We grilled the chef and the owner of one of our favorite restaurants in the city, Feast. To get further behind the bite, we wanted to see what really makes these masterminds behind Feast, tick. For more information on Feast, check out their HOB brunch review here, and check out the place for yourself!

 

Head Chef Christopher Meenan

On Getting Into The Industry

“I started working in restaurants when I was 14, washing dishes. My parents knew the owners, and my sister was a waitress there at the time. Then as a natural progression, I began to look up to the guys in the kitchen. (Because while you’re washing dishes, everybody else is doing something cooler than that.) Then I did well enough and got promoted - I was always a hard worker, outworking everybody, and when you’re that kind of person, you get promoted. I was attending college, studying anthropology and education, paying my way through it by working at night. But then I ended up liking cooking so much, that I decided to go in that direction and attended French culinary school. I think one major point that pushed me toward cooking was when my dad died, and I felt some insecurity. I thought, ‘Wow, now I’m an adult. I really have to work.’ But it was work that I was already good at, so I decided to go through with it and maybe deal with the school thing later. It just had a lot of momentum, and here I am!”

On Inspiration

“The cooking is fun; it’s not the hardest. The hardest part I think, is managing a team of people. We work in an atmosphere which puts a certain kind of pressure on people. It’s hot and people don’t make a lot of money, so you have to manage a team of people that are being pushed constantly. I’m the one pushing because I need to get that out of them, but at the same time, I need to maintain the positive work environment by keeping the good energy flowing towards the food. I make sure people are engaging the food in the right way and not just getting into robot mode or exhaustion. That’s why I think the constant change in the menu helps. We’re always engaging in new things, and everyone has new things to do. It’s always about trying to keep that good energy flowing.”

On Buying Ingredients In Season

“ It’s really important to stay in touch with the seasons. It’s really the only way to cook, and I have been working on some themes. Right now I’ve got a Summer feast going on. We have done a holiday feast, around Mardi Gras I do a New Orleans feast, and for St. Patrick’s Day we do Irish. When going to the farmers’ market, vegetables are better when they’re fresh; it really is the best way to buy. The only way to get quality fresh vegetables is to buy seasonal produce, which is always at a nearby farmers’ market. It’s funny, because people have these ideas that if it’s spring and the weather gets nice, then spring food will appear. But the weather just got nice, which means you can just now begin to plant. You’re a long way from having any spring vegetables. Then it’s summertime and people think tomatoes. Meanwhile, you can’t get a good tomato locally for a long time. But at a farmers’ market you are getting the best products available, and the prices are good, especially when you have good relationships with the sellers.”

On The Idea Behind Feast’s Pre Fixe Menu

“We sat down at first trying to figure out what we should do here. We started talking about what the things were that we really liked about eating out and what we didn’t like. I have worked at a lot of restaurants and have done a lot of tasting menus, and I’ll tell you: I’m over it! I have friends that work at great restaurants and I go there to eat. They offer to do a tasting menu and you can’t say no. Sitting through a tasting menu means you just gave away four hours of your life, and it’s great, but it’s $300 in four hours. There is also a stuffiness around some of these places that I don’t like. I love great food and I love being able to taste many different things, so we wanted to provide an experience that was the best of the tasting menu, but minus some of the stuffiness, and minus having to spend so much money or time there. Brian is Chinese and he always eats family-style and I have always cooked for my family family-style, so it just made sense. It’s all about having a shared experience, not just about sharing the food but also about sharing with others. The act of passing the plate to someone at a restaurant breaks down a certain wall. We’re just trying to break down some of those barriers - especially in New York, a place where everyone puts up such thick ones.”

On His Favorite Dishes At Feast

“My most favorite dishes we've created out of this kitchen are usually the simplest ones that really highlight the quality and flavor of the ingredients more than the intricacies of the preparation and cooking of it. One that comes to mind is the heirloom tomato tart we are currently featuring. It's a simple napoleon of puff pastry, heirloom tomatoes, fresh apricots, and a fried zucchini flower stuffed with a house made ricotta.”

On His Advice To Aspiring Chefs

“There is no doubt that school is at the bottom of any list of things that you need to be a chef. However, I don’t know if natural ability is better. What I’ve seen that separates people is commitment: commitment to the work, commitment to the food, and commitment to the quality. If you want it bad enough, and if you are committed enough, you’re going to get it. I think talent is when you do something a million times, make a million mistakes, and eventually get a feel for how things work. If you make enough mistakes, you’ll get good at it. You have to be seriously committed to make the kind of mistakes you need to get to that point. If you’re not committed then eventually you’ll just wear out, because it’s rough. But, I cannot say it isn’t thankless, because, especially in the last 10 years, people have become really interested. 

 

Owner Brian Ghaw

On Getting Into The Industry

“I've always been passionate about food and hospitality. My parents had a bakery for 24 years in New Jersey, and after working in management post college graduation, I decided that I would give the Food and Beverage industry a try by opening up my own bakery in Spanish Harlem back in 2006.”

On The Most Important Thing About Service

“It's all about making the guests happy and helping them feel at home. It starts by making sure that the work environment and culture within the staff is open and friendly. Then, it's a matter of letting that attitude and energy trickle down towards our guests who we always try to put first. The old adage of exceeding expectations always applies, so we do whatever we can to go above and beyond what guests normally expect from a restaurant experience.”

On The Influence To Start Feast

“For me it was always about pursuing my passion for service. I realized that I felt most natural serving others and was always pretty good at organizing dinner parties. So, the natural progression from hobby to a business was the logical step for me.”

On The Theme Behind Decor

“I've always loved collecting vintage decor and antiques. Most of the decor here is actually just a personal collection that I’ve been building over the years. It's sort of how I would like my home to be decorated. So, the decor is really just an extension of what I see my living room to look like.”

On The Philosophy Behind Feast’s Cocktails

“Our amazing bartender, Dru Prentiss, basically came on board and said, "If our food is as amazing and intricate as it is, there's no way my cocktails aren't going to match those standards." So, in a nutshell, the cocktail list changes seasonally with the food menu in terms of ingredients, syrups, liquors, and overall taste profiles.”

On Excitement & Inspiration In Employment

“I get bored very easily, so the seasonal menus definitely help break up some of the monotony.  On top of that, in the service industry, there's so much that's the same, but also so much that's different every day - guests, issues, compliments, etc. The one thing I hated about an office job was the mundane nature of it. With food and hospitality, you can see tangible results from your hard work, and that always pushes me to stay inspired and driven.”

On Exciting Upcoming Events

“We are always thinking of cool and fun themes to run on certain nights of the week. Currently, we offer a whole hog dinner on the second Monday of each month. We're also toying around with the idea of a movie night where we project a movie on a wall and offer "TV" dinners: single coursed, fully composed entree dishes for our guests.  

 


Hook’d On a Bite is a Trademark of Lindsey Hook. © 2014 Lindsey Hook

Posted
AuthorLindsey Hook