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Chef's Choice: Meet the James Beard Award Best Chef Nominees

WWD got the five nominees for Best Chef in New York City out of their chef coats to chat about how they were feeling pre-ceremony, what they plan on wearing.

EYE Chefs WWD 2014

Dan Kluger

Photo By Steve Eichner

The James Beard Awards, which will be held on Monday night at Lincoln Center, are essentially the food world’s version of the Oscars — or the Met Ball (being thrown the same night across town). It’s the night the industry’s heaviest hitters get gussied up and toast the best in the biz. WWD got the five nominees for Best Chef in New York City out of their chef coats to chat about how they were feeling pre-ceremony, what they plan on wearing and how they dress when not in uniform.


DAN KLUGER, ABC KITCHEN
Semifinalist for Best Chef in New York City 2012 and 2013. ABC Kitchen won Best New Restaurant in 2011 under Kluger.

Dan Kluger’s apartment in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn reeks of one of the most satisfying scents in the world: bacon. “Its hangover food,” he chuckles, pouring pancake batter onto the griddle. A substantial bowl of soft scrambled eggs — with cheddar and crème fraiche folded in — is on the counter. Next to it rests a cutting board speckled with finely chopped chives. Still-sizzling bacon is on a serving dish. Kluger is reenacting his Sunday routine — making breakfast for his girls — little ones Ella and Georgia and wife Hannah — after stopping by the farmer’s market a few blocks away. “It’s literally right there,” he says, pointing out the window. Kluger is a born-and-raised New Yorker and worked under some of the best chefs in the city (Danny Meyer, Floyd Cardoz and Tom Colicchio) before being tapped by Jean-Georges Vongerichten in late 2008 to helm ABC Kitchen, where he’s earned his nomination. “I’m not holding my breath,” he says of his chances. He does have one thing figured out: his outfit. “I’m good friends with Todd Snyder, so I’m fortunate that he’s making me a custom navy blue tux that I’ll wear with shoes by Cole Haan,” he says. “And maybe a flask.”

Sunday Funday: “I have two daughters, ages 8 and 5, and their favorite thing is making and eating pancakes. I’ve tried to use other people’s recipes in the past, but they always know the difference. They want ‘Daddy’s Pancakes.’”

Costume change: “I tend to get very lazy and just want to wear the same things over and over again. Especially during the week: I get dressed, I go to the gym, I change [into workout clothes] there. After, I change back into whatever I was wearing, then I go to work, I change into my whites. I’m not in my own clothes for another 12 hours. I put the sweater back on, I go home and take it off. So I’m really wearing my own clothes for an hour or two a day.”

Fashion jitters: “Todd and I collaborated on aprons together when he was up for the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund award. He called me up and was like, ‘I need a favor.’ So I went with him when he presented at Vogue. I walk in the room — it’s me and his design staff. So we roll in, everyone’s in our aprons, and it’s Anna Wintour, Diane von Furstenberg, Reed Krakoff, Steven Kolb, who’s a good friend, and so on. We made them donuts. They were all surprised. They were like, ‘What is this? Why do we get breakfast?’ I was like, ‘Here are your donuts, good-bye!’”


NEXT: April Bloomfield >>


EYE Chefs WWD 2014

April Bloomfield

Photo By Robert Mitra

APRIL BLOOMFIELD, THE SPOTTED PIG
Nominated for Best Chef in New York City 2011, 2012 and 2013.

Roaming the Union Square Greenmarket with April Bloomfield is much like attending a high school reunion as a plus one. She basically knows everyone. “Aprilllllll!” a shouty woman behind a table of ramps calls out. “How have you been? Did you move?” Bloomfield asks, surveying the leafy spread. You can see her mind crackling with ideas. (She later smoked a chicken then roasted some potatoes in the smoky fat. The ramps were served as a side with some lightly cooked chard and carrots.) Bloomfield’s Greenmarket frequency should come as no surprise to those familiar with her background. Just before opening The Spotted Pig with Ken Friedman in 2004, she spent time at Chez Panisse, Alice Waters’ locavore mecca. “I feel like a kid in a candy store when I’m here,” she says later, bag of ramps tucked under her arm.

Awards show anticipation: “You never know. I’m excited but, of course, a little nervous. It’s always a blast to see my friends and colleagues all dressed up.”

Weekend look: “Casual. Simple. When you cook in a kitchen and you work long hours, the last thing you want to do is dress up, so anything that’s comfortable. I like to throw my hair back and put on my favorite jeans. Right now, I’ve got on little Scotch & Soda pants and this Banana Republic top. Everyone takes a licking out of me for wearing it. They say it’s like a picnic table.”

Greenmarket picks: Strawberry jam from Beth’s Farm Kitchen, French sourdough bread from Bread Alone and ramps from Sweet Mountain Berry Farm. “The ramps are small, supertiny and nice this year. Last year, they bolted up quite fast so they were bulbous and a bit starchy.”


NEXT: Mark Ladner >>


EYE Chefs WWD 2014

Mark Ladner

Photo By George Chinsee

MARK LADNER, DEL POSTO
Nominated for Best Chef in New York City 2012 and 2013.

