back of the house

New York Chefs Confront Rising Food Costs With Whip and Chair

Chris Lee

Chris Lee puts it on the chef.Photo: Patrick McMullan

Food costs go up and up, but prices — especially high ones — aren’t supposed to. Given that the rent in most New York restaurants isn’t going to come down anytime soon, this creates a problem for owners. The Wall Street Journal did an excellent feature on this subject on Saturday, showing how some restaurants were dealing with it — Blue Water Grill's selling beef trimmings as part of a chipotle roll, for example, or Ssäm Bar's dropping truffles. But we were curious about how some of the other chefs we know, particularly those with a well-heeled clientele, are making do. So we asked around, and here's what we heard.

• Andrew Carmellini, A Voce: “I got killed on white truffles this year, but that was my choice to offer them at last year's prices; other people where charging $250 when I charged $95. But I'm finding that it's not the high-end stuff that kills you. It's the everyday stuff, i.e., flour, pasta, milk.”

• Bill Telepan, Telepan: “I am caught between a rock and a hard place because my cooking really depends on high-quality ingredients, but I have to keep my prices reasonable because we are in a residential neighborhood instead of a business district. We just reduced the number of items on the menu … This keeps our inventory tight. The one item I really had to do something with was our beef dish. I would run a dry-aged sirloin at night that just got way out of line in price, so I switched it to a hanger steak. Damn oil and steakhouses!”

• Craig Koketsu, Park Avenue Winter: “I try to balance out my menu more. There are just some items you expect to pay more for, like the Brandt steak, but they are so good that it’s still a value even at a fairly high price. Chicken is always pretty much a low-cost item, and our price reflects that, too. The menu as a whole needs to reflect what you need from a cost perspective, not just the price of individual dishes!”

• Chris Lee, Gilt: “Rising costs are more about waste management. They’re the chef’s fault. It’s all about management. I buy half of my fish from a Philadelphia purveyor, and his prices are nothing like what you see in New York. How big your menu is, how much waste you have, what your business relationships are like. That’s the only real issue.”

Cutback Cuisine [WSJ]

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