Gordon Finn Is Mike White’s Secret Weapon at Alto

Finn is not a sixth-grader, all appearances to the contrary.
Finn is not a sixth-grader, all appearances to the contrary. Photo: Melissa Hom

Each week, we’ll be highlighting one of the great but obscure young chefs running one of the city’s major restaurants. These are the unheralded chefs de cuisine, the right arms to the name chefs, and when they are big stars themselves, you can say that you read about them here first.

Name: Gordon Finn

Age: 25

Restaurant: Alto

Background: Finn, a CIA graduate, earned his Italian-food chops cooking in good restaurants in Puglia, Tuscany, and Lombardy, before signing on with Scott Conant as line cook and then pasta chef at Alto, and eventually, under Michael White, chef de cuisine.

Self-described Style: “Simple, bold flavors. No bullshit.”

Why he’s a comer: Being in charge of pasta for a chef as demanding as Scott Conant was a great feat; keeping his job when a totally new chef came in may have been an even greater one. The reason is clear: Finn is abnormally young to have had the amount of European experience he has, and at an age when his peers are still mastering Madden 08, he’s running one of the city’s few high-end tablecloth restaurants — a balancing act that flusters older and better men. But aside from his managerial duties, Finn has shown a subtly powerful understanding of flavor — without ornament, luxe ingredients, or obstreperous modernist technique. Like his mentor White, he’s mastering the art of cooