Chefcetera: Steven Ferdinand

Chef Steven began his culinary career with internships at such storied Manhattan restaurants as Lutece and Le Cirque. After years of rigorous, hands-on French culinary experience, he was off to L’Ecole at the French Culinary Institute for his formal education.

Upon graduating FCI, he cooked with Chef Marcus Samuelsson at Aquavit for three years, until becoming Executive Chef at Le Zoo on Greenwich Street in the West Village of New York. He garnered numerous accolades for his work there, including “Best Under Fifty-Seat Restaurant in Manhattan” in the New York Times. Chef Steven’s next stop was Florio Café and Bar in San Francisco, where he served as Executive Chef for three years. During his tenure there, he obtained and maintained a lofty three stars in the San Francisco Chronicle. Before getting on board for the opening of Bleecker Kitchen & Co., Chef Steven was involved with the opening of Sugar and Plumm and headed the kitchen at Sky Loft, the boutique hotel in the MGM Grand Las Vegas, again garnering the highest of praise, including both the Five Star and Five Diamond awards. The Finer Things Hospitality Group opened Bleecker Kitchen & Co. in NYC this past December. We found out more about Chef Steven Ferdinand in this month’s Chefcetera.

You trained at the French Culinary Institute. Who influenced you to start a career in foodservice?

I grew up on a four-acre farm in Pennsylvania and witnessing first hand where food comes from truly sparked my drive to enter into the culinary arts.

Has working in NYC alongside high-profile names like Marcus Samuelsson helped you achieve a full scope of culinary skills?

Cooking came quite naturally for me. The organization, discipline and passion necessary to succeed at high levels in this business definitely came from working with chefs like Marcus Samuelsson.

What’s your spin on comfort food and what are you doing to set yourselves apart from others?

Even though we are talking about comfort food, I use the best possible ingredients and minimally process the food. My menu and food is inspired through culinary specialties covering all parts of the country.

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Does Bleecker’s cocktail menu match the creativity offered on your dinner menu? Who’s handling the innovative drink offerings and how important is it to offer a signature cocktail list?

Absolutely! A signature cocktail list is very important.  Tim Cooper and Justin Noel have worked together to coordinate a fresh ingredient cocktail program that plays off of the flavors coming out of the kitchen.  The cocktail menu is seasonal with a focus on American spirits and is filled with food friendly ingredients.

Nowadays the bar is just another venue that can, and should enhance the dining experience.  We are excited to tie it all in together and think we have it dialed in!

We can talk about how great a menu is, or how important location is, but in your opinion, how important is a wait staff to the success of a restaurant?

The food can be the best in the world; if the wait staff is not up to par, the patrons will not return and the restaurant cannot succeed.

What roles does the vendor community on both the equipment and food supply side play? And in your opinion, is today’s salesperson providing the level of service you need to succeed?

Vendors have a very important role – Working with my vendors while striving for the freshest ingredients, at the best possible prices provides my cooks with the tools to succeed in a fast paced environment with the demands of my extremely high standards. Getting the best equipment that you need provides a platform to succeed at high levels of volume. I have been loyal in using all of my salespeople/vendors for over ten years.  This creates loyalty on both sides of the business.

The Chef and the food they’re serving always receives the credit and attention, and rightfully so, but how important is the actual equipment you’re cooking with? 

Equipment is crucial with modern technology and the rising cost of utilities. Today’s modern equipment helps impact these costs. Now, with the Rationale combination ovens you can roast, steam, fry and thaw food with precision. Because of the cutting edge equipment’s proficiency, you can now lower labor costs and eliminate waste because of over cooking.

Do you feel that the restaurant industry suffers too much from Zagat, Yelp, and other consumer review sights? Are consumers depending too much on review?

I do not think the restaurant industry suffers greatly. In my opinion, after reading the reviews (positive and negative), it gives the restaurant direction for improvement. Consumers are also savvy enough to weigh the good and the bad reviews, and then come in for a visit to experience the food for themselves.