On the Front Burner


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Gabriel Kreuther on his culinary career in the city


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  • Courtesy of Gabriel Kreuther



Having grown up on a farm in Alsace, France, Gabriel Kreuther remembers saving up his money to go a nice restaurant once or twice a year. So it’s only fitting that now his favorite people to cook for are those who can only visit when celebrating a special occasion. “Because you know the stretch they made to come in and have a good moment, and if we achieve to give them a great moment ... that’s what makes you happy.... People who can have everything every day, it’s nice, but it’s not the same reward” he said.

Although he’s only been in New York since 1997, he has amassed an impressive resume-working as a sous chef at La Caravelle, chef de cuisine at Jean-Georges and executive chef at both the Ritz-Carlton’s Atelier and The Modern at MoMA.

But, like many chefs, his ultimate goal was always to have his own place. So in 2015, he opened his eponymous restaurant overlooking Bryant Park on West 42nd Street. Its cuisine is French- and American-inspired with popular dishes such as a sturgeon and sauerkraut tart and hamachi foie gras.

On August 5, Kreuther will be honored at A Hamptons Happening benefiting the Samuel Waxman Cancer Research Foundation.

You opened your restaurant in 2015. How did you choose its location?

Finding a location in New York City is not easy because of the space restraint. Believe it or not, a lot of restaurants don’t even have a window to the outside, and I wanted to have some daylight. I visited many places and it took me a while. If you look back a little bit in 2008 and 2009, with the economy and recession, that was a slowdown for everybody who had anything on the burner, trying to do something. So it took a long time finding the right spot. I wanted to stay somewhere in Midtown, because since I’ve been here, I’ve been at La Caravelle, then Jean-Georges, then I was at the Ritz-Carlton on Central Park South, so felt comfortable in that part of the city and kind of knew the expectations of that neighborhood. And that’s where I wanted to be because that’s where I spent my first 16 years. And also, it’s across the park and that was an appeal also, because in this city there’s not much greenery. And it was probably one of the last, if not the last, area in Midtown that was neglected and not fully developed for a while.

What has changed now that you’re a restaurant owner?

A lot of people ask me that — “What has changed working for someone and now owning your own place?” And for me, I usually say not much has changed, and the reason is when I worked for Jean-Georges and I was able to run the kitchen for him.... I handled it like it was my own. And when I opened the Ritz, I always put my time in and my best effort, just like if it was mine. And here, the same thing, so fundamentally, not much has changed. It’s just having your own now, but mentally, nothing really has changed. And I also believe if you want to be successful in the business, and it’s true in many businesses, you have to respect whoever is owning it and just drive it like it’s yours if you want to go to the next step. If people sit there and hold back because it’s not theirs, I don’t think they achieve much.

What are the challenges to your job?

In this business, it’s always the same thing; it’s the hours you put in. But I also believe when you love what you do, you don’t really mind. It’s really the people who live with you and are involved with you, those are the people who, once in a while, say, “It’s a little too much now; you’ve got to slow down a little bit.” When you’re passionate about it, you’re kind of selfish and don’t realize it. But I also believe in this business, when you’re young, there is a time to learn; it’s in stages. And nothing happens without practice. It’s not because you read a book. You need to really do it and be in the trenches in order to make things happen. The other challenge that most of the time every place faces in this business is really finding the appropriate employees with the right training and background. Because a lot of people peek into the industry and then go back out.... It takes a lot out of you to stay in the industry. And when we find the people who have the right interest, our job is really to mentor and teach them what it takes and guide them to a path of building their own career and success. A lot of young people, they want everything to happen way too fast and then when the fallback happens, they don’t understand why. But when you find the right understanding, you want to put your time in and have them grow. People who stick to it and understand and believe in it, they get rewarded, but it isn’t happening overnight.

I interviewed Jean-Georges for this column as well. What did you learn from him that’s stayed with you?

I will say being organized and interested in different techniques. Listening to the customer. Working diligently. I had a great time working for and with him. I always say he is probably the best boss I ever had.

How is your menu influenced by your French roots?

I grew up on a farm in Alsace, so have, here and there, little things that are really reminiscent of that. Tarte flambé, we make our own sauerkraut and liverwurst. Foie gras is a big part of Alsace. I will not say that it’s completely Alsatian cooking, but there is a balance with anything we do that is connected to those roots.

Who are your favorite people to cook for?

I always look back on myself, having grown up on a farm. I used to save money to go to a great place once or twice a year. And I’m always looking back and have a lot of respect for people who save up to go out and have a great time for a birthday or anniversary or whatever it is. Those are the people who give us the most pleasure.… And little kids, when parents come in and instead of eating a fried piece of chicken because they don’t eat anything else, they eat the same food as the parents. This is what I love to see. This is what education is. When you are introduced to the right things, it can change your life from the early part, instead of junk food forever. And it’s also healthier. It reminds me of my childhood, sitting at the farm table, and you don’t like something, but they want you to try it. Those are memories that come back and it’s nice to see little kids trying things.

www.gknyc.com



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