For over a year, the Major Food Group’s reimagining of the iconic Four Seasons space has been a focus for the Metro New York foodservice industry.
Partners Rich Torrisi, Mario Carbone and Jeff Zalaznick opened The Grill in the Spring and last month came the much anticipated debut of The Pool. The ground-floor space of the former Brasserie is set to be the home to Lobster Club later this year.
After Aby Rosen, the owner of the Seagram Building ended the lease of former Four Seasons owners Julian Niccolini and Alex von Bidder, he talked to people like Stephen Starr, Eric Ripert, Danny Meyer, Daniel Humm, and Thomas Keller. Zalaznick ultimately charmed Rosen when it turned out that nine of their 10 favorite restaurants in the world matched.
Zalaznick and his team embarked on bringing back the elegance of the 50’s. For the Grill, which is supposed to be a continental restaurant, they looked at old menus for the Four Seasons, ‘21’ Club, and Delmonico’s, and retired food critic Mimi Sheraton, who helped put together the first Four Seasons menu, was also hired to help.
Major Food Group is known for being outrageous and flamboyant at their restaurants, and the Grill is no different. The team bought two Viennese dessert carts from a family in Brooklyn to use as service trolleys that cost $10,000 each. Steak knifes cost $253 each and have Hawaiian acacia-wood handles and a Japanese steel blade. And at one point, they created a dinner plate with a pattern that was a modernized version of the china designed for the Kennedy White House.
Food, too, will involve theatrics. A potato dish features stacked, coin-sized slices that are then covered with hot duck fat and fried. Foie gras is sliced thinly and presented like “coral or a blossoming flower.” A pasta dish, from an 150-year-old recipe book from the original Delmonico’s chef, will involve a roasted duck leg and carcass. A server will bring birds to the table and squeeze them over pasta using a custom-created press.
Total Food Service was invited to share the inside story of this much anticipated opening of The Pool and The Grill.
The Operator: Jeff Zalaznick, Partner, Major Food Group, NY, NY
The Kitchen Consultant: Foster Frable, Principal,
Clevenger Frable LaVallee, Inc., White Plains, NY
The Kitchen Equipment and Supply Dealer: Joel Kaplan,
Project Manager, E. Friedman, Brooklyn, NY
The Architect: Richard Lewis
Richard H.Lewis Architects, NY, NY
Jeff Zalaznick’s Approach:
From the first time I stepped into the space at the bottom of the Seagram Building, I was very excited to have the opportunity to restore such an incredible piece of history. Our goal was not to completely change what I believed already was the greatest restaurant space in the world, but rather to clean and restore each and every element. I studied its history in great detail, and wanted to breath life back into the space.
The changes we made focused on the food and the service. As far as the actual design of the restaurant, we wanted to restore the original design so it would appear better than ever while still being reminiscent of its origins. The Grill was developed from a grill restaurant concept inspired by the era in which the building was constructed: the 1950’s. In developing an authentic concept, we studied the typical midcentury midtown grill style that existed at the time.
The Pool is a fish restaurant, and we drew from the inspiration that the space itself provided. Developing The Grill and The Pool has been a tremendous experience, and the two restaurants seem to be a perfect fit for the space. Although both restaurants share the space, we run them independent of one another. Essentially, The Grill and The Pool operate as if they were next-door neighbors.
To design the space, we brought on Selldorf Architects for the restoration architecture and Bill Gerogis for the interior for both The Grill and The Pool. We all shared the same vision for the project – restoring it back to life rather than completely changing it.
For the kitchen designs, we brought on Foster Frable of Clevenger Frable LaVallee [CFL]. Frable then chose to bring in E. Friedman to provide the kitchen equipment. We built the kitchens from scratch, and created a truly state of the art facility.
I’ve worked on a variety of different restaurant and menu concepts, and I followed a similar creative process for The Grill and The Pool. We began by conducting a lot of research, referring to books, and having group discussions. The goal was to come up with a concept that would convey the story that we were trying to tell. In the case of The Grill and The Pool, the story we wanted to put forth was inspired by the history of the space as well as the space itself. Our approach is always to allow the space to drive the concept, rather than allowing the concept to drive the space.
Foster Frable’s Approach:
CFL was brought into The Grill/The Pool project by the developer, RFR. We had worked with RFR in the past. The project developer that we worked with, Carlos Nunez, did an absolutely terrific job. In fact, I had dined at the Four Seasons many years ago, when they offered a $25 Fixed Price lunch on Saturdays at the Pool Room. However, I had no preconceived notions regarding the importance of the room; The patrons of the old restaurant did not necessarily interest me.
