There was a time not long ago when resort dining in Aruba meant grabbing the tongs and attacking the buffet. Crusty fish fillets, chicken in mystery sauce, mushy vegetables, and insipid pasta was the norm. Fortunately, those with more refined palates have far better dining options these days, such as the Sunset Grille at the Radisson Resort, where chef Hector Espinoza dazzles his sun-kissed guests every night with inventive dishes inspired in part by his hometown of San Antonio, Texas.
At the inaugural Cancun-Riviera Maya Wine & Food Festival in Mexico’s beautiful Yucatan Peninsula, Ferran Adria was the guest of honor. The famed Catalonian molecular gastronomist who was the former chef at El Bulli (coined "the world’s best restaurant" by Restaurant Magazine) spoke with BlackBook about the just-released DVD, El Bulli: Cooking in Progress, and his future projects.
Ever hear of a water-cannon salute? Fire trucks lined the runway to spray our plane with water, after landing in the Dominican Republic on JetBlue’s inaugural flight from JFK to La Romana. We headed to Casa de Campo, sugar baron Pepe Fanjul’s beautiful resort. The movie Rambo 2 included scenes on the stunning Chavon River there. Sting, Carlos Santana, and Frank Sinatra are among the many celebrities who have performed at the nearby amphitheater. Cygalle Dias, an entrepreneur based in New York, launched a healing spa at the resort. The spa, replete with an outdoor labyrinth and Zen gardens, is one property of a spa company that spans both the fashion and entertainment world.
What most makes Montreal charming? Is it the beautiful French language? Is it Old Montreal with its lovely Auberge du Vieux-Port hotel. the rave Igloo Fest, and historic Notre-Dame Basilica where Celine Dion got married? Or the Westmount area with its magnificent mansions and the more than 280 steps of St. Joseph’s Oratory? How about smoked meats at Schwartz’s deli in Mile End? Or Moshe Safdie’s cubed housing complex Habitat 67 on the way to the Montreal Casino?
BlackBook recently caught up with Andrew Balick, the new chef de cuisine of DiLido Beach Club at the Ritz-Carlton South Beach – about the classiest place in the Sunshine State to sip a Belvedere and tonic while watching the beautiful people stroll by. The buzz on Balick began long before he began his new job at the start of the season. Here he discusses his background, his vision for the restaurant, and a tasty fish with an ugly name.
What do you envision for the DiLido Beach Club? We want people to have a relaxed, good time. It will be fun and approachable. The restaurant will have food that’s exciting, that people can sit down and share.
Tell me about your background? Where did you get your culinary training? I went to University of Florida at Gainesville and then after my sophomore year, I transferred to Johnson & Wales, North Miami. I began working part-time in a restaurant, while I was going to school. Then I got a promotion that really put me at a crossroads: do I stay in school or do I take the job? I decided to take the job, feeling that if I ever wanted to go back to school, it was there for me. I later went to Azul restaurant for six years, then opened a small restaurant on the beach for seven months called Pied-a-Terre.
What was your title at the first restaurant? I was the pantry cook at Michael’s Kitchen in Dania, Florida, and then I was promoted to sous-chef.
What does working for the Ritz-Carlton mean to you? The first job after I left school was at a privately-owned restaurant. So that was all I knew around age 19. While spending six years at Azul, my whole world was flipped upside down, as far as learning how to do things the right way. At Pied-a-Terre, I found myself back in position with very little structure. Coming to the Ritz-Carlton, just to be given a chance to work here and to helm a kitchen in their operation really is an opportunity. As soon as it was offered to me, I jumped all over it.
What did you do at Pied-a-Terre? It was 100% fine dining. It was a 30-seat dining room. The owner was after Relais & Chateaux accreditation, so everything fell in line with that. Azul, inside the Mandarin-Oriental, was Mediterranean cuisine. It was fine dining, as well.
