Rotisserie Georgette’s owner, Georgette Farkas, is very well known in the restaurant industry, but not for, well, running restaurants. That’s because the New York native has spent the last 20 years as Director of Marketing for Daniel Boulud, helping launch his seminal flagship, Daniel, in 1993. So how did such a media powerhouse end up opening a high-end rotisserie chicken spot?
“What most people don’t know is that I started out as a cook when I was 15, because I knew that what I wanted to do in life was own and run restaurants,” Farkas explains. “It just took me a long time to get to it, because the company I worked for is so nurturing and motivating and inspiring, that it’s easy to stay. And even though I’m a natural born entrepreneur, I’m not a natural born risk taker.”
“Going into business for yourself is almost a biological urge,” she adds. “You just get to the point where you can’t wake up another day working for someone else.” Farkas has smartly surrounded herself with Daniel alums. She recently replaced David Malbequi (Boulud’s former banquet chef), with his sous chef Chad Brauze, and each has ably helped her execute her vision. Rotisserie Georgette is both refreshingly simple and yet luxurious, the aroma of spit-roasted meats and crispy, blade-thin pommes frites perfuming the opulent, high ceilinged room. The pride of house is a glorious Poulet Roti, delivered with a pitcher of natural jus, a perfect green salad and a tin of those spectacular fries, or the showstopping Poulet de Luxe for two, a whole roasted chicken stuffed with wild mushrooms and seared foie gras.
“Having worked at some of the best and most complex restaurants that exist, the idea of doing something seemingly simple was so appealing. We roast a few things, have some amazing sauces and turn out perfect side dishes with finesse,” Farkas says. “And when you come to this restaurant, you already know why you’re coming here and thinking about what you’re going to have when you get here. So I really loved the idea of that clarity and simplicity, with food that’s so appealing to the senses. You can see that chicken or duck or lamb turning on the rotisserie, you can already smell it, and already taste that bit of crunchy skin or moist breast.”
We also spoke with Farkas about the new direction of the restaurant (think more rotisserie, not less), her unlikely transformation into a PR maven, and how Daniel Boulud really felt about her taking his former chefs!
In a relationship.
How did you first become acquainted with Daniel Boulud?
I worked at a three Michelin-starred restaurant in France between my junior and senior years of college. When I asked the chef who I should work for when I returned to New York, he said, “Go see Daniel Boulud and tell him I sent you.” That recommendation was all Daniel needed. I worked for him for a year, and then went off to hotel management school in Switzerland for four years. I spent the next few years after that working at hotels and restaurants in France, but I was in touch with Daniel that whole time.
And when did you begin doing PR for him?
When I came home to New York, Daniel called me one morning and said, “I need someone like you, because I have a lot of projects.” But he didn’t say exactly what the projects were. I swear to you, he never said the words “public relations” or “marketing.” So when he opened Daniel, I went to work for him doing a little bit of everything, and as the company grew, I was the person who could read and write in English, so I also did the marketing and communications. To this day, we joke about the fact that either he was so smart that he knew, had he said the words “public relations” that I would have balked, or he just didn’t know what public relations were called in the first place!
I’m guessing that you do your own PR for Rotisserie Georgette.
I couldn’t imagine anyone else communicating on my behalf. But I think the reason that Daniel and I worked so well together is that he wanted someone who could communicate about food in a very authentic way. Someone who had been a cook. Of course, it was at a very humble, line-cook level, but I still hadn’t been trained in PR language, which wouldn’t have been organic or authentic to him.
So how did you come up with the concept for Rotisserie Georgette?
I’m as American as can be and was born in NYC, but my family had a home in France and we spent all our summers there. And I clearly remember a restaurant we used to go to in the South of France, which had no menu. 365 days a year they only offered three things; a Leg of Lamb, a Steak on the Bone, and a Roasted Chicken. And they were all cooked on grills in an open fireplace. You didn’t choose anything else besides one of those three items. To start, they just brought you whatever Pates they had made that day, followed by whatever vegetables were good that season. If it was summer you’d have little Stuffed Tomatoes, and if it was winter, Root Vegetables or Mushrooms. For dessert there was Fruit Tart, and they came out with a big bucket of Crème Fraiche to dollop on top, which we do here. You didn’t ask any questions. So I was deeply inspired by those kinds of places, that were on one hand, simple, but also really luxurious.
