New York’s Best Chefs On How To Host An Epic Summer Party
The Big Apple’s culinary gods celebrate the Fourth of July weekend with food, wine and more food
From left: Messrs Junghyun Park, Fabián von Hauske, Jeremiah Stone, Flynn McGarry, Riad Nasr, Lee Hanson, Cédric Vongerichten and Arnaud Tronche
Holidays, as we all know, begin with, revolve around and depend entirely on the food. And 4 July is the greatest of them all: it’s summertime, the living is easy – the cooking, drinking and partying even more so. In order to get a little inspiration for the festivities this year, we brought together some of the most celebrated chefs in New York to see how they gather around the grill and throw a party.
Mr Cédric Vongerichten
This has been a big year for Mr Cédric Vongerichten. After quite literally growing up in the kitchen behind the scenes at his father Mr Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s massive restaurant empire, and then running the famed Perry Street restaurant in New York, Mr Vongerichten Jr has struck out on his own, opening the Indonesian restaurant Wayan with his wife Ochi.
You have had a lot to celebrate this year. When you want to treat yourself, what feels festive, and do you begin with food?
Absolutely. Every year for Memorial Day, Labor Day, 4 July, Easter – pretty large cooking events – our close family and friends gather in Upstate New York at our family house, and every time it’s something different. For example, for Memorial Day we did a whole suckling pig, roasted it along with half a halibut on the grill… Our director of operations does all the cocktails. We cook for 32 people.
So, everybody does a little something…
Exactly. I’m usually the protein guy, stuck at the grill. My father is big on his vegetables. He goes to the market the morning of and brings all the stuff, and we have a lot of cocktails and wine. And then, activities – we go to the lake and play games.
Let’s talk about hamburgers, it’s the official dish of 4 July…
I love cheeseburgers, hamburgers. We’ve done two different burgers at Perry Street the past 12 years, and when we opened Le Burger in Jakarta, we thought, “OK, we’ve never had a great burger there.” I think a lot of the younger generation from Indonesia that study abroad in London, Australia, New York City or California and return to Indonesia crave that. So, we’re like, “OK, let’s do that.” But it wasn’t easy, because we had to find the right buns, produce. So, we had to work with bakers, we had to find the right meat with the right amount of fat and make it work. And, we were very happy with it. People that have travelled abroad and had the burger there, they think, “Wow, it’s as good as in the US.”
What would you say are the components of the perfect burger?
Starting on the outside, a good toasted bun, for sure; toasted on both sides with a touch of butter. Then, a little bit of chilli in it also, and a touch of sweetness. A blend of meat that has fat, not too much fat, maybe 60/40, which is still juicy and bouncy, freshly ground. Sharp cheddar cheese on top of it, pickles for the acidity, and then you give me a piece of lettuce and the bun, and I’ll be happy with that.
Have you ever done a burger bar for the big family holidays Upstate?
Last year, after we opened Le Burger, everybody wanted it. So, we made a burger, chicken burger and a lobster burger. And, believe it or not, compared to the other things – whole suckling pig – the burger was the hardest thing. It has so many components, and people get overwhelmed, they don’t want a buffet, they want it to be served to them. And then, you eat two or three of those, I mean, think about it – 30 people! There were probably a hundred burgers or so we had to put together. It was harder. Now we know better, stick with bigger pieces, like a whole fish.
Messrs Lee Hanson and Riad Nasr
Messrs Lee Hanson and Riad Nasr of Frenchette, the James Beard Foundation’s Best New Restaurant in New York, have had much to celebrate of late. For more than 15 years they were the backbone of Mr Keith McNally’s French-inspired empire, working behind the scenes at NYC classics Balthazar and Pastis. But the wins for Mssrs Hanson and Nasr now come with their names etched on the trophies – not that we all can’t join in on the celebrations. The chef/owners are good sharers, of food, of festivity, and despite what they say, of guidance for the chefs of the next generation.
The community aspect of Frenchette is amazing. How does that inform what you do?
Mr Nasr: We definitely wanted a place to be a hub, to be part of your everyday or weekly routine. We’re sort of on the fringe of a few neighbourhoods, which doesn’t always work, but we want you to feel a little bit transported when you come in. We wanted it to be a bit of a cultural hub where people can eat, congregate, meet other people, celebrate, mourn, or come forget.
People have these big celebrations and events in the restaurant, how does that affect the way you celebrate?
Mr Hanson: I think our food pretty much reflects the vibe we have. You know, you want to have the festival part of the whole thing. The share, the amuse section. People reaching across the table for fries… I think the best restaurants are the ones where you go to relax, where you feel like you are a part of the place.