What are you known for? I’m not known for anything … yet. I was the sous chef at Azul under Clay Conley. So, that was his cuisine, that was his food. We didn’t have a PR campaign. It was, literally, word of mouth, where we started the first month serving four to ten people a night. And it just snowballed. A blogger came and then a journalist who wrote something for the Miami New Times. I’m stepping into something that’s going to be more fun, more approachable — serving the everyday diner and not being so serious about plates that have 15 components. We will really focus on fresh, local flavors and make a lot of people happy in a place that’s going to do 400 or 500 covers a day, versus working in fine dining where you’re maxing out at 80 covers a night. The ocean’s right there, so we’ll be tying in seafood and local produce as much as we can.
Does that mean fewer ingredients? Of course.
What made you take the Ritz-Carlton job, instead of going to work for Clay Conley at his restaurant, Buccan, in Palm Beach? Actually, that offer was on the table and I wanted to do it, but like any chef, I’m hungry for more. Clay’s a friend, and it would have been great to work with him, but, ultimately, I’m out to prove that I can be a chef myself.
If someone you were dating were to create a dish for you, what would it be like? To me, it’s not the actual dish, it’s the idea behind it.
And if you were to create a dish to win somebody’s heart? I guess you have to look at the individual, but I tend to gravitate towards fresh seafood, so….
Lobster or shrimp or . . . Oysters or hogsnapper, my favorite fish down here.
Where do you like to hang out? Two restaurants in midtown Miami, where I live, are Sugarcane and Mercadito. The chef at Sugarcane, Timon Balloo, is incredible. I love how he’s given the freedom to put tripe tapas on the menu and not be worried about whether someone doesn’t like it. Mercadito is in New York, as well, and Chicago. The chef is Patricio Sandoval. I did a charity program with him, Tacos for Strength, where I was a guest chef. I’m also a big fan of the Playwright Irish Pub in South Beach.
[Photo: Richard C. Murray/RCM Images Inc]
BlackBook recently called automobile maker Ford’s senior designer, Anthony Prozzi, to talk slick rides, Detroit, and, perhaps surprisingly, high fashion. The former Donna Karan technical designer, who we’d met at the Forward with Ford conference earlier this summer, was lounging in his blue Mustang when we caught him. Once a resident of Park Slope, Brooklyn, Prozzi has been designing automobile interiors in Dearborn, Michigan, for 12 years, and he hasn’t looked back since.
You live in downtown Detroit. Where do you hang out during your time off? I love Cliff Bell’s. It’s a super-cool jazz club that used to be a speakeasy in the ‘20s. It’s a great, intimate date place. Up the block from where I live is Atlas, which is great for a hangout. When I’ve had a crazy day, that’s where I go for a bourbon Manhattan and a burger.
Who is the Ford customer? That’s funny. Someone once asked Karl Lagerfeld, “Who is the Chanel customer?” I believe his response was, “No one is the Chanel customer because it’s everyone!” If you design it right and present it right, everyone will buy it. I think the whole thing about age dependency is gone. For example, the Ford Fiesta is a right-size car for everyone.
Who are some of your favorite designers? Obviously, I love Donna Karan, and I adore the work of Hussein Chalayan. Alber Elbaz is also brilliant; I love his architectural viewpoint. I used to wear a lot of Zoran before minimal was cool. Zoran invented minimal. He did a very simple shape that was crafted beautifully. He brought to life gorgeous t-shirts in cashmere and the best cottons you could imagine. He exposed seams that were cut like the architecture of Mies van der Rohe —structures that were totally exposed. He took a garment and did the same thing with quality construction, all monochromatic. I still covet my Zorans.
What’s your background? I started off at NYU. I got my retail experience at Jimmy’s, a high-end store in Brooklyn on Kings Highway and Avenue U. I went back to school in Manhattan at Traphagen School of Fashion, where I learned the logistics of fashion design and how to sew. My mom was a seamstress, so when I was a kid, I would sew my GI Joe doll’s clothes, but I hadn’t had formal training. What were you responsibilities as a technical designer at Donna Karan? I took abstract sketches and created patterns.
