Sunday, June 17, 2018

An Abundant Life - Heart And Soul

When you look up the definition for Renaissance Man, you'll find a photograph of Chef Paul Gerard. A writer, designer, musician, and restaurateur are only some of the many talents he has, and somehow they all work together to make a gorgeous symphony when he walks into a kitchen and begins to prepare food. The first time I met him I was writing a blog post about the restaurant Antique Bar & Bakery where he is one of the Partners. As I wrote then, I had heard about the restaurant from many people, but it was the recommendation of two very discerning friends that encouraged me to follow up about it. I've known a fair amount of Chefs and people who love to cook in my life, some professional, some who have worked in a variety of different types of kitchens, and some who like me simply enjoy exploring different types of food and creating great meals, but I've never known anyone who had such a beautiful combination of precision and power in a kitchen before I met Chef Paul Gerard. I love to watch him cook, and I love to eat the things he creates - and a creative process it is, like an artist working on a canvas. When the meal arrives, it is so beautiful that I always have to take pictures, and the scent and vision of it is so enticing that it's hard not to get my hands into it before I've had a chance to photograph it. I have always enjoyed cooking and eating with my hands - the first time I had Ethiopian food I was in heaven being able to tear the bread and scoop up delicious and savory sauces with my fingers. I had someone tell me once that eating with my hands wasn't ladylike, and that was the beginning of the end of that relationship. I knead bread for baking and cut in butter for scones and pie crust with my fingers and I'm convinced that the taste and texture is better because of it, but I'm not a precise cook and I take shortcuts when I can, so to sit down to a meal that Chef Paul Gerard has prepared and to watch him prepare it is one of my favorite things in the world.

As I've written before, Antique Bar & Bakery is as beautifully designed as the food is delicious. Each table and chair and swag lamp, every glass and cup and bowl, all of the little details have been carefully selected and curated within the space to create one of the most beautiful and comfortable places to enjoy a meal. With a history in hospitality and experience in some of the finest kitchens in New York City, nationally and internationally, I expected Chef Paul Gerard to be much older than he is, and when I ask him how he creates such beautiful and marvelously perfect meals so seemingly effortlessly, he always shrugs and smiles and says he's been doing it for so long. He has been cooking in professional kitchens since he was a teenager, first in the basement kitchens of 1980s New York and for a decade in his 20's in some of the most influential kitchens in New Orleans including Restaurant August, Peristyle, and Gautreau's. In professional descriptions of his impressive history, it is noted that "his time at Susan Spicer's Bayona is still referred to as the restaurant's "golden era." Returning to New York in 2005 he served as a Chef at Williamsburg's Sweetwater and then as Executive Chef for China Grill Management, Soho Grand Hotel, and Soho House. Opening his own restaurant Exchange Alley in the East Village in 2013, he planted a garden in the back with his then four year old son Frank, using fresh herbs and vegetables in the kitchen and designing the menu and interior with the same personal care and exquisite taste that I first experienced at Antique. Following Exchange Alley, he designed and opened Belle Reve in Tribeca with the partners of Employees Only, and Ethyl's Alcohol & Food, a go-go bar on the Upper East Side with inspiration from the 1970's and a menu and design that could only come from a master. In partnership with Tom Colicchio and Anthony Bourdain he can be seen in "Work The Line," a brilliant behind-the-scenes chef show that not only showcases his marvelous skill, but also his passion for the work and admiration for the unsung heroes who tirelessly create meals to perfection in the kitchens of some of the most illustrious and glamorous restaurants. He also had a long running show on Heritage Radio Network titled "Eating Disorder" that incorporated his wonderful sense of humor with his deep knowledge and love of the culinary world, and as a consultant he continues to be an integral part of the opening of restaurants around the world.

Working in some of the most exclusive restaurants over the years, he continued learning and honing his skills even after he reached Executive Chef level, but it is not simply the length of time and experience that make this Chef great, the truth of it is that it's the hard work that he puts into everything he does that is the key to the perfection that delights the beholder. His philosophy of the way he works with food he describes as "Three Chord Cuisine," in his words, "Something I came up with because of three chord rock and roll. It's blues based, three chord progression, simple, in your face, like a Ramone's song." A recipe he shared with me recently is a perfect example of this. Simply titled "Chef Paul Gerard's Red Snapper, Yellow Tomato, Brown Garlic" it's so full of flavor, as everything he creates is, that although I can usually figure out what people are doing, I know that I wouldn't be able to recreate it. He writes in the overview of the printed version of it, "This recipe is broken down into 3 parts. It's a perfect example of the detail and dedication it takes to make simple food, and this dish is a study in simplicity. It's quite easy to prepare, and is a huge hit providing flavor and energy!" I can agree that it's a huge hit as I dream about it daily, and the recipe he shared with me was written so clearly and carefully that it could help even someone who is not used to cooking prepare it, but though it is a beautiful study in simplicity and a beautiful use of ingredients, the words detail and dedication are the ingredients he brings that make it truly something special.

