Millesime Chef Laurent Manrique on His Brasserie, Tuna Tartare, and Buddhism

Something is happening on the second floor of the Carlton Hotel. Hot is colliding with cold, Asian is merging with French, and tuna is appearing in dishes where steak once reigned. Welcome to Millesime, where ambition and simplicity emanate from chef Laurent Manrique’s lauded kitchen. With a career that began at the Waldorf Hotel’s Peacock Alley, and is dotted with Bon Appètit’s "Rising Star Chef Award" and Michelin stars (his cooking earned San Francisco’s Aqua three and a half stars), Manrique is back in New York and shaking up the French scene with his signature class and innovation.

How would you describe the cuisine at Millesime?
Seafood cuisine, simple preparation, focused on quality of the product. And French, of course.
 
Which dish are you proudest of?
The tuna tartare. It’s a tuna dish I did when I was running Aqua in 2003 in San Francisco. People really love it, so that’s one of the dishes we put back on the menu here. It’s not a classic dish; it’s usually a steak tartare, but this dish is one of the exceptions on the menu where we adjust.
 
Is that also the most popular?
That, and the grilled Caesar salad. It’s warm and cold.
 
Millesime is French for “Vintage.” I know that you own a vineyard and make your own wines. Did that have anything to do with it?
It actually doesn’t have anything to do with it. A lot of people think, “Okay, that’s going to be a restaurant oriented with wine,” but vintage is also something old, and when I look at the space inside the Carlton Hotel, I noticed the dome: it’s a Tiffany glass dome, a landmark in New York from 1904, when the Carlton was known as the Hotel Seville, so that was one of the first things I really liked.  The tile floor is original mosaic from 1904. I didn’t want to call the restaurant “vintage,” but we thought, hey, it can be Millesime.
 
How has your cooking style changed since you worked at the Waldorf Astoria’s Peacock Alley 10 years ago? It’s incredible you were the executive chef at 26 years old!
That was quite an experience for me. It was my first position in New York. I was young, aggressive, and I tried to impress a lot. So, my food was all over the map, whereas now, with my experience in California 10 years later, my food has really evolved. I’m still cooking French, I would never want to forget my roots, but I’ve been living in this country for 20 years, so I’m changing. I cook differently for my family, I eat differently, I’m more open to different flavors, and that indirectly transfers to my cuisine. For example, 20 years ago, the only spices I was using were black pepper and fresh thyme. I would have never dreamed of using ginger, or soy sauce, so that’s a big step. I don’t know if I’ve answered your question.
 
No, no, you have! Jumping off of that, how has the New York food scene changed since then?
Before, you just had upscale restaurants on the Upper East Side, and if you wanted a casual dining experience or a fun place, you had to go all the way downtown. Now, you can find a bit of both everywhere — in Hell’s Kitchen, Union Square, the Bronx. You can have an incredible food experience in a casual place at a wood table and no napkins, nothing.  Before, you had to go to a place categorized as “fine dining” to have the kind of great food experience. When I came back, that change was a big surprise to me and it made me very happy.
 
Is there a certain dish you cook for your family that they love?
I’m back and forth between New York and San Francisco—my family still lives in San Francisco—so whenever I go back, I cook a lot at home because I do enjoy cooking no matter what. Sundays are usually roasted chicken; it’s one of those traditional dishes. I do a lot of soup with my children. I’m not too much of a good baker. I don’t like baking too much. Our cooking also depends on the season: in the winter, we like to do stews; in the summer, we like to do barbecues outside.
 
I’d imagine, in comparison with cooking, baking must be so limiting for you since it’s more formulaic.
Yes, yes, exactly. For me, baking has too many restrictions. There’s a science, so you can’t just, you know, play around. If you put too much flour, the dish doesn’t come right­. You have to be very specific on the baking, whereas in cooking, you just let your mind go for it. If you’re a baker and you have a bad day and you bake a tart, that tart can’t be spicy, right? But if you’re a cook and you have a bad day, the dishes can be spicy because you’re angry, so you use up all the spice!
 
That’s a very good point. Cooking is so improvisational. It’s like the jazz of the culinary world.
Yeah! It’s like Miles Davis, right? You let the music go. Whereas you have some old, classic jazz players who just respect the notes, look at the music notes, and don’t move around from that. That would be a similar comparison.
 
What New York restaurants do you like to eat at, besides your own?
I’m very close to Eric Ripert from Le Bernardin. We’ve known each other a long time and are each other’s fans, so we eat together a few times when I’m here. I like to go to PruneBlue Ribbon is sometimes open very late; that’s where you see a lot of chefs hang out.
 
It’s like the chefs’ clubhouse.
Yeah, you should try it. Great seafood.
 
You practice Buddhism; how did you get involved with it, and how has it influenced your cooking?
I was looking for something different that fit my beliefs and my faith. I grew up in a typical Christian family, and at one point, I thought “Wait a minute. I’m not sure if I agree with what I’m reading here.” And I started to look somewhere else, and I saw that Buddhism fit my beliefs and I got involved with that. I started studying, going on some retreats.  Buddhism helps me remove the unnecessary things on the plate; if it’s not important, what’s the point? You go straight to the point. Don’t try to bake or mask by covering dishes with a sauce, a piece of fish with too much spice, because you remove the true nature of the product. It’s almost like if you have a beautiful diamond, right? Why would you want to put sapphire around it? If you do that, we’re not going to see all the diamond, and we’re not going to see all the sapphire. So, you’ve got to choose between one of them. Make them better, not hide them.
 
