Who would’ve thought a blind date could lead to marriage and two thriving Italian restaurants? Gabe & Katherine Thompson even get along at work in not one, but two kitchens. Gabe does the cooking, while Katherine oversees the dessert menus at both dell’anima and L’Artusi.
Before becoming a pastry chef, Katherine worked as a food runner at per se, cooked savory at Italian Wine Merchants, then honed her pastry skills at Del Posto and Brasserie 44. Gabe traveled through Italy, got yelled at while working at Le Bernardin; both gave him the knowledge and New York kitchen experience he needed to run his own. Still, Thompson didn’t expect the fanfare or the crowds for that matter.
This culinary duo have two restaurants under its belt, and a bar in the works next door to dell’anima. Until they unveil their new venture, they’ll be pulling double duty at dell’anima and L’Artusi with simple, boldly flavored dishes like rich chocolate budino at dell’anima as well as handmade bucatini with tomato, pancetta, and pecorino at L’Artusi.
How did you meet your wife and
mutual friend introduced us. We had one of the worst meals together the
first time we met, but she looked beautiful.
What’s it like working with your
great. We would hardly see each other if we worked at different
places. She helps me a ton with new ideas, and she gives me 100% honest
feedback on things I’m trying out.
What did you
want to be when you grew up?
Everything. As a little kid I
wanted to be just about everything, but when I became a teenager I
wanted to be a radio dj.
was your first job in food?
My first kitchen job was
at spaghetti warehouse.
did you learn?
basic kitchen etiquette I learned to scrape the sides of containers out
with a spatula when transferring things from one container to another.
It’s a food cost thing – you might leave behind an order or two of
sauce if you don’t. Y ou would be surprised how many people don’t bother
with doing that.
moved around quite a bit growing up, living in Vermont,
Texas and California. Any food memories or
dishes that profoundly influenced your cooking?
a weird diet as a kid. I loved steamed artichokes with curry
mayonnaise. I used soy sauce like most kids used ketchup. I loved
salads. I think I had my first candy bar and soda at 8 years old.
However, none of this really influenced my cooking today.
you traveled in Italy,
you really threw yourself into Italian culture. Tell us about
your time there and how your cooking is better for it?
traveled for about 3 months in the summer of 2001, but only as a
backpacker type person. I didn’t use the time to study or work. I did
however fall in love with Italian food. I t was the only country where I
found consistently good food.
you moved from Austin to New York, you
worked in the kitchen at Le
Bernardin. Tell us about that experience and how the atmosphere in
your kitchen is different?
was an amazing job to get having just arrived in the city. They have to
tear you down and build you back in their own image. At the time I
didn’t get it, but over the years I have grown to appreciate it and
really understand why they have to do that. I learned so much there. I
saw products that I had never seen before, and learned techniques that
have changed the way I cook. I also learned to really love lemon
juice. My kitchen is much more relaxed, to a fault probably. I want my
cooks to look forward to work and not be nervous about it. I also
don’t yell at my cooks; there was a ton of yelling at Le Bernardin. I
don’t fancy being yelled at.
Dell’anima was your debut as an
executive chef. Did you expect it to draw so much attention?
Absolutely not. The attention was a 100 times more than what I
was that like and how did you handle the crowds?
I just kept my head down and worked. We were so in the
weeds for so long that it’s all a blur now. It’s really hard to build
something out of nothing, and it’s especially hard with zero experience
at running a place. It was crazy.
are the biggest difference between the menus at dell’anima and L’Artusi?
menu is a lot bigger at L’artusi, but I think the flavors are mostly the
same. I think dell’anima is probably slightly more “Italian” than
L’artusi, and maybe a bit more adventurous, but I think that L’artusi
has to be more crowd-pleasing due to its size.
Do you spend more
time at one over the other?
I spend much more time
at L’artusi. But now that the first year is done, I am going to get
myself over to dell’anima more. I miss it.
What is your
favorite dish on the menu at L’Artusi?
I really like our
pastas. I think the bucatini is my favorite dish on the menu. It’s
basically bucatini alla amatriciana.
What is your least
favorite (and yes, you must pick one)?