“I feel so out of place,” Mark Ladner murmurs in his deep, gravely voice. The executive chef is standing in the sprawling kitchen of Del Posto, the Italian spot he co-owns with Joseph and Lidia Bastianich and Mario Batali. He’s wearing a cozy cashmere sweater, medium-washed jeans, shiny silver high-tops and quirky spectacles. It’s a perfectly calibrated mix of hipster and normcore. “I’m usually dressed like these guys back here,” he says motioning over to his sous chefs in their whites. “With the little hats and everything.” Del Posto is the latest eatery Ladner has opened with Batali and Joseph Bastianich (others include Lupa Osteria Romana and Otto Enoteca Pizzeria) since the three met in the mid-Nineties. He’s been serving rustic Italian fare at Del Posto since it opened in 2005. Of his nomination, Ladner simply says, “I’m thrilled out of my mind.”

Weekend look: “Urban utilitarian. Today I’m wearing a vintage Scottish cashmere from eBay. EBay’s the best for cashmere. You can find super deals. These jeans are from the Jean Shop. Shoes are Common Projects. I really like them and Y-3 for shoes.”

Costume change: “There’s this like Mister Rogers moment every day when I change out of my regular clothes and into my chef coat. It gets me ready for the day.”

Go-to home dish:
“One-pot wonders. With space issues like we all have in New York City, I try not to make the apartment too hot. So you don’t feel like you survived a sweat lodge for your dinner.”


NEXT: Michael White >>


EYE Chefs WWD 2014

Michael White

Photo By George Chinsee

MICHAEL WHITE, MAREA
Nominated for Best Chef in New York City 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. Marea won Best New Restaurant during White’s tenure in 2010.

You probably can’t find a bagel at any of chef Michael White’s 13 global restaurants. But he happens to love the ones from Absolute Bagel on 108th Street, near the Upper West Side abode where he lives with his wife, daughter and their Cavalier King Charles spaniel — and he’s not the only fan. At 10 a.m. on a recent Friday morning, there was already a line around the block of people waiting to order. But White’s a patient man. In his open kitchen, he laid out a spread of the famed bagels with smoked lox and chopped vegetables. “They’re always hot and fresh,” says Marea’s executive chef and co-owner of Altamarea Group. “And you can smell them if you open the door. It wafts over.”

Weekend look: “Casual: navy blue cotton pants made at Baron Kay in Hong Kong. They’re lightweight, perfect for the kitchen when it’s hot. Pullovers by Paul & Shark in the winter. I dropped quite a lot of weight in the past few years so I’m really into jeans at the moment. Comfortable sneakers by Prada, America’s Cup to be exact, are my everyday kicks. I’m so bummed they’re discontinuing them, so I just bought three more pairs.”

Morning routine: “I’m into products like pre-shave oil from the Art of Shaving and vitamin E cream. I use Rose Manchester Cologne from Italy. Mr. Morini of San Domenico [White’s mentor] turned me on to it. It’s very unique, lemon-scented. Used by the old guard in Italy.”

Go-to home dish: “My family and I are so fortunate to live close to Absolute Bagels. It’s one of my guilty pleasures. Fresh-baked everything bagel with smoked salmon — it’s quintessential New York. You have to get up early though; there’s always a 25-plus [person] line.”

Apartment living: “I have a Viking stove at home with convection oven and Subzero Fridge, Nespresso coffee maker. These are the must-have items in the kitchen: big fridge, high heat and a great espresso in the morning. Simple, but gets the job done.”


NEXT: Jonathan Waxman >>


EYE Chefs WWD 2014

Jonathan Waxman

Photo By Steve Eichner

JONATHAN WAXMAN, BARBUTO
Who’s Who Winner 1984; Semifinalist for Best Chef in New York City 2012 and Nominee for Best Chef in New York City 2013.

“I hate whites,” Jonathan Waxman says flatly. He’s slicing through a bushel of kale at the back of Barbuto. Bob Marley’s “Is This Love” floats through the airy, sunlit space. “I don’t get the whole thing with chef whites. I never did.” Waxman prefers shorts and a T-shirt when in his kitchen, a style he terms “laid-back Californian” (he grew up near Berkeley and also had a stint at Chez Panisse). He can get away with it — he owns Barbuto, a neighborhood favorite among West Villagers since it opened in 2004. “I do wear an apron, sometimes.”

Awards show anticipation: “Haven’t really paid it much attention except that I actually remembered to RSVP this year.”

Sartorial strategy: “I think it’s black tie; just worried if I fit into my tux.”

Apartment living: “Copper pans, good range, great refrigerator, great knives, light, air and space. We’ve been in our apartment since 1996. We’ve changed kitchens twice, combined apartments and done upgrades but I could use more storage, especially for wine.”

Work look: “I usually wear shorts and a T-shirt. I tried Crocs for a while but they sweat like a motherf----r. Where do you think Mario Batali got his whole shtick from?”

Go-to home dish: “Kale salad, the sine qua non of Barbuto. We sell 50 or 60 of these every Saturday night, but this is really what I do at home.”

Sunday night feasting:
“I cook usually every Sunday. Like last night, I made a salad of avocado and romaine and lemon. At the same time I made this little casserole of crispy rice with mushrooms and then a casserole of Brussels sprouts and bacon and onions. I baked bread last night. I went crazy. Then we had soft-shell crabs. No one paid attention because my wife wanted to watch ‘The Good Wife.’ I even cleaned up after.”