Todays New York Times has an interesting article on a new breed of intimate restaurants aiming to enhance the dining experience through stronger interaction with the chefs. Citing locations in New York, Chicago and Montreal, the article details restaurants with very few tables who are taking the open kitchen concept a step further with the chef becoming a multi-tasking performer- and it seems to be appealing to both the diners and the chefs.
Grab a stool and belly up to a new brand of upscale dining, where closeness to the cook comes with your meal as routinely as bread. Although counter seating, open kitchens, and chef’s tables are not new to the scene, Momofuku Ko and a few other restaurants are reaching for a new level of intimacy. The chefs are not only cooking and plating the food, but also serving it, taking coats, recommending wine and confirming reservations.
“Everyone who works here is a chef, and everyone is also a dishwasher,” said Michael Carlson, the chef at Schwa in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago, which serves elaborate multicourse menus of dishes such as parsnip custard with ice-wine vinegar caramel, candied sweetbreads and a lavender lecithin bubble. (It’s a dessert.)
The new model was inspired by sushi bars and re-engineered by the French chef Joël Robuchon in 2003 at his Paris restaurant L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, where a counter surrounds an open kitchen. Adopters of this model across the Atlantic tend toward the young and the restless, who are interested in testing received notions not only about food but also about what a restaurant can and should be.
The decision to minimize service staff ripples throughout the meal. “We’re just cutting out the middleman,” said Sam Gelman, a sous-chef at Momofuku Ko. “It’s you eating and me cooking.”
His words reflect a sensibility about food that also drives modern eaters to seek direct contact with farmers and fishers, fromagers and foragers. “This way I can tell people myself about the food they’re eating, the wine, everything,” he said, grating a snowfall of frozen foie gras over a bowl of riesling jelly and pine-nut brittle.