How do you relate automotive design to runway fashion? If a garment is extremely well made, most people will ask, “Why does the blouse cost $1000?” It’s because of the detail, the way the seams are sewn, the quality of the craftsmanship and the materials, all of the nuances someone might be able to sense. We’re now bringing those intangible qualities to the inside of an automobile. The boundaries have totally been blurred. All of the details you find in bespoke fashion are now being transferred to the inside of an automobile. From day one, J Mays, Chief Creative Officer Ford Motor Company, taught me that a successful car interior has three “Academy-Award-winning” features: First, if you sit in the driver’s seat, it’s the way the steering wheel feels, the plushness, the way the leather is wrapped, the quality – you have to like all of the details. The stitch, the color, the grain – it all adds up to something award winning, the same way a well-constructed and designed dress is made. Second is the center console, where the visual displays of heating and cooling have to be perfection.The third one is a wild card. What I always like to spend time on are the seats. They have to feel perfect. What did you learn from Donna Karan that you apply to designing car interiors? She is extraordinary. Her message and her image is crystal clear. She never moved away from her message, which is that clothing for a woman or a man has to be very sensual, it has to have a lot of movement, but still present a very strong persona. For automobiles, it’s clear that some brands don’t have a clear message versus others which do and are successful. A dynamic, sculptured car that doesn’t need a big [carbon] footprint, but that still has a very upscale and exciting shape to it, is the Fiesta. At the Forward with Ford conference, you sat on the panel called “Youth Influence & Global Convergence of Design” with trend predictor and Millennial expert Barbara Bylenga. What do Millennials, aka Gen Y’ers, have to do with trends in the automotive industry? For Millennials, it’s important to look at where their value systems are taking them. Even though they say they like to travel and they don’t like to own anything, they still need cars. They’re very careful where they’re going to spend their money, they’re looking for a company that supports sustainability, that’s eco-responsible, and that gives back to causes. What’s next for you? I’m going to explore outside of my comfort zone. I’ve done enough luxury products for awhile. I’m trying my hand at pick-up trucks.
Photo credit: Richard C. Murray/RCM IMAGES, INC
Remember the castle in the Harry Potter movies? Want to see the Grand Staircase from the Spice Girls video Wannabe? Then head to the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel in London, located next to St Pancras Station, which offers high-speed Eurostar trains to Paris and Brussels. We caught up with Harry Handelsman, the hotel’s owner and developer, at an opening- night party in May hosted by Adrien Brody. On that night, heartthrob Ed Westwick stayed in the Royal Suite, which is reputed to be the largest suite in London and costs a whopping $16,000 per night.
BlackBook: The five-star St Pancras is a magnificent undertaking. What’s yet to come? Handelsman: From a point of view of service, the pursuit of excellence doesn’t stop. For me, the question is: What do I do in order to make it a gateway to Europe? How do I become the custodian of this building on behalf of Londoners? How often does one have an opportunity to open a building from the turn of the last century as a hotel? It had lost its halo, so to speak. Now, all of a sudden, we have the opportunity to reawaken it.
What do you have planned for the interior? I just bought at auction a wonderful sculpture of actress Jean Harlow by George Lang, a contemporary of Rauschenberg and Lichtenstein. Decorating the interior is something that I continue to explore.
Another focus is how, from a cultural point of view, can we create a rapport between this building and nearby museums? I’m speaking with representatives at the Tate, the Foundling Museum, and the Victoria and Albert Museum. We are also in conversation with the British Library. The question being considered is: How can we collaborate? How can we create an experience that gives them a memory of London that is special?
Is this hotel is a labor of love? I can see you love the project, and you put so much money in … Far more than I needed to. I recognized I had an unequal opportunity to really reintroduce a masterpiece into London.
How much money did you put into this? A lot, a lot.
Do you expect to make money from it? Not in the short term. But I’m not in it for the short term. I am an atypical hotel developer. The financial motivation isn’t a primary thing.
Where do you – when you’re not at your own property – like to hang out? In London, we are spoiled with restaurants. We have Marcus Wareing at The Berkeley, by the Michelin-starred chef who now opened The Gilbert Scott in St Pancras, as well. And Locanda Locatelli, Scott’s, and Hix in Soho. Dinner by Heston Blumenthal in the Mandarin Oriental is fantastic. I’m a member of the Groucho Club. It’s where my friends are. It’s where I hang out.
Tell me about your project with Andre Balazs. There is a fire station which I’m going to be converting to a really lovely, boutique hotel in Marylebone in central London. The hotel is going to be very small, but exquisite. It’s due in about two years.
