March 26, 2012

A tale of two Chefs...The honors & pressures of cooking at The James Beard House...

Gordon Ramsay at The London NYC's Chef de Cuisine Markus Glocker and Pastry Chef Ron Paprocki made their their second appearance at the James Beard Foundation’s (JBF) iconic townhouse. The chefs have truly been making their mark on New York City’s culinary scene since 2006, garnering a two star Michelin rating in 2007, then maintaining and solidifying their and the restaurants reputation as one of Manhattan’s top restaurants receiving the coveted stars again for a fifth straight year in 2012. The evening at the Beard House will feature multiple courses with wine pairings and include innovative, French-inspired dishes. We'll take a look at the menu served at the Beard House below, but first, let's take a look at the Chefs themselves.

I've had the pleasure of dining at the restaurant and I have first-hand knowledge of their culinary acumen, so it was no surprise when I heard they were on their way back for a second appearance at Beard. In our recent sit down, we spoke of my first visit to the restaurant; after sending the menu back to them, along with my allergies (walnuts and uncooked apples). I ordered, "Surprise me." They then took me on an eight (8) course tasting that is one my top three dining experiences. Seriously. When I teased though, as is my way, that my meal with them that night was number two on the list, my number one being an eleven course tasting I enjoyed on the beach of an undisclosed island in Southwest Florida, Chef Paprocki quipped, "Well that's because everything tastes better on the beach, so now you have to come in so we can rectify that. Number two just isn't acceptable", he laughed!" It is this kind of drive and enthusiasm that has enabled these two chefs to climb to the heights in NYC's dining scene.

As the Chef de Cuisine, Markus Glocker continues to demonstrate his culinary expertise and creative talents. He oversees all dining, from restaurant to rooms and has successfully created one of the most consistent  hotel culinary experiences in Manhattan. Whether in the restaurants, Maze and Gordon Ramsay at the London, or guests at The London NYC,  the kitchen provides all the food at the hotel for guests and diners alike. At any one time there can be as many as 45 people in one of the most immaculate kitchens I personally have ever seen. Markus began working with Gordon Ramsay at his celebrated Gordon Ramsay at the Claridge in London in 2001, something that has allowed him to make a significant contribution to Gordon Ramsay at the London NYC since the restaurant first opened in November 2006. He told me an anecdote about a certain Sunday that stands out to him about when he worked with Chef Ramsay at the Claridge.

"When we opened Claridge, I think it was one of the hardest things in my life. I remember though, it was an afternoon where we only had 120 covers (individual diners) on the books, usually, we would have 165 plus," he said. "We decided at lunch time, around 12:30, we were exhausted, we decided, the whole kitchen, to go around the corner to the park for a half an hour. We were working, working, and one guy had a radio with him. Funny enough, we were listening to a station and we heard Chef Ramsay. They asked him, What song do you want to play for your chefs back at the restaurant? " He played Brian Adams, "Everything I do I do for you." He was trying to be funny and we all laughed, cus it had been crazy. He wanted to, you know, let us know." Then," he laughed, "when we got back to the kitchen, we learned that we now had 165 covers. We started to scramble and, you know, everything went crazy!"

The next several years of his career found Glocker leap-frogging from country to country, going from London back to Germany, where he worked at the three Michelin-starred Restaurant Eckart Witzigmann in Berlin. From there, he went all the way to Chicago to work for two years in the kitchen of Charlie Trotter’s, before returning to Austria to work at the two Michelin-starred Restaurant Steirereck Vienna.

With a serious culinary résumé, having worked under numerous Michelin stars, he returned back to the Gordon Ramsay group, where he brings sophistication and imagination to the menu as Chef de Cuisine at the New York City Restaurant. Markus was invited to prepare dinner at the Beard House last year in March and this next appearance will mark his second in as many years. I asked about his creative license at Ramsey and he explained, "Each restaurant is to a certain point, chef-centric. He described, having worked side by side with Chef Ramsay, "I am familiar and understand his flavor profile, so it's always there. At the same time, when a person like yourself comes in and you ask me to give you 8 courses and ask me to chose, as you did, I have to create. Of course, what is in stock and what we have in fresh, for the day's specials may dictate what we serve, but it is a challenge we like in the kitchen. To create on the fly." He explained about the upcoming dinner at Beard, "When you prepare for a Beard or outside event, it's not so much pressure as much as excitement. Of course you want it to be successful, but the meals are all planned ahead of time, we work together on a basic theme. For me there are the restaurants as well. They still have to run and you are doing an event outside of the restaurant that you want to be the same quality as if you were inside the restaurant. We have to very exacting, Ron and I. He is very good at what he does, so we two chefs have to get together to come up with a plan."