You two aren’t exactly strangers to hit restaurants. But how has it changed, the fulfilment, the terror, having your names above the door?
Mr Hanson: We take a lot more Tums, that’s for sure. I mean, we always took our work home with us, but having to worry about paying back investors is another level.
Mr Nasr: There’s more responsibility, for sure, but you also have to be more trusting, that the people you put into those positions are going to reflect your core values, and you have to let them do it themselves. I think we’ve been super lucky with the choices we’ve made hiring staff, and with the choices the staff have made, bringing people in.
What are you looking forward to eating on 4 July?
Mr Nasr: Going to Flynn’s [Mr Flynn McGarry’s restaurant Gem] on Saturday for lunch. I haven’t been going to chef-y restaurants. I really look forward to bellying up to the bar at Keens, you know, martinis and roast beef and we’re out. There’s no shop talk. I can enjoy my time away.
Mr Flynn McGarry
Mr Flynn McGarry has only recently outgrown the terms “wunderkind” and “prodigy” that would regularly append any mention of him. Not because he is, at 20 years old, any less wondrous or prodigal than when, at 11, he became a media and foodie darling for his supper clubs, or when the film Chef Flynn, documenting his incredible, Mozart-of-the-food-world story came out last year. It is just that, after nearly a decade of cooking, staging with all of the greatest chefs in the world, and running his own sensational Gem in New York’s Lower East Side, the story around Mr McGarry isn’t just about his youth, but about his incredible talent.
Can you tell me a little bit about what you are planning to do with Gem this summer?
We’ve been open for a little over a year now. The summer in New York, everyone leaves. We’re such a tiny, tiny restaurant that we have the opportunity to be a little more flexible with our schedule. We’re travelling around and cooking at different places but also just taking time to go and be inspired and think, but not in the traditional way of how a restaurant is most successful being open seven nights a week. The idea is to create this menu that is inspired by those last two months… I tell everyone that I’m thinking more like a fashion brand. Like spring, summer, fall, winter. What do those creatives do in between [the seasons]? They plan and they create [the collection]. To have that time when you’re not expected to deliver 365 days a year, I think, is only going to make it more personal and better. Because if I need to do something every single day, it limits our creativity. It limits us being good at what we do.
How do you celebrate? And does it always start with food?
It always starts with food. It’s dinner. If I am celebrating, a mix of dinner and sleeping.
They do go well together.
I really love hosting – that’s why I love food to start with. Hosting and celebrating feels good when you have everyone that you like in one space, coming together over food. I have a giant outdoor deck at my apartment, so I’ve been having people over for barbecues. I think, though, during the days when I have the biggest things to celebrate, I’ll go eat dinner by myself. Because I just want that moment of quiet.
So, if you were going to have your friends over on the deck and you’re barbecuing, what would be the fun thing?
My rule for barbecuing is that everything needs to be done before everyone shows up. I want to be able to hang out, not just feel like a slave to it. Every barbecue I’ve done has literally just been the food that we’re going to throw out at the restaurant anyway. There’ll be three different salads; I usually make those and put them out. Grill some fish or meat, make a green salsa with that. Make an anchovy, olive oil and lemon vinaigrette, put it on some grilled vegetables. Grill some bread, have some cheese. That’s it.
Messrs Jeremiah Stone and Fabián von Hauske
Messrs Jeremiah Stone and Fabián von Hauske recently celebrated the fourth anniversary of their laid-back Lower East Side foodie favourite Wildair by inviting friends over to make tacos. This sort of collaborative, convivial spirit keeps Mr Stone and Mr von Hauske incredibly busy. Their Michelin-starred restaurant Contra (regularly mentioned among one of the world’s best restaurants) is now six years old, and they love to travel, bopping around the country to cook with friends, running off to Europe or to Mexico, where Mr von Hauske is from, for some good eats. These two are wildly worldly (Mr von Hauske worked at Cophenagen’s Noma and at Attica in Melbourne; Mr Stone is from Washington DC, and cooked at Rino in Paris and Isa in Brooklyn), and wildly entertaining (their Contra Wildair cookbook with Ms Alison Roman is a great read), which makes them both your dream dinner party guests and hosts, so we asked them how they like to party.
What do you guys do to treat yourselves?
Mr von Hauske: We both really like music so we try to go to shows. We were both in music before – he's a DJ, I used to play drums in a band – so going to those things, it’s really a treat.
Mr Stone: My idea of a really good time is being in France, outdoors somewhere, just pâté, oysters, bread, rosé flowing. Very simple.
