As the executive chef at NYC’s first seasonal restaurant, Park Avenue Summer, Craig Koketsu’s menu will morph at the whim of the seasons (as will the space itself). Craig Koketsu has become quite adaptable to change: afterall, he oversaw Manhattan Ocean Club’s kitchen as it transformed into the chic Quality Meats. Craig didn’t travel a traditional path to the kitchen, instead spending his early years in UC Berkeley’s library. From there, he skipped culinary school and went straight to numerous California kitchens then to NYC to work under the tutelage of luminary Christian Delouvrier at Lespinasse. This summer’s menu, which will soon fall (as
well as the space itself) into autumn, purveys soy-battered soft shell crabs, grilled
langoustines and fluke dabbed with plum & cilantro paste.
Married to my incredibly
beautiful and talented wife, Juliana Cho.
What did you want to be when you
I wanted to be a lot of things
when I was a kid – an industrial designer, hairstylist (don’t ask),
photographer. . . But when I was in college, I was a rhetoric major which was a
typical path to becoming a lawyer. Instead of studying, however, I spent most
of my time copying recipes from cookbooks in the bookstores and cooking for my
girlfriend (now my wife). That’s when I
decided I should just become a cook.
What was your first job in food?
After graduating from college, I
applied at a Japanese/French restaurant to be a prep cook. The woman that took my application told me
they only had a dishwasher position open. I told her I’d take it and she looked at me like I was crazy. The first thing they had me do was sweep the
parking lot. Then I cleaned the
bathrooms. I ended up in the Japanese
part of the kitchen, hand washing all the little plates that couldn’t go
through the machine. As much as I hated
it, I could tell that working in the kitchen was going to be a good fit.
Are you spending all of your time
at Park Avenue Summer or will you be darting back & forth between there and Quality Meats?
Darting back & forth. Fortunately, I have great teams and chefs de cuisine at both restaurants, which allow me that flexibility. And the two
restaurants are in pretty close proximity.
You’ve been with The Smith &
Wollensky Group when Quality Meats was Manhattan Ocean Club, so you’re obviously well-versed in seafood. Do you still use this as an opportunity to
express your seafaring expertise?
I think I’ll always be partial to
seafood – there are so many varieties and it’s so versatile. Especially now, during the summer, when
people want to eat lighter dishes, I have a heavy seafood representation on the
What’s your favorite dish on the summer menu?
I know you only asked for one,
but I have to give you two that I like equally – the Fluke Sashimi with Plum
and Cilantro and the Monkfish with Spaghetti Squash and Pink Peppercorn Brown
Are you stressed about the notion
of having to create a whole new menu every season?
I wouldn’t say “stressed”. Creating menus is probably the best part of
being a chef. It does pose an interesting challenge, however. Whereas most restaurants change their menus a
few dishes at a time, we’re changing our entire menu all at once which could be
a little difficult.
What’s your least favorite dish
(and yes, you must pick one)?
I guess it would be the Vegetable Garden Salad. A green salad is one of those choices that you almost have to offer.
What is your junk food of choice?
Beard Papa cream puffs.
Other than your own, what’s your
favorite restaurant in NYC?
That’s a tough one. I hate the word “favorite” because it’s so
absolute and there are so many great places to eat here. But I really like Casa in the West Village. It’s a small Brazilian restaurant. The food is so clean and they have great
feijoada (pork, beans, rice & kale). There’s also a place in my neighborhood called Barcibo that serves
really good food and they do it all off of two Bunn burners and an oven.
What culinary trend do you most
I’m big on anything that ultimately
improves the quality, flavor, and/or the appearance of the dishes that I make –
whether it be hardware, e.g. sous vide, cvap oven; or software, e.g. food
chemicals and starches. But I really
don’t want the diner to acknowledge the technique or technology that goes into
a dish, I just want them to enjoy what they’re eating.
What trend do you wish would die
Deconstructing food to the point
that it has no semblance (in taste) to the original inspiration.
What’s next on the horizon for
you? Any new ventures or restaurants in
the works? Spill the beans…
We’re planning on opening this
really cool restaurant in the fall. It’s
going to be called Park Avenue Autumn.
Address: 100 E. 63rd St., nr. Park Ave.
Until we eat again,
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