What are some recent culinary trends that excite or frustrate you?
One of the trends that frustrates me is that more and more now, you see young chefs that have beautiful execution of the design on the plate of the dishes, but they’re not actually sitting down and tasting the dishes. The dishes look like paintings, it’s very minimalist, and there’s nothing wrong with that, right? But at the end of the day, it’s still food, and you want to make sure you are able to eat and enjoy it. And I understand the way the world moves—design has become more and more minimalist and sleek—cars, clothes, restaurants, cuisine. Young chefs take themselves too seriously. It’s just food.
 
What motto do you live by?
Honesty. Honesty with yourself, with the people you work with, with your customers.

Restaurants with the Best Nighttime City Views

Yes, we know: Le Jules Verne at the top of the Eiffel Tower. But assuming you’re not proposing this time around, here are eight other international top spots to enjoy breathtaking views while you fill your belly.

Restaurant Georges at Centre George Pompidou, Paris: By the time you hit the third set of escalators going up to this museum’s roof, it should be clear you’re on your way straight to the top. Enjoy a drink on the terrace and watch the Eiffel Tower scintillate, then settle into the modern, aluminum-lined space for delicious takes on French classics, like the champagne-poached cod.

Rhodes 24, London: Located in the City of London’s tallest building, Tower 42, the restaurant has held onto its Michelin star since 2005, for Gary Rhodes’ traditional British cuisine, privileging quality products over fancy preparations, and letting the view add the sparkle.

WP24, Los Angeles: Celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck has become so ubiquitous, it’s refreshing to see him get back to what he does best: modern, Asian-inflected cuisine that made him famous. Opened in 2010, WP24 was named one of the best new restaurants in America by multiple critics, not least for the spectacular view of the LA skyline from the 24th floor of the Ritz-Carlton hotel.

A Voce Columbus, New York: The panoramic view of Central Park, accented by the glittering whirl of Columbus Circle, is only slightly more all-encompassing than the delights of chef Missy Robbins’ pasta dishes, which are delicious enough to eat every day and deceptively simple enough to make you think you actually could.

The View Bar, Sao Paulo: The 30th-floor lounge of The View Bar is as exciting inside as the city view is outside, with visitors mingling happily with Brazilian locals over a coupe of champagne, and couples sharing a meal of small plates with local influences.

Michel’s, Hawaii: About to celebrate its 50th year this January, Michel’s at the Colony Surf on Waikiki claims to have the island’s best view, both of the ocean waves and the lights of Honolulu. Live music, fresh fish, and some of the world’s best sunsets make this destination justifiably famous.

Aqua, Hong Kong: Victoria Harbor at night is the focal point of every major building that has access to it for a reason — the multicolored lights and visually thrilling skyline add glamour to rooms that are already luxe. Aqua’s combination of Italian and Japanese food is appropriately international for the setting in the luxury shopping development One Peking Road.

Top of the World, Las Vegas: Located in the Stratosphere (literally; that’s the name of the tall building towering over the Strip) this restaurant prides itself on creating a menu of American classics with unique accents—as unique as the restaurant’s own signature feature, which is the entire space’s 360 degree revolution every 80 minutes.

First Look: Vena Cava for Aqua

Vena Cava is continuing its push into more affordable markets with its latest expansion, a capsule collection for Bloomingdale’s in-house line, Aqua. Fashionista has a first look at the line, which includes a black-and-white print silk tee, a double-breasted and belted black sweater coat, and a gray tee with a see-through back. The small but solid collection is slated to hit racks in September and its price point is, surprisingly, said to be less than that of Vena Cava’s other lower-priced line, Viva Vena. The good news for Vena Cava fans not residing in major fashion capitals: the collection will retail both at Bloomingdale’s and at Bloomingdales.com come fall.

In other lower-priced news, Scott Sternberg’s Band of Outsiders is launching another collection under its well-tailored umbrella. The latest addition to the BoO family is girl, an “entry-level womenswear line,” according to Business of Fashion. Expect a lot more specifics to drop sometime around NYFW.

1997 Again: Dave Matthews & Other Redundant Pop Comebacks

imageFor the love of Gina G., is it 1997 again? It was fine when the Spice Girls did the whole comeback thing because they were arguably The Beatles of their heyday. Also they looked quite good coming back for one last can-can. It was also fine when Robyn came back, because she waxed reflective on her past as a tween poppet. I’m even willing to grant clemency to Take That, Kim Wilde, and All Saints. Those were welcome flashbacks to a golden part of pop’s past. But there’s an incongruous trio of pop zombies that make us scratch our heads, look back at the ’90s and ask why. As in, why should we humor Dave Matthews Band when we already have John Mayer?

The answer is simple. We shouldn’t. Really, even with the whole harmonica-and-guitar thing and with DMB’s recent surprise Billboard coup, there’s absolutely no reason why a band who inspired its legions of followers to don pukka shell necklaces and screen-printed Abercrombie tees with mid-level AC rock should be foisted, once again, onto unsuspecting listeners. Even if they hearken back to the long-lost glory days of Rolling Stone.

But more deplorable is what nefarious plans the Backstreet Boys are hatching. Never mind the absurdity of men in their 30s referring to themselves as “boys.” “But what about the Spice Girls?” you might ask. Well, they had the feminist insight of Betty Freidan to fall back on.

However, a bizarre by-product of the same pop movement was Aqua. Surprise! They’re alive! One of them even did a solo jaunt that involved BDSM once. But now, they’ve fully reformed and returned with a new single all about how life used to be in the 80s. The irony! The tune not only counts, “Back when Michael Jackson’s skin was black” as one of its lines, but a #1 ranking in Denmark among its virtues.

So how to cope with this sputtering, turbulent ride on the Pop Flux Capacitator. Beats me. But as long as this spate of comebacks means that sometime call girl Billie Piper won’t be returning to her pop roots, we can all sleep soundly.
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