When I asked Pastry Chef Ron Paprocki about his first recollections of what sparked his interest in cookery and specifically, the call to become a pastry chef, he expounded on his varied and unlikely journey to a Michelin starred kitchen. His sense of humor was quite present when we talked, exposing a man who seems to be happy where he is. "My love for cooking started when I was a kid in Rochester, NY.," he states, "my sisters and I, my mom gave us free reign in the kitchen and I liked getting into the ingredients with my hands. I liked that you could put all these ingredients together and come up with a dish that tasted good. I was really good at the cooking, but not so good at the cleaning up part. He laughs, "We didn't have a dishwasher, so I spent a lot of time trying to get out of cleaning up when my mom would come home to a sink full of dishes." He went on further, "I was really into the outdoors though. We had a good tract of land, and I liked working with the tools, growing vegetables and fruit, digging in the dirt. I actually wanted to be a Forrester," he chuckles, "I always liked the outdoors, so I took a different route to pastry than most."

I'll say. You see, Ron was a professional landscape designer who traded in his garden tools for pastry tools. Despite his late arrival, at 31 he went to Germany for training at  Elisabeth-Knipping Schule in Kassel and completed his formal apprenticeship at Café Alheit. There, he learned  all the old world traditions, techniques and the classic practices of the pastry arts.

When Paprocki moved to New York he became head baker and assistant pastry chef at the celebrated Financier Patisserie. With a personality that hungers for new knowledge and challenges, he attended a chocolate sculpture seminar the following year at The French Pastry School under master chocolatier, Jean-Francois Castagne. “Learn everything you can, be exposed to everything you can,” Paprocki advises. “The older you get, the older you get.” Ron's next move was to pastry sous chef in 2005, to help develop and open the Sascha Bakery/Restaurant in the NYC's Meatpacking District. When the opportunity came to join the opening team of Gordon Ramsay at The London NYC in fall 2006, Paprocki jumped at the chance.

In 2010, he was one of the New York Rising Stars and was the first winner of the International Pastry Competition that same year. He was named one of the Top 10 Pastry Chefs in America by Dessert Professionals Magazine in 2011. This will be his second Beard appearance alongside Glocker.

I asked both chefs about the marriage of Glocker's entrees and Paprocki's desserts; "What was the process for a tasting like mine, when I asked you to choose the dishes?" and especially, "Is it the same designing a menu for a meal at the Beard house?"

"For me, it's understanding what Markus is doing with the entrees and his flow," replied Paprocki, "then, just  making sure I keep that certain profile. Say if he is serving truffle, I'll eliminate it. Make it a cohesive theme, not oppose what he's doing. Instead, compliment it. That's what, I think, makes good teams," he added, "when the chefs are comfortable with each other they develop a cohesiveness."

"That's right,"  adds Glocker, "but it takes time to develop that. It's a long road to get to that. I think this is where we get to show the most creativity and when the best dishes come out of the kitchen. We get together and say. "Ok, we need some chocolate, some fruit, but, I never really have to worry because I know what Ron' is about and exactly what he can do. It is like a marriage. Then it's easy."

"I definitely think that it's harder to come up with desserts on the fly," explained Paprocki, "especially in a tasting like yours, because certain things in pastry have to be prepared hours and hours in advance; molds, ice cream, cakes. When Pastry gets a request like yours, it's really a quickfire challenge to show yourself, and your staff, what you can do. With the Beard House, we prepare what we're serving well in advance. The same creativity still applies, but it then becomes a matter of execution."

I must digress here and mention that this one of the most immaculate kitchens I have ever seen firsthand. Each station set up perfectly and all stations are working in concert with each other. Room service here, Maze here, the Ramsay dining room here, etc., all the fare in the hotel coming from the well oiled, pristine kitchen. Paprocki put it in perspective, "As Chef de Cuisine, yes, Markus sets a certain standard, but we as chefs are proud of our kitchen and what we do. We all have that standard ourselves and we take pride in keeping our stations clean and where we are and that is reflected in the state of the kitchen." "Well," I interrupted, "it's the cleanest kitchen I've ever seen." He replied, "One of the cleanest in NYC and we take pride in that." Glockus rejoined, "It's important to us. We encourage and welcome tours of the kitchen during service when we can accommodate them. We take pride in the kitchen and that also helps in the way it runs."

