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December 4th, 2012
Executive Chef & Co-Owner at L'Artusi
Born in Vermont and raised in both California and Texas, Gabriel Thompson grew up around good food and regional specialty dishes. Thompson's food has been written about in publications like Food & Wine, Conde Nast Traveler, and the New York Times. At L'Artusi, Thompson hopes that his new and expanded menu will help create the same loyal following at L'Artusi that he developed during his time at dell'anima.
What inspired you to become a chef, where did you study?
I loved food and cooking. I have always wanted the work I do to define me and cooking just seemed like a great fit. I studied mostly in Austin and NYC.
What are your proudest accomplishments in your career to date?
Before becoming a father, which trumped just about everything my proudest moment was opening a restaurant in NYC.
Joe Campanale is your co-partner with Dell’Anima, L’Artusi, Anfora, and your newest restaurant, L’Apicio. How did you meet Joe and how did you two collaborate on ideas for your restaurants?
We met though my wife Katherine. She knew Joe from way back. When Joe and August were looking for a chef for dell’anima they first asked Katherine if she wanted to be the chef. She did not want to be the chef but she introduced me to them and it all worked out. On the collaboration front everyone involved works on everything. We all have so much at stake and so much invested that we collaborate on everything.
Do you change your menu seasonally? What’s the process in developing new menu entrées?
We have dishes that are purposefully not seasonal and we have seasonal stuff. It’s about a 50/50 split. We are just inspired by the ingredients of the season. Sometimes we bring back old favorites but most of the time we just think about the food that’s available and dishes start swirling around in our heads. Then we just make them and taste them and then see how they work and adjust as necessary. Sometimes we have to go back to the drawing board completely.
On the equipment side, do you have piece of equipment that you like to use that make’s your job easier preparing dishes? Anything you look for in a piece of cooking equipment before you make a purchase?
We are pretty analog at our restaurants. Nothing really fancy going on. As for what I look for in equipment—something that won't break.
The restaurant industry has a very broad range of foods…what’s your buying approach? Do you go out to bid on a regular basis or do you look for loyalty from vendors?
I am super loyal to my vendors. This might be to a fault, but when the chips are down and you forgot to order something they will always have your back. I like the little phone relationships I have with my vendors. We always look to be as sustainable as possible.
As you look at expanding your restaurants, what’s your formula for real estate leases?
Is it a destination restaurant or will people find you based on location? What’s the deal from the landlord and where is it located is what we looked at most. Do we have a concept that the community needs and can we manage it with everything else that we have on our plate? That is of course the 10,000-foot glance at what we look for.
When deciding on restaurant space and capacity, what’s the goal for how many people you’d like to seat at any given time and how many times do you try to turn each table?
It all depends. Dell’Anima is super small but does the most turns (some times 4 when we were open till 2) I have heard friends tell me their places turn 5 times! For the most part 3 turns is fair to the guest. And that is what I would like to see at L’artusi and L’apicio. When deciding on a space we do projections on seating and potential sales and figure out if the space makes sense. If not we will walk away from the space if it works we explore the idea further.
What advice would you give to young chefs just getting started but who would also like to own and operate their own restaurant?
Work, work, work. Never stop working. Too many people get into the business because they think it looks fun. Or they like food TV. Opening a restaurant is one of the hardest things I have ever done. Most of the time you are so stressed overworked and exhausted that you want to die. You have to have absolute passion and dedication to open a restaurant, and you have to be willing to sacrifice everything to do it.
Looking into your crystal ball… Where will we find you in five years?
Luke will be 6 and a half and hopefully he will have a little sister or brother. Five years ago I would have never been able to guess where we are now with the restaurants. I am a dreamer though so who knows. I still want to do more. Katherine and I have 5 to 6 solid ideas we want to execute. Maybe we will be able to make one or two come to fruition.
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