On this trip to NYC, I had no real intentions of fine dining and tasting menus. There was a whole layer of hip and casual eats to explore and I wanted it. So I started to find great, fun casual eating spots. I was excited at the prospects, but on such an exploration, you’re bound to stumble upon interesting upper end dining as well.
I noticed that David Chang’s Má Pêche was offering an “intimate Chef’s counter dining experience” called Kappo. Seeing as I’m David Chang crazy right now, I thought it was worth trying to get a reservation. Amazing enough, considering I know I’m not alone in my love for all things Chang, it was pretty easy to do so.
The Executive Chef at Má Pêche, Paul Carmichael calls you personally a few days before your meal. Well to be more exact, he emails, and if you forget to email him back, he calls you. And if it just so happens that you don’t answer your phone because you’re not sure of the random phone number calling you from New York, you’ll be asked to call back. And when you call back, it seems like you’ve been given Chef Paul’s personal cell # because he answers so casually.
Maybe it was because Chef Carmichael was so casual, that I was taken aback and not prepared for our conversation. But our exchange could only be described as uncomfortable and awkward. The questions were the same as he’d emailed so I wasn’t surprised, but there weren’t any pleasantries, it was all business.
Chef: Any food restrictions or allergies?
Me: No, we eat everything. We love to eat!
Chef: What do you like to drink?
Me: We are very interested in cocktails but drink wine and beer as well.
Chef: What are your favourite cocktails?
Me: Ben likes bourbon right now, so a bourbon cocktail would be great. I don’t drink rum and I like fruity drinks that aren’t sweet.
Chef: That’s not very helpful. You can’t give me a favourite drink?
Me (flustered) : No sorry, but whenever I go to a cocktail bar and give them those instructions, I usually end up with something I like.
Chef: Whatever, ok, is there anything special I should know?
Me: We’re visiting NYC from Vancouver for the weekend and are celebrating my 40th birthday.
Chef: Ok, thank you, good-bye.
The exchange above wasn’t just the highlights of our conversation, it was the whole conversation. Short, to the point with no warmth or feeling of welcoming. I was a bit shocked because when I heard that you had the opportunity to speak to the chef before you dine, I was expecting the exchange would be more personable. I was so put off by it, that I started to feel like my wishy washiness about not being able to specify my favourite cocktail made me seem like a food newbie and that’s why the chef didn’t take me seriously.
I immediately sent an email to Chef Paul to apologize for being flustered on the phone and stated that although I like cocktails, I’m also happy to start a meal with a glass of sparkling. Not that I wanted to start with a sparkling drink, but I just didn’t want to seem like a nincompoop. I’ve worked too hard to ensure amazing food experiences to be dismissed as a nincompoop before I even get to a restaurant. Chef Carmichael immediately texted me back to say “All good on my end. Looking forward to seeing you, Best Paul”.
On the days leading up to our dinner at Kappo I started to waver on whether or not I wanted to eat there. I replayed our phone exchange over and over in my head because I wanted to figure out why it ended with me feeling so foolish. I was afraid if that exchange was indicative of the meal ahead, and that I would need to “prove my worth”, then I probably wouldn’t enjoy a meal that is touted to be a hospitable experience. In the end, I put my faith in David Chang and trusted that this meal would be a great NYC adventure.
Chef Paul and Sous Chef Eunsook started working on our meal in front of us. The hesitation I felt leading up to the meal slowly disappeared as I watched them expertly prepare the meal in front of us. Chef Paul kept his head down while he carefully sliced fish and prepared a lobster to boil.
Chef Paul took the time to introduce himself and explain the meal ahead. He told us that since the meal was communal, that pacing would be dictated by the group and that he would be serving us a progression of foods at his whim and we shouldn’t ask “how much more food is there”? The feeling of uneasiness grew in my stomach with this exchange. I wasn’t convinced that Chef Paul wanted to engage with the diners in front of him in a meaningful way. But after eating the snack and seeing what was to come, I decided I didn’t need to love the personality of the chef to enjoy his food.
During the course of the meal, we tried to engage Chef Paul in conversation as he was working in front of us. We would ask questions and get very simple answers. I gave up trying to engage the chef in any sort of meaningful conversation and took on the “don’t talk, just eat” mentality and focussed my attention completely on the food.
When Chef Paul started wielding a torch, a sure conversation starter, it finally dawned on me that this was more like a dinner theatre unfolding in front of us rather than an interactive dining experience. Don’t take this as a complaint on my part, as I was happy watching the skill in preparation and didn’t need the idle banter.
Our meal at Kappo was very good. Each course was interesting, creative and pushing boundaries but in a sensical way. At Kappo, they are trying to change the rules on dining by connecting to the diners before, during and after the meal(see photo below). I have mixed feelings because for all the effort in trying to engage diners in an intimate experience, Chef Paul and I never clicked. It started from the phone call and even with effort throughout the meal I never got past the short 1 word answers. It’s a misstep that could have ruined the experience, but didn’t because the meal on its own was very memorable.
Kappo at Má Pêche: 15 W 56 St, NY, NY