You get a lot of chefs in your restaurant. Is that fun, or terrifying?
Mr Stone: The thing with chefs, and basically with diners as well, is that some people are going out to enjoy themselves. And then you also have a lot of chefs who just want to see if their crowds are bigger than yours. I mean, having friends come in is one of the best things; I used to worry a lot about what they thought, trying to impress, but I think now we just have a good time.
What’s the New York food scene like at the moment?
Mr Stone: Most American cities have a great awareness of what is going on elsewhere – they are looking to France, to Copenhagen, maybe because they only have so much going on where they are. New Yorkers have such a sea of different cultures, they can think it is the end-all-be-all and get self-absorbed. And New York is a bit of a grind, you’re locked in, doing an all-nighter every night, so it is hard to get out and see what else is going on.
Mr von Hauske: It’s funny how, here in the States, everyone is like “New York has lost its edge and LA is the new hot thing”. But if you talk to chefs from other countries, they’re still excited about New York.
Mr Arnaud Tronche
No celebration would be complete without wine, so we turned to our favourite natural wine sommelier, the owner of TriBeCa’s Racines NY, Mr Arnaud Tronche, to plan a perfect pairing list. Mr Tronche studied engineering in his native France and worked in the telecoms industry for 15 years before moving to the US and becoming a sommelier. It’s safe to say he knows a thing or two about progression, and the stories that make a wine taste even better.
As someone who is at the restaurant every night, how do you celebrate an occasion?
Celebrating for me means having my friends at home, super relaxed and casual. We gather, we cook. We all love to drink wine, so we all bring some fun bottles to drink. Most of the time I host but I do have friends who have an outdoor terrace, so we’ll gather there to barbecue. I always like to keep the food very simple. Being French, we always have cheese. We bake bread. A lot of meat and salad and everything around a bottle of wine, basically. The food is less important.
This is my only philosophy about eating: you don’t wait for the occasion to open the champagne. Opening the champagne makes it an occasion. You should drink champagne every day, actually [laughs].
For our imaginary dinner party, would you have a variety of wines and plan a series? Or would you just have 18 bottles of the same wine?
I don’t think we’ve ever had the same wine twice on any given night. It’s an adventure, it’s varied. And, of course, you can do a normal progression. We always love to sample a few bottles of champagne then, maybe, switch to white wine, and then red. But I always finish with champagne.
Mr Junghyun Park
It’s quite possible that Atomix, the Michelin-starred Korean fine-dining restaurant Mr Junghyun Park runs with his wife Ellia, which was named the best new restaurant in the city last year by The New York Times, is also the most dazzling. In a series of carefully crafted, evolving and freakishly unpredictable set menus here, as well as wildly creative takes on banchan (those little, often pickled goodies that come at the start of a Korean meal) at his more casual Atoboy, Mr Park is making food you won’t find anywhere else on Earth. As he explains, Ato – the root word in each of the restaurants’ names – means gift in Korean, and these institutions never stop giving.
Are holidays a big deal for you?
Yeah, it’s the Korean culture. Holidays are a family gathering, it’s kind of a big thing. We have Thanksgiving in Korea. It’s called “Chuseok” and it’s a three-day holiday, so everyone is gathering at their grandmother’s house, or going to see their parents. We have tons of food, without a break. Just keep watching movies and eating food, and taking naps, and eating another dinner. But I moved to New York with my wife about seven years ago, so we are still pretty new. We have a bunch of friends, but not family. Our family is people who started working with me in the restaurant. We invite them to our house for the holidays… We have fun together in the restaurant, too. We used to have dance parties at Atoboy.
Food is a great way of bringing different cultures together. How does that work at Atoboy?
Atoboy is a Korean restaurant but it’s definitely not attempting Korean food. It’s a New York restaurant. I get some inspiration from a lot of the culture that’s originally New York. I’m going to an Indian restaurant, I’m getting Szechuan food, or Japanese, Mexican… I get tons of inspiration from other cuisines and cultures. And then using the technique or something that I learned from my mum or my Korean culture. They just complement each other.
What’s your ideal feast?
I like fried chicken a lot. It’s really hard to make it at home, because when you fry the chicken it splashes grease everywhere. The clean-up is not fun but having the fried chicken on the middle of the table is always fun. You don’t even need to use a fork, you just grab it by hand and have fun, dipping into different sauces… Also, in Asian culture generally, rice is very important. You fill your plate with some boiled rice, grab some other food and then mix it all together. You can add some sauce on top of the rice; it feels very satisfying.