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Hung Huynh is in constant motion — weaving through a kitchen full of line cooks while sautéing dishes and fielding questions from his staff.
The 5-foot, 6-inch “Top Chef” season three winner is a Tasmanian devil in the kitchen, a fact that doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has watched the reality show. But when Huynh slows down, he’s both calm and thoughtful, albeit preoccupied.
“After I won ‘Top Chef,’ I had so many opportunities, but I literally waited for three years to really make an impact,” the chef says days before the unveiling of Catch, his “first serious big-time restaurant.”
Opening Saturday, the eatery has a prime location in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District: across from the Gansevoort Hotel, next door to Pastis and just a block from The Standard hotel. The 12,361-square-foot tri-level space is a behemoth. It seats 275 customers and comprises two dining rooms and a rooftop lounge where a DJ will spin music late into the night. Customers enter an inauspicious door on Ninth Avenue and take the elevator to the main dining room on the second floor. Although it’s a tad affected, the experience already drips with exclusivity. Behind Catch are nightlife impresarios Mark Birnbaum and Eugene Remm, the duo behind Meatpacking clubs Tenjune, SL and restaurant Abe & Arthur’s.
“We are probably the most dominant in this area,” says Birnbaum. “It’s our comfort zone. We really get this neighborhood and we love it.”
Catch began when Remm and Birnbaum realized that there were no seafood restaurants in the area. Once a suitable location opened up, they grabbed it and began interviewing chefs.
“I never watched ‘Top Chef’ in my life, but Hung is amazing,” Remm says. “This is a business first. This isn’t a p.r. stunt. Hung was brought on purely for his talent.”
While the owners admit that their new chef’s celebrity status is only a plus, Huynh himself has brushed that chapter of his life aside.
“I haven’t seen or kept in touch with the ‘Top Chef’ people,” he says. “Right now, my focus is on this restaurant. Every corner you turn you see new concepts, new restaurants. It’s very tough out there.”
21 Ninth Avenue near 13th Street; 212-392-5978
Kitchen hours: Sunday and Monday, 6 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.; Tuesday and Wednesday, 6 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.; Thursday through Saturday, 6 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.