The Chef Chats About His Quintet of NYC Restaurants
Chef Laurent Tourondel is a French native but his world travels have brought him across the globe, working in some of the finest restaurants in London, Moscow, Las Vegas, and New York. As some time off presented itself he then traversed South America, Asia, and Africa before returning to the States to start what would become a culinary empire.
All of Chef Tourondel’s travels allowed him to develop his own “cooking voice” while remaining grounded in his roots of French training. It was these tastes and techniques that he began applying as he opened BLT Steak, BLT Fish, BLT Prime, and BLT Burger. As his fame grew so did his demand – the chef’s holdings now range from New York to Hong Kong. He currently is manning the kitchen at five New York City restaurants: L’Amico, The Vine, Brasserie Rhulmann, Arlington Club, and BRKLYN Beer Garden. While sharing a morning coffee at The Vine, Chef Tourondel talked with NYC Monthly about being a perfectionist in the kitchen and gave us some menu suggestions for a few occasions.
In October 2007 Bon Appétit magazine named you Restaurateur of the Year. In the 10 years since, do you think you’ve changed at all professionally? Is there something you know now that you wish you did then?
I think this is the story of life. I think as you grow and you know more, you always look back and say, well, if I would of knew that I would’ve done that. But there is no way of avoiding that, this is the way it is. But I think [I’m] happy with what I’ve done in the past.
With five restaurants in New York, how do you choose where you spend your time?
I have a routine. So, sometimes I spend lunch here, sometimes in the afternoon I have a meeting here, at dinner I go to another restaurant. I try to do a rotation a bit. And then, I go where the problem is sometimes.
Does that leave time to be in the kitchen?
Every day, lunch and dinner.
When you first started out, was there a dish you consistently struggled with that you now have perfected and serve today?
I don’t know if struggle is the right word, but I think that a good chef should be a perfectionist. Someone who should be very meticulous and make sure the dish you are trying to put out on the menu or on special needs to be looked, and looked, and looked over and over. So, I don’t think it’s one dish as an example, but I think it’s a lot of dishes where you don’t struggle but perfection is the issue, until you like it or until the customer likes it.
Let’s play ‘Chef’s Choice.’ Here’s how: we give you a scenario and you tell us which of your restaurants to go to and what to order. A chilly evening in the early fall for dinner with friends:
I think I would come to L’amico and get one of the pizzas. And I would get maybe a bowl of pasta. I always drink the same cocktail. I drink the Non Classico Spritz.
A romantic anniversary date night:
Which one is my most romantic restaurant? Probably the restaurant in Kazakhstan. It’s called LT Bar & Grill. It’s a very romantic restaurant because it’s all the way on top of a beautiful tower with a view of the city.
What would you order?
We have a salad with saved vegetables and I would order that. And I would order a grilled steak, of course. Medium rare.
Now back in New York and looking to do brunch with the in-laws:
Brasserie Ruhlmann, in Rockefeller Center. It’s kind of relaxed, it’s very New York. You eat in between the buildings, on the big patio. I think the pancakes are good. And I have what we call the Oeufs, sort of like eggs benedict, and it has ham, bacon, spinach, eggs, hollandaise. It’s great.
If you weren’t a chef, what do you think you’d be doing?
I probably would be an architect.
With the restaurant options in New York seemingly endless, how does the Laurent Tourondel experience set itself apart and what do you hope diners leave saying?
I hope they say it was a great experience and we’re ready to come back. The goal in what we do is really to please people and make sure they come back because we are offering something good.