We’re seeing a lot of higher-end restaurants embrace classic comfort foods. To what do you owe the increased interest?
For me, it never went away. But when the pendulum swings too far, it inevitably comes back. And when it comes back, it’s adjusted a little bit; there might be a little more complexity added. But I don’t think classics or simplicity, in food or otherwise, ever goes out of style.
Chad Brauze is the second chef you’ve hired from the Daniel family. Did you run it by the big man first?
I would say that Chad was served to us on a silver platter. There’s really nothing I’ve done in the last 20 years without consulting Daniel, and obviously this restaurant is not his problem, but he’s been such a generous supporter and mentor. And when I felt that I needed to make a change, it would have been stupid not to put that out there to him. And yes, there’s a bit of a no-fly zone around chefs that have worked for Daniel, so I would never even think about approaching a potential chef without reaching out to him first. There’s this mountain of respect that we all have for him.
Now that you’ve hired Chad, do you see the direction or concept of the restaurant changing?
One of the things I thought was so smart, which to me, really showed we got the right guy, was that Chad spent the first week just seeing how everything that was already on the menu worked. Because someone a little more hotheaded might have just wanted to come in and change everything, which would have been a bad idea. It’s about keeping or refining what’s working, and then slowly adding your own dishes and flourishes one at a time, and seeing how customers, as well as the team, react to them.
How will we eventually see Chad’s influence reflected?
We’re actually trying to go more rotisserie-oriented. If it can spin, we’ll cook it, from Chicken to Pigs to Fish to Lamb to Quail. And we’ve always had the Whole Roast Chicken for two, but we’re going to have Whole Ducks for two as well.
Are there any particular skills you learned during your time in PR that you think translate particularly well to running a restaurant?
I really just see it as a continuation of taking care of people. The way I used to take care of reporters is the same way I take care of customers.
What’s been the hardest thing for you to adjust to as a restaurant owner?
Running a restaurant is a team sport. And the most challenging aspect of having a business, more than raising the money, more than designing the space, more than the food, even, is building the team, nurturing the team, motivating the team, and keeping the team focused and on track.
If you were to eat at your restaurant as a guest, what would you order and why?
One thing I insisted on when I made the opening menu was having a super classic, deeply flavorful Consommé, especially in the winter. So I would definitely start with that. I might have the Roast Duck or the Whole Roasted deboned Quail with Apricot Stuffing that Chad just added. I would definitely have a green vegetable; I crave greens. And then there’s another dish that is very personal to me, which is a Whole Stuffed Idaho Potato, scooped out, deep-fried and stuffed with Truffled Mashed Potatoes. Sometimes if I have a late dinner after service, it will be a perfect little green salad with mustard dressing and that stuffed potato.
What are some of your favorite restaurants in the city, besides your own?
I have my go to-list of restaurants and they tend to be friends, because I have a lot of talented friends and I like to support what they’re doing. I also tend to like pretty classic stuff, as well as Asian food and seafood. So I enjoy RedFarm for Dim Sum. I love Sushi of Gari. My friend just opened this place called Wallflower, and I’m not big on cocktails, but I think his are so well balanced and charming. They also make the best Bouillabaisse there. Marea is one of my favorites. I love Esca’s Whole Roasted Fish. And I like Harold Moore’s Commerce, which feels really comfortable and easy, with really approachable food.
What’s next for you, now that Rotisserie Georgette is a proven success? Do you plan on expanding?
I’m the kind of person that has to feel that the ground is so solid before I move to the next thing. So it will take some time to achieve the kind of perfection I’m looking for. I just plan on working really hard, every day, to make this as restaurant as good as it needs to be. That’s my focus for now. Do I think there’s a possibility of doing this somewhere else? Let’s see. You shouldn’t do anything if you’re not going to do it well. But ideally I would love another location with an even larger space in the back of house to maybe accommodate delivery. But we would only do a very focused part of the menu, items that travel well.