Despite the 1950’s atmosphere and aesthetic of the restaurants, the kitchens needed to reflect contemporary standards with the presently available technology. The equipment choices were basic yet not excessive. We chose to incorporate technology such as Combi ovens, but the kitchens don’t have wood cooking or other overly elaborate equipment.
The kitchens on all three levels were completely gutted and replaced with new equipment and infrastructure. We decided to relocate the dish room to the main floor to enhance labor efficiency, reduce breakage, and to create more space to accommodate walk-ins and commissary.
From the start of this project, we shared a very similar vision for the design of the kitchens with Major Food Group. We began with a study for RFR in 2016 that reviewed the various layout options and established a budget. Next, Major Food Group became involved, and from there we were able to move forward.
Although the kitchens in The Grill and The Pool are alike in several ways, different ovens were specifically selected to better reflect the different menu items. The kitchen in The Grill includes a Hestan Cooking Suite and a Wood Stone deck oven, while The Pool’s kitchen includes a high profile Bonnet Cooking Suite (custom made in France). The chef of The Pool had prior experience working at Per Se, so there was some Thomas Keller inspired equipment and custom details. However, it is important to note that there are no walk-in coolers in the kitchens of The Grill or The Pool. All the cold storage is located in reach-ins.
Each chef had their own program for what they wanted to produce and the equipment they wanted to utilize. Areas such as the dish room, pot wash, bulk cooking (for events) and pastry are shared spaces. An important aspect of the design was the need to accommodate banquet and event service at times when one or both of the restaurants are closed for special events.
Major Food Group had a strong desire to break out of the box through the incorporation of new finishes and colors. They saw it as a display kitchen, which would be seen by patrons attending special events and guests who might request a tour. The visuals for the kitchen were studied in 3-D renderings, similar to the process used to plan the FOH and the dining room. We spent several hours touring the materials and finishes section of the HX Boutique Hotel show at the Javits Center last year in an effort to select the perfect materials and tiles.
The kitchens don’t appear to reflect the history of the space. In fact, the kitchens were a mess and reflected years of poorly executed renovations and upgrades. These plans took place long after labor was inexpensive and abundant.
The Four Seasons had very limited walk-in capacity as well as extensive office space. We reversed that completely but adding lots of coolers and reducing the space wasted on offices. The storage and commissary on the third floor are completely new spaces that were carved out of the old dish room and staff areas.
Major Food Group made specific requests regarding refrigeration. They wished for all refrigeration to be self-contained or with dedicated remote compressors. In addition, they wanted no refrigeration racks, as they had suffered through bad experiences with them on previous projects.
Perhaps the largest challenge of this project may have been the difference in opinions that existed. The chef partners had a strong vision, but the chefs that ran the kitchens had different notions that reflected their experiences at previous restaurants. It is always problematic and potentially disruptive when any level of discord exists between two groups of employees. In this case, there was a disconnect between the corporate decision makers and the individual chefs who had to actually apply those decisions and make them work.
In addition, I found the timeline to be challenging at some points. We were rushed to get some of the areas detailed and outfitted to meet a rather unrealistic construction schedule. The operation became less hectic once the equipment was purchased, but there were many order changes and redos along the way. One positive result that emerged from this was an early decision to use stainless steel curb bases rather than the concrete and tile bases commonly found at other high profile restaurants. Since the bases were part of the custom equipment, when equipment was changed or adjusted, the bases needed to change with it. I certainly would never do a chef driven project like this with masonry bases.
Joel Kaplan’s Approach:
The Grill and The Pool was certainly one of the most interesting projects that I’ve been a part of. We were working on an iconic location with a tremendous amount of history. We’ve done many successful projects with Foster Frable’s office. Additionally, we’ve had previous collaborations with RFR Group and Major Food Group. On a high profile undertaking like this, they wanted to ensure that they had all of the right people on board from the early stages through the end result.
A project of this magnitude extends far beyond the installation of a few off the shelf pieces of equipment. There needs to be a great deal of coordination with the carpenters, plumbers, electricians, and HVAC contractors to ensure that all issues are addressed, so the desired equipment can be properly connected, once set. That level of coordination requires multiple project meetings, calls at all hours of the day and night, and a large on-site presence. This proved especially true for this project.
The complexity of the space and the history of the room also complicated the process. There were many critical dimensions that needed to be addressed for the equipment. For the design to work properly, the behind the wall and above the ceiling infrastructure needed to be overhauled. Every inch was critical.
