Jacqueline Raymond worked her way through school, first at L'Impero under Scott Conant, then Michael White, and now in the restaurant's current, celebrated iteration: Convivio. The cuisine may be strictly Southern Italian and the décor more casual, but that hasn't stopped the press from stopping in. We asked Raymond about the restaurant's evolution and about the critics she gets to meet.
Why did the owners decide to change from L’Impero to Convivio?
We altered the menu to be Southern Italian. A lot of people didn't consider the food we had before to be strictly Italian because Scott Conant has such a French hand. We needed something with a little bit more life, more vibrancy, a more honest Italian theme.
How did the atmosphere change with Michael White?
He's a very laid-back person, extremely gentle, very kind. He has the presence of a big kind of family man, and he has a grand personality. His humor's unexpected; it creeps up on you. Scott was always kind to me. I did consider him a good boss, but Michael White is definitely more relaxed and less intimidating.
Were you there when Ruth Reichl came in the first night and gave a great "First Taste"? Does White know Reichl and other critics?
The first time, I had been on vacation. That was one of the trailblazing articles. I'm fairly certain they know each other. It's always a pleasure to wait on her. She knows exactly what she wants. [But] we like to surprise them with a few extra things. Nobody's really kidding anybody. [Chefs and critics] know each other. Especially with Adam Platt. The owners will kind of have some offhand jokes with him and funny remarks about pretending not to see him. They'll have a quick banter and sit down and get right down to the business of eating. With Frank Bruni it's a little different, because I guess he's a different personality altogether. I definitely enjoy waiting on him, too. He's very easy to take care of; very little fuss. He'll defer [to us] if he has a question, he'll honestly ask, “Is there anything we should know, or [should we] order something that we haven’t ordered?”
Does the chef have a one-two punch he always sends out?
It depends on what they already ordered, but it usually does involve pasta. One of the popular ones is the malloredus, or the fusilli or the tortelli d'amatrice.
What are the owners' next projects?
Marea is the restaurant they’re opening in the San Domenico building, I believe in spring 2009. Michael White's the chef. As far as I know, it's going to have far more to do with seafood than the other restaurants do.