He designed the space at Antique Bar & Bakery with his Partner Joe Castelo, refinishing the walls and floors with his own hands and the help of good friends who share and support his artistic vision. The design elements were all chosen with the same precision and care he puts into the meals he creates, with an eye for beauty and comfort in surroundings and presentation. Incorporating the concept of Wabi-sabi, a Japanese Buddhist concept that among other things embraces and celebrates the beauty of imperfection, every meal is served in a way that when I first saw it reminded me of my favorite ways to cook and eat. Cast iron, functional yet beautiful pottery, heavy restaurant ware combined with touches reminiscent of Homer Laughlin and the vintage designs of coffee shops and soda and ice cream counters, and food plated bubbling and hot from the 100 year old 1000 degree coal-fired oven, with a scent of richness, freshness and life. When he and his Partners were preparing to open the new Antique Loft space, I happened to be lucky enough to see him at work there one night with his son, testing colors and techniques for refinishing the floor, and sharing insights and quality time the way only a truly great father can. Watching him with his children is as beautiful as watching him in the kitchen. There is a caring and respect he has for them that is both nurturing and empowering, supportive of their individuality while encouraging them to stretch and learn and grow. Recently I saw some photos he had posted of a morning in the park with his son playing chess, and I was reminded of my own father who not only taught me how to play chess, but taught me how to win. It's a rare father who can do that, and a wonderful one, a father who wants his children to succeed and is not fearful that they might surpass him, and one who will support them in being the best of who they are.

I had the opportunity to sit down to talk with him and his daughter Grace as I was preparing this piece, and I asked her a question I had asked his son Frank on the evening when I first saw the Antique Loft space as they worked on the floors. When we were looking out over the view of the Hudson from the Penthouse, I said, "You know your father is the best Chef in the World?" And Frank looked very seriously at me and nodded. When I asked Grace, her father was there, and he quickly in his very humble way laughed and said, "He's too young to know that I'm not," and then began talking about other Chefs who he admires, and about the industry and all of the many aspects of the job that have nothing to do with cooking, the paperwork, the management and the day to day business of the business. It is always a surprise to me when someone as talented and skilled and hard working as he is, who regularly must receive accolades from peers as well as those of us who sit on the sidelines, is still always looking for ways they can improve, things they can learn, and still has a freshness of outlook as if they were not as great as they truly are. He is a very handsome man, with the good looks and presence of the rock star icons who so many of us idolize, and though he could be aloof or pretentious because of the level of expertise he has achieved, it is one of the things that makes him even more attractive, and that makes the restaurant spaces he creates welcoming and inviting instead of cold and exclusive, that he is not above sharing recipes and ideas with novices like me though the quality of the work he does and the food he makes is on the highest level.

As his beautiful daughter Grace thought about my question and what he had said in a careful way, in her answer I heard the echoes of my own feelings about how he cooks and also the responses of everyone who I sit down with to eat a meal he has created and designed. Though still very young, she has worked in the industry for so long - in her father's telling of it, her first experience began when she was still in a stroller in a restaurant in New Orleans - and she has known many Chefs, some who were said to be great, but when she tasted their food, she always preferred her father's. It brought to my mind the feeling I'd had when I had my first meal at Antique, and every time I have eaten there since, that I was being reminded each time of some of the best meals I'd had and that this one was even better. One of my closest friends who I've known since I was 17, who credits me with teaching her how to cook and who thinks the food I make is amazing, said after eating the first bites of a dinner we shared there, "This is the best food in the world!" And she is not the only one - time and time again when I sit down with a friend to a meal at Antique, they look at me after the first bite with wide eyes and after saying how delicious it is all conversation stops as we savor the luxurious and nourishing flavors. Grace also talked about the way that he works with his staff, the kindness and caring and time he puts into training and encouraging and supporting them. She shared a story about a recent evening when her father had eaten something another Chef at the restaurant had prepared and how he had not only praised it at the table, but had gone back to the kitchen to talk to the Chef and let him know much he enjoyed it. The story reminded me of my own father again, who taught me how to cook flavorful meals, and sometimes exotic ones, encouraged me to talk to Chefs and cooks and food purveyors and learn what they were doing, and to experiment and grow in knowledge without fear.

Chef Paul Gerard is a marvelous Chef and a wonderful father, a mentor, friend and a role model who puts his heart and soul into all he does. He is a man who's not afraid of hard work and who always tries to do more, who is not afraid to face a challenge, or to make a change if needed. Someone I know recently asked me, "What's wrong with all these guys? They don't understand what it means to be your own man. It doesn't mean you need to be perfect, just be strong in your beliefs and try to do the best you can." To face a challenge and rise up to conquer it is either part of a person's core or it's not, and part of what can help someone to do that is learning by example. With a father and a leader like Chef Paul Gerard, his children and the staff who work in his kitchen and his restaurant have an example they can follow that will help them win.


Chef Paul Gerard
Executive Chef & Partner
Antique Bar & Bakery
122 Willow Avenue
Hoboken, New Jersey
Food As Beautiful As It is Delicious
Bringing Nourishment And Joy To The Soul






A Perfect Cup Of Tea

A Delightful Cocktail

The Comfort Of Elegance And Style

And A Feeling Of Home

















 


Chef Paul Gerard With His Son Frank
And Partner Rocco Ancarola






Whimsical Touches To Bring A Smile
 

The Pure Pleasure
Of Creativity, Beauty And Taste



Every Design Element
Chosen With Care 















   
 





Fresh Tastes And Touches
For Every Season












Perfect Christmas Decorations
To Remind Us Of Wonderful Warmth

Refreshing Tastes To Compliment
The Warmth Of Spring And Summer










A Marvelous Chef And A Wonderful Father
With His Amazing Son Frank At The Antique Loft
Discussing Design And Color And Technique


 


 
   
Time For Quiet Talk And A Song Together







Sharing Memories
With His Beautiful Daughter Grace

























Blessings,

Jannie Susan