It is relationships like this, as much as it is the actual food, that are the reasons for success in some of the best known kitchens in the world. High on my list, is kitchen chemistry and in my humble opinion, it can make or break a restaurant, especially in NYC. Consistency wins the race here and it solidifies your reputation with the city's fine dining crowd.

As for me, I'll have to take the chefs up on their invite to make me my number one dining experience. I admit, sometimes, it is good to be me. Of course with pictures and my writing about it, you'll all be invited along for the ride if not the actual dinner, so stay tuned. Below, is the menu the chefs served at the Beard House Thursday, March, 29th 2012.

The James Beard House, March 29, 2012 
Hors d’ oeuvre
~Foie Gras on Brioche with Whipped Sauternes
~Baked Polenta with Black Truffles
~Poached Ocean Trout with Yuzu and Blood Oranges
~Rabbit Confit with Brown Butter and Sweet Garlic
~Champagne Paul Goerg 1er Cru Brut Rosé NV

Kobe Short Rib Salad with Preserved Red Peppers, Cauliflower Florets, and Arugula Mas De Daumas
 Gassac Blanc 2007
Sautéed Pacific Langoustine with Basil Tortellini and Fennel–Lobster Consommé Val De Sil Sobre
  Lias Godello 2009
Braised Halibut with Charred Leeks, Parsley, Crispy Wild Rice, and Smoked Chicken Jus 
 Costal Les Truffières Chablis 2009
Roasted Veal Tenderloin with Horseradish Gnocchi, Sweetbreads, and Savory Broth Bruno Colin 
Vieilles Vignes Chassagne-Montrachet 2006

Mango Parfait with Coconut Dacquoise, Passion Fruit Crème, and Compressed Palm Seeds
Andrew Rich Vintner Gewürztraminer Icewine 2008

Here, also, is a bit more info about the restaurant and the hotel.

Fine Dining by Gordon Ramsay

This luxurious fine dining experience, set within The London NYC, artfully serves French inspired cuisine with impeccable sophistication. Consistently awarded two Michelin stars, guests savor the culinary talent of chef de cuisine Markus Glocker complimented by an unprecedented wine list. Offering only forty-five seats, designer David Collins has created the perfect intimate ambiance for any special moment or occasion. Fortunate guests also have preferential access to the inner sanctum of this bustling multi-million dollar kitchen when confirming the exclusive Chef’s Table. This unforgettable backdrop accommodates dinner for up to eight guests for an eight course tasting menu and wine pairing. Gordon Ramsay at the London NYC redefines the ultimate culinary experience.Reservations can be made by Clicking Here, dialing 212-468-8888 or via email.

The dress code for Gordon Ramsay at The London NYC is smart, with jackets preferred for gentlemen, but not required. Please refrain from jeans and tennis shoes. 

About The London NYC
Boundless service, luxury amenities
Experience an unrivaled concept of luxury at The London NYC. Providing unique services and amenities that anticipate every need, our luxury hotel is the ideal place to stay in Midtown Manhattan. Relax in the epitome of comfort in their spacious suite accommodations. Dine on sumptuous cuisine from the renowned culinary team of Gordon Ramsay. Indulge in the exquisite features of the midtown property and explore all that this dynamic city has to offer.

A unique blend of sophisticated style and incomparable energy, The London Hotels are wholly original and effortlessly livable. The London Hotel NYC  is heralding a new era in cosmopolitan hotels – where comfort and glamour seamlessly unite. The hotel in Midtown Manhattan (151 W. 54th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues) is at the center of New York’s cosmopolitan hub – just steps away from Fifth Avenue shops, MOMA, Broadway Shows and Central Park. The London NYC affords rare and stirring vista views of Central Park and the city skyline. Gordon Ramsay’s team manages all culinary options onsite from restaurant to room, including the two Michelin starred restaurant Gordon Ramsay at The London NYC , MAZE by Gordon Ramsay, the exclusive Chef’s Table and The London Bar. The London NYC is recognized as one of Travel + Leisure Magazine's 2011 World's Best Hotels. For more information on The London NYC, click their name.

Bon Appetit, 

All photos courtesy of The London NYC, Gordon Ramsay at the London NYC

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