The kitchen is so tiny at Upper East Side newbie Dragonfly that it’s a miracle more than one cook can fit–let alone a team pumping out an array of Asian-fusion dishes like cheese stuffed tater tots and Far East inflected ceviche. But Cornelius Gallagher is not new to the challenges on the New York restaurant world. He’s been around the block cooking under famed chefs like Daniel Boulud, Gray Kunz, and Ferran Adria. After a few years behind the burner on Long Island, he’s back with a vengeance. We caught up with the chef to find out how it’s going so far.
Dragonfly is your return to Manhattan. Why did you choose to open in Manhattan?
Well, I’ve worked in Manhattan the majority of my career.
Why choose the Upper East Side?
I wanted to have a little piece of Downtown, Uptown. I saw a need on the Upper East. I mean, I see a lot of Italian restaurants.
Why do an Asian Bistro?
I’ve always been inspired by Asian cuisine, ever since I worked with Gray Kunz back in 1997. I was one of his cooks at Lespinasse. That’s really where I fell in love with Asian food and then last year I got a chance to go Asia. We went to Vietman, to China, and to Thailand and I was just completely awestruck at what I saw and learned and tasted. I got to cook over there and it just blew me away.
Your background is in French dining?
It is, most of it is. I mean, I did trail in Spain briefly [at El Bulli], I’ve cooked all around. But, yes. Most of my background is in French cooking but what I like to do is apply French technique to Asian flavors. I hate the word fusion.
You’ve been cooking on Long Island. What’s the biggest difference, customer-wise, between Long Island and Manhattan diners?
I think the portion sizes are different. People on Long Island like bigger portions. I think you can eat more adventurous in Manhattan, in general. Depending on where your location is. On Long Island, they tend to be a little bit safer.
Your restaurant is really new. Nine weeks old? Are you getting ready for critics to come in? Any that you’re concerned about?
I was really fortunate at Oceana. It received a lot of awards and accolades while I was there and I never really thought about it. No ego. I just really try to push myself. What I’m concerned about are the people that come to the restaurant, that they’re leaving happy, and that I’m always getting feedback. You know, Bill Cosby said one time “If you try to make everybody laugh, you’ll make nobody laugh.” That’s what I try to do as a cook, as a chef.