When chef Luke Venner took over the kitchen at BLT Fish in June, he was picking up the reins at a restaurant he’d admired since it first opened close to a decade ago. “The foundation was there,” he says. It just needed an update.
The chef started as a dishwasher when he was 14, rising through an apprenticeship program in Colorado and then moving around, landing for stints in Napa, Santa Fe, Connecticut, and Long Island. After a recent consulting stint back in Colorado ended, though, Venner knew he was ready to come to the city and jump full-force into a kitchen. “I knew I wanted to be a chef de cuisine again,” he says. “I’d been in that back seat consulting role for so long, and I wanted to do my own thing. It was important to keep looking for that.”
He met the team at BLT and did a tasting, which handed him the opportunity he’d been seeking, and he was tasked with updating the menu as soon as he stepped behind the line. “My flavors are pretty clean, simple, ingredient-driven, and technique-driven,” he explains. “I’m taking steps to change dish by dish and improve things.”
He started with a few appetizers and entrees–adding, for example, items like striped bass, a meatier fish that pairs with red wine for patrons that want to “eat more than just salmon and quinoa,” he says–before diving into revamping the raw bar. “We have a casual kind of seafood shack downstairs, and a nicer upstairs, but it’s the same raw bar for both floors,” he says. “That was fine for downstairs, but it didn’t really translate to the dining room.” So he overhauled the presentations, adding items like a fluke carpaccio and serving oysters with new sauces, like a yuzu-spiked mustard, instead of just a mignonette.
Next, he’ll work on dialing in seasonality, especially now that harvest season is about to bloom. “When corn and tomatoes hit the menu in early August, we’ll have everything changed,” he explains. “About 30 to 40 percent of the menu is exactly where I want it now.”
But Venner is also clear that he doesn’t want to get too concept-driven. “I want it to be approachable,” he says. “We still get a lot of tourist traffic, so I don’t want the food to be overly complicated or cheffy. It’s not that kind of a restaurant.”
Sample his work, too, via the Rosé tasting menu, which he rolled out a couple of weeks ago.
Hit the next page for a few photos of dishes.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 26, 2013