yorker’s hearts (not an easy task), with refined French fare & unrelenting hospitality.  Voted “Outstanding Restaurant” 2004 by the James Beard Foundation & #13 in Adam Platt’s “101 Best New Restaurants 2006“, Chanterelle shows no signs of fading anytime soon.  While the menu changes monthy highlighting seasonal and local sources, the grilled seafood sausage signature remains a superior fixture.  Spring brings earthy offerings, like green asparagus flan with fresh morels and bass saute with sweet onions, curry and basil.  Though you get what you pay for – read deliciously expensive – the “lighter of wallet can indulge in the $42 prix fixe lunch.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

Up until college I thought I’d be a scientist.  Then I majored in biological oceanography.  Obviously, I didn’t go that route though…

How did you get into food?

I always loved restaurants and basically just started cooking at home from cookbooks.  That’s how I started out.

What was your first job in food?

After college, I was interested in cooking professionally but didn’t know much about it.  This was before the Food Network, before the whole chef-as-star mentality.  I got a job cooking at the Empire Diner from a friend who was a waitress there and never looked back.

How did you decide you wanted to open your own restaurant(s) in New York?
I was working at a small French restaurant cooking lunch but at night and days off I’d be at home developing my own dishes and my own style.  Friends encouraged me to start my own restaurant.  So, Karen [my wife] and I opened Chanterelle in Soho in 1979.

What’s your favorite dish on the menu?
Our menu changes completely every 4 weeks or so.  So, any answer I give would apply to the present menu only.  That said, I’d choose the Crisped Sweetbreads with Caramelized Leeks and Orange.  That’s my kind of dish.

What’s your least favorite dish (and yes, you must pick one)?
Alright, if I have to choose I’d go with the Ravioli of Spring Greens with Tomato Butter.  There’s nothing wrong with it and people love it but it seems too easy, not edgy enough for my personal taste.

What is your junk food of choice?

Potato chips, who can resist?  I’m not a big junk food person otherwise.

Other than your own, what’s your favorite restaurant in NYC?

I have to give you two.  The restaurant I go to most often is Congee Bowery.  I love Chinese food and this place is very good.  Plus, I can usually find a parking space right outside.  My favorite “fancy” restaurant that I wish I could go to more often is Le Bernardin.

What culinary trend do you most embrace?
The revival of heirloom breeds. Fruits, vegetables, pork that has flavor and fat, tomatoes that taste like real tomatoes…

What trend do you wish would die already?

I’m not a big fan of shock value cooking.  Putting together ingredients designed just to be surprising or unusual is not for me.  Food should be made to be delicious, not a sort of theoretical exercise.

What’s next on the horizon for you?  Any new ventures or restaurants in the works? Spill the beans…
I am working on a new Chanterelle cookbook right now.  Other than that, running the restaurant is still satisfying and fun.  It’s where I want to be.

2 Harrison St., at Hudson

Until we eat again,
Restaurant Girl
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