Numerous issues arose once the walls and ceilings were opened up. There were issues with the aging space as well as low clearances in the kitchen. Reconfiguring walls to allow for additional chaseways for utilities, as well as changed ductwork requirements, all had impacts with final equipment. Solutions were needed and time was short. As a result, a lot of additional coordination and engineering work was necessary to allow for ductwork revisions prior to the installation of the hoods. We also worked hand in hand with Halton and CFL in changing the style for some of the hoods to handle the site condition challenges.
There were so many oversized pieces between the counters, multiple range suites, pizza oven, hoods, etc., that the logistics in accessing final set locations were daunting. This was complicated further by a hard deadline – parties were booked, the space needed to be complete. In fact, there was a night when we were installing cooking equipment, just as the tile installer finished his work where those pieces were going.
There are many differences between the kitchens in The Grill and The Pool. The two very talented chefs have distinct styles. Richard Torrisi is the chef in The Pool, and Mario Carbone is the chef in The Grill. Based on their preferences, The Pool is outfitted with a gorgeous Molteni island range suite. While in The Grill’s kitchen, we installed a marvelous Hestan suite with a Wood Stone pizza oven. Both suites have the firepower needed to meet robust menu and production requirements.
The custom work throughout the kitchens is abundant. The attention to detail is incredible. For example, the door and drawer pulls on all of the stainless counters are brass. The hoods in the Pool area were clad with embossed patterned stainless panels for a decorative look.
Keas stainless was the fabricator and they did a great job. There are multiple Rational combi-ovens, including double-stacked units, under-counter units and countertop pieces. In The Pool’s kitchen, there is a beautiful Bonnet rotisserie. Despite the differences, there are several pieces of equipment that are serving both kitchens, in an effort to mitigate duplication. There is also a workhorse of a Jade range suite in the downstairs Lobster Club as well.
The Mezzanine is used for refrigeration and prep for the kitchens, including a large bank of Norlake walk-ins as well as refrigerated preparation rooms. Potwashing is also located on this level. The multiple bars were all done with an eye to the aesthetics without losing sight of the practical requirements.
Despite the challenges and complications associated with this project, I absolutely loved being a part of it. Being able to not only work with the construction team on issues that arose, but accommodate concerns and changes from the end-user, was very satisfying. CFL’s team, Jim DeLaurentis from RFR and Dan Haar from MFG were particularly adept at making sure questions got answered, so the projects kept moving.
The results are true Showcase kitchens in every sense of the word.
Richard H. Lewis’ Approach:
I was retained to be the architect of record as well as to implement the design for the kitchens and back of house areas. We also were consulted on a wide range of front of house issues from code, to table sizes to construction issues. The design of the kitchens was an important aspect to the project as the chefs and owners wanted to create a state of the art kitchen with finishes that were not only durable but aesthetically pleasing as well. My goal was to properly interpret the vision of the owners and the chefs and bring the project in on time.
Our initial vision pretty much stayed on message throughout as we developed the plans. I had dined at the Four Seasons many years ago and then more recently after it opened. I was well aware of the history of the restaurant and its frequent mention in the press.
Anabelle Selldorf was retained to renovate and restore the grill and pool rooms within the Landmarks Preservation Commission guidelines ( This included restoration of all finishes and lighting ) William Georges was responsible for the new furniture and furnishings as well as the re-imagining of the bar in the grill room and the new bar in the upper level of the pool room. They also designed the new back of house restrooms. My responsibility was to design and renovate all kitchens and back of house areas and to coordinate the work of Selldorf and Georges into the set of Construction Documents. We also worked closely with Clevenger Frable LaVallee, Inc., who were the kitchen consultants.
We worked closely with Frable and his team on the kitchens.
They were actually on board before we were retained and the kitchen equipment selection and design had already begun. When we came on board we vetted their plans for code compliance as well as to alert them to any design issues that the chefs were considering. They also provided valuable input on selection of finishes and other technical issues.
I think the process was similar to previous restaurants we’ve worked on but there was a much larger emphasis on the design of the kitchens than in other restaurants where the kitchens are often not viewed as part of the overall design.
The major challenges we faced included:
- How to update the kitchen so that it would meet the modern code for venting: the old flue was a masonry flue and we needed to install a steel flue.
- All of the mechanical systems are new which was also a challenge working within the landmark’s dining rooms.
- The lighting system was original and integral with the architecture. It was challenging to upgrade it without changing the basic design.
The division between The Grill and The Pool did not really complicate our job they were treated as two separate projects each on their own overlapping schedule however the kitchens were designed and built at the same time.
It was a complex project working in a landmark space, which has many constraints. The owner’s had a clear vision and sufficient time was allowed for the project to be done successfully.
Assembling a great team of consultants with great support from ownership with a competent GC was essential for the success of the project.