Maybe the roasted
mushrooms. We sell about 30 a night. I get tired of looking at it
Out of all Katherine’s pastries, which
one is your favorite?
one I’m eating at that moment. They are all really bad ass. I always
tell people that the desserts are the best thing coming out of the
kitchen. It’s true, and I’m not just bragging about her. She rules.
do you like to go for a great Italian meal in New York City?
would you compare the New York dining
scene to Austin’s?
can’t compare the two; they are too different. There is really good
food in Austin,
but it’s impossible to compare them to each other.
new projects on the horizon?
We are working
on a bar a couple of doors down from dell’anima.
and I have been talking about doing one for a few months now. I think
it might happen someday.
Where did you two meet? Was it love at first sight?
A mutual friend introduced us at a horrible restaurant in the East Village. We bonded over the bad food. And, it kind of was love at first sight. We were pretty much attached to each other from that point onward.
What’s it like working in the same kitchen as your husband? Is there ever any tension?
Gabe and I truly love working together. We try to have as much fun as possible. Sure we have some occasional disagreements…but nothing major.
Who does the cooking at home?
We don’t cook at home. L’Artusi is our home. I like to joke around that Gabe cooked for me non-stop when we first met. We were both unemployed. He made the most amazing meals for me during that time. Then we opened dell’anima and we haven’t had time to cook at home since then. Maybe someday….
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I always wanted to be a pastry chef. Isn’t that cheesy?!?!
What was your first job in food? What did you learn?
Does working at Starbucks count? I actually learned a lot there. Starbucks does a great job training their employees and placing an emphasis on hospitality.
Apparently it was one of Julia Child’s cookbooks that initially sparked your interest in cooking. Why and how did you transition into Italian pastry?
It was actually Julia’s “The Way to Cook.” I still love that book! I always liked the simplicity of Italian cuisine. When I worked at Italian Wine Merchants, I took it upon myself to learn as much as possible about the cuisine. Although I was mainly cooking savory food then, I also experimented with pastries too. A lot of my recipes originated from that time period.
Years before L’Artusi, you actually worked as a server at per se. What was that experience like?
I should mention that I was a “Kitchen Server”… which is pretty much a glorified term for “Food Runner”. Working at per se was the scariest time of my life. I pretty much had a panic attack before showing up to work every day. I was intimidated by everything: the kitchen, the guests, the china, the perfection, etc. It was difficult, but I learned so much. I also learned that four star dining is not my style.
Gabe and I actually decided to get married on the day that we landed reservations at per se. It was by far the most spectacular dining experience that I’ve ever had. No other meal will compare to that one. They treated us like royalty, and of course, everything was perfect!
You also worked as a savory chef at Italian Wine Merchants. What inspired your move to pastry at Del Posto and Brasserie 44?
At Italian Wine Merchants, I met Del Posto’s opening pastry chef, Tai Chopping. Tai took me under her wing and taught me everything. followed her to Del Posto and later to Brasserie 44. Everything that Tai made was technically solid and tasted delicious. It was the best pastry education. She is extremely talented.
What is you favorite pastry on the menu at L’Artusi?…
Budino: simple. Tastes like my mom made it.
Cake. Sort of a glorified sundae. I love sundaes!
you have a least favorite (and yes, you must pick one)?
Oil Cake. I’ve made it so many times.
of Gabriel’s dishes do you like the most?
question is hard. It depends on my mood. Every day I crave a
different dish. Right now I’m obsessed with the Risotto a la pilota at
dell’anima. I haven’t had it in a year…. and I rediscovered it last
week. Now I want to eat it constantly.
that you think could use some work?
Not right now.
There are a couple of dishes that Gabe and I have been bouncing around,
but we haven’t executed them yet. They will need work for sure. Other
than that, I pretty much criticize his food all of the time. He gets
annoyed with me complaining about food not being prepared properly or
things not tasting correct. I’m bossy!
do you like to eat on your nights off? Do you tend to take a night off
from Italian on those nights?
The Spotted Pig.
We are pretty much obsessed with that restaurant. Best dirty martinis
in town. And the food is off-the-charts delicious. But, we love Italian
Any new projects on the horizon?
Spill the beans..,
are working on a bar next to dell’anima. Other than that, Gabe and I
are constantly bouncing around new restaurant concepts. We have too
many to mention!
38 8th Ave., at Jane St.
Phone: (212) 366-6633
228 W 10th St., between Hudson & Bleecker Sts.