Do you have any other hotels? One that’s going to be a 43-story building in the East End of London with double-height rooms. The order to the architect was: ‘Build me the best new building in Europe, possibly the world.’ It will have a lot of glass.
You’re an hotelier, a developer, a collector. Any category I’m missing? I’ve got a film studio, called Ealing Studios, which is the oldest studio in Britain, possibly the world. It began in 1902. I bought it around 2000. Madonna did her film there, as well as Woody Allen. I’ve got partners that do the creative side. I do more of the commercial side.
Any other new developments? I know that you are the CEO of Manhattan Lofts, which has brought residential loft space to London. I’m looking for another opportunity, but it’s in the very early days. It’s on the Thames and very ambitious. At the moment, it’s just the beginning of a dialogue.
● Ryan Gosling at the Blue Valentine premiere: I have a restaurant in Beverly Hills called Tagine. I’m biased, but I think it’s very good! ● Bobby Flay at Food Network’s opening of Barney’s holiday windows: We love The Breslin. I eat at Keith McNally’s places a lot. In L.A., Bazaar, Jose Andres’s place, where I order the classic tapas. ● Morimoto at Food Network’s opening of Barney’s holiday windows: I’m going to open a new restaurant in Tribeca that will close at 4 a.m. – no Japanese, no sashimi, no sushi. I don’t know when I’ll open it.
● Rob Schneider at the Friars Club Roast for Quentin Tarantino: Candle 79. It’s a vegetarian restaurant, but you would never know it. Everything’s awesome. ● Cheech Marin at the Friars Club Roast for Quentin Tarantino: Milos is a great Greek restaurant for the baked fish in salt. They have a restaurant in Montreal, too. ● Kristin Chenoweth at the Friars Club Roast for Quentin Tarantino: Joe Allen’s. ● Eli Roth at the Friars Club Roast for Quentin Tarantino: Pizzeria Mozza in L.A.. ● Howard Stern & Beth Ostrosky at the Friars Club Roast for Quentin Tarantino: Daniel, for the black sea bass with the potato. ● Kathy Griffin at the Friars Club Roast for Quentin Tarantino: Mon Ami Gabi in Vegas.
● Mario Batali at the opening of Eataly: My favorite places to eat are generally downtown in the Village: Pearl Oyster Bar, Spotted Pig, Grand Sichuan. My favorite thing to eat is anything anyone else makes! Da Silvano has an octopus salad and octopus grill that’s really beautiful. ● Mayor Mike Bloomberg at the opening of Eataly: There are 20,000 restaurants in New York City, and I try to eat at every single one of them. ● Alex McCord and Simon van Kempen at GLAAD Summer Rooftop Party: wd-50, and in Brooklyn, Pacifico, the Mexican restaurant on Pacific St.
● Drew Nieporent at Travel + Leisure‘s World’s Best Awards party: Restaurants that are owned my friends—Jean Georges, Daniel, Mario Batali, the usual suspects. And El Bulli in Barcelona. My favorite dish is anything that Mark Ladner makes at Del Posto. ● Bethenny Frankel at GLAAD Summer Rooftop Party: Trump Soho, Abe & Arthur’s, STK. ● Johnny Weir at GLAAD Summer Rooftop Party: Cipriani Downtown has the most amazing vanilla meringue cake. ● Tinsley Mortimer at her handbag launch party at Samantha Thavasa: Avenue and the Biergarten at the Standard ● Bryan Greenberg at G-Shock’s Shock the World launch party: The corn, the tacos, and the margaritas at La Esquina. ● Danielle Staub at G-Shock’s Shock the World launch party: Cafeteria for the little sliders, the mac and cheese. For dessert, their Everything But the Kitchen Sink. ● Lamar Odom at G-Shock’s Shock the World launch party: Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles. ● Mick Rock at the Marc Ecko Cut & Sew fall collection launch party: Kenmare. ● Richie Rich at the Marc Ecko Cut & Sew fall collection launch party: At the The Lion, the champagne’s my favorite. I like the atmosphere and the food’s amazing. The energy’s amazing at the Boom Room Room.