Museum dining has thankfully come a long way from the tuna fish sandwiches of yore. One of the latest restaurant additions to the city’s art scene is Danny Meyer’s Untitled, located in the Whitney Museum of Art. So we called up chef Chris Bradley to learn more about his culinary philosophy and favorite artists. And, of course, get lots of kitchen hazing stories.
Tell me about Untitled’s concept.
The Upper East Side used to be rife with coffee shops, but they’ve gone away, so we wanted to bring back that feeling, but incorporate it with what I learned at Gramercy Tavern — having connections with purveyors. Dinners are served family-style, though the à la carte is classic coffee-shop fare: eggs and bacon that we’re getting through heritage meats. We don’t have smoking equipment here, but we’re making all of our sausages.
What’s it like being in a museum setting?
It’s actually really great. We have guaranteed foot traffic every day and a great mix of people from all walks of life. We get tourists, locals, everyone. Amazingly it’s 50/50 locals to tourists. Weekends and brunches tend to be a local crowd but Tuesday through Friday we get tourists from the museums.
Both Untitled and Gramercy Tavern are Danny Meyer restaurants. Is there a spirit of Danny that comes with each restaurant?
Most certainly. Gramercy Tavern was an amazing place — not just a restaurant with good food but as a place to work, and the people [behind the vision]. There’s a spirit that’s there, and I’ve brought that with me here.
Do you ever hang out in the museum before or after work?
I do. I’ve gotten a chance to go and see the exhibits. And we have some pieces in the restaurant. If you can’t go to the art, it can come to us!
What are some of your favorite art movements?
I have a background in literature and strangely read a lot by the Dadaists and Surrealists, and they were some of my favorites.
Speaking of art, what inspires you when you cook?
I get inspiration from the raw ingredients. Staying true to the product and being minimally invasive. Let them speak for themselves. I love the polenta we have from Cayuga Farms. It’s just amazing. And the producers, like the Four & Twenty Blackbirds girls, who supply our pies. We pick them up from near where I live. Just hanging out and getting to talk with them and see the pies is phenomenal.
What’s your favorite kind of pie?
What is the most scandalous thing you’ve ever seen in the kitchen?
I basically saw a full-on wife swapping in the kitchen once that was amazing. Just the way of the nonchalance of the whole situation. The openness of it!
Have you ever seen people hazed in kitchens?
Hazing is part and parcel of the job. When I worked at Aureole it was a “blood in, blood out” situation. I was locker mates with Ilan Hall from Top Chef, who was staging there. So one day I wet his clothes, put them in a bag and Cryovacked it and put it in the freezer so that it essentially turned into a big block of ice. He had to leave in his chef clothes that night. He may have shed some tears.
Are female cooks ever hazed like the men are?
Some of the women in the kitchens I’ve worked in are far tougher than any guys and so [other chefs] don’t need to haze them. They are already such a minority. They don’t have to prove themselves any more.
Check back in tomorrow, when Chris talks about Untitled’s family meals and his favorite museums in the city.