“To eat good food is to be close to God.”
—Primo (Stanley Tucci), Big Night
The older I get, the more I realize the truth in the statement “do what you love and success will follow.” In the past, I’ve always thought of this in the traditional sense – monetary success. He who dies with the most toys, wins. The thing is, success is something that you define personally. What is success to you? Is it a private jet and a duplex on Park Ave, having your own organic farm and making charcuterie, raising a beautiful family, traveling the world, helping sick children? Who knows. Success is many different things for many different people. One thing I am sure of is that most people would include happiness somewhere within their definition of success. Following in the path of “Cocktail Hour,” and my belief in “doing what you love,” I have chosen to trust my instincts and desires, and to establish my newest venture, The Hunger.
The Hunger is “a pop-up restaurant series” beginning/opening on May 13th, 2010 and taking reservations now at THEHUNGERNYC.com. The brainchild of myself, Top Chef alum Camille Becerra, and my business partner, Josh Shames, The Hunger will be a series of temporary restaurant concepts in New York and other sophisticated culinary destinations. The idea for “The Hunger” came from a shared passion of mine and Camille’s for bringing friends together through sublime preparations of delicious ingredients served in beautiful yet comfortable environments. We were introduced through our friend Vincent Rotolo at a dinner party in Camille’s apartment and inspired to pursue the idea of sharing these experiences. We decided that a great way to do this would be to create memorable culinary and social moments that exist briefly and then disappear. Each evening will be set up like a fabulous dinner party, where all guests sit at the same time and simultaneously share an evening. Like a dinner party, guests will be encouraged to interact, and will leave with only a memory of the experience that will never be exactly replicated again – a moment, similar to the many great moments that take place every day in New York, which fade out as quickly as they “pop up.”
Think about it this way: how many times have you and your friends talked about an incredible night you had somewhere years ago, before the place changed or the magic faded? We are aiming to create those nights with every restaurant concept, only to be experienced by a limited number of guests. I believe that there is a desire amongst urban professionals to take part in truly unique hospitality experiences. Trips to upscale restaurants, like Nobu, Waverly Inn, or Maialino, used to be reserved for special occasions, but for many New Yorkers, eating at these restaurants or restaurants in general, is a regular part of life. So what is the next step? Where can someone get a truly special dining and entertainment experience at reasonable price? I mean, Daniel, Le Cirque, and Per Se are hundreds of dollars and you are herded in with tourists from Omaha, who also have an AmEx concierge. The pop-up restaurant is the inevitable backlash to the corporatization of the restaurant business. A counter-cultural movement that is fighting the evolution of restaurants, from sole proprietorships, to massive corporate behemoths pumping out barrel’s of Spicy Tuna. As a business, the “pop up restaurant” is a logical follow-up to trends such as “food trucks” maximizing the opportunity to drive revenue while minimizing slow periods and fixed costs.
The menu and décor for our first restaurant in the series, is a modern and urban influenced interpretation of Cuisine Bourgeois, a French style of cooking that utilizes high quality seasonal ingredients, prepared simply in a family-style manner. Chef Becerra chose “Urban Cuisine Bourgeois” as her inspiration for the first restaurant to celebrate the ingredients of the season. She supports the idea that “modern urban cuisine is a melting pot of influences, combined to create delicious and exciting new flavors and social experiences." Camille was a contestant on Top Chef and owned a restaurant “Paloma” in Brooklyn for a couple of years until it burned down. Those two things, cannot even begin to explain Camille. She is passionate about food, lifestyle, and friends, and exemplifies a style that captures the essence of downtown Manhattan. Rounding out the team is Lily Cho, the former general manager of Bungalow 8, who will be applying her fastidious attention to detail to running the front of house. Erickson Wilcox, formerly of Marquee, will be running the door. We have an incredible staff along with Derek Feinman and Brooke Uris from the SKY Group to ensure a perfect guest experience and a sold-out show.
The basic idea and passion that created “The Hunger” was sparked years ago by the movie “Big Night.” The film, starring Stanley Tucci, follows the story of two brothers, Primo and Secondo, who have emigrated from Italy to open an Italian restaurant in America. Primo is the irascible and gifted chef, brilliant in his culinary genius, but determined not to squander his talent on making the routine dishes that customers expect. Secondo is the smooth front-man, trying to keep the restaurant financially afloat, despite few patrons. It is a classic struggle of art and commerce, entrepreneurial ideas and the fickle realities of consumer tastes. As Mario Batali says, “If you had to choose an address, it would be on the corner of Art and Commerce.” Taking a pure idea and marrying it to your core beliefs without sacrificing your ideals is one of the hardest things anyone can do. It brings you to your greatest despair, but it will bring you moments of true happiness and fulfillment – your success. When you are close to the edge, fearing the unknown and praying for a miracle, you may want to quit, but the truth is for people like you and I, Primo and Secondo, there is no other way to live. Embrace the journey.
"Love the life you live. Live the life you love."
— Bob Marley
So please join me and my team on this journey, beginning May 13th, 2010 for The Hunger, A Pop-Up Restaurant Series. Reserve now by visiting thehungernyc.com or calling 917-338-9759.
The official menu and location will be released this week. I can’t wait to share them with you.
I would also like to thank the following outlets for covering The Hunger launch. The NY Times, NY Magazine’s Grub Street, Eater, Zagat, and Crain’s New York Business.
See you next time at Cocktail Hour, where more often than not one drink turns into ten and no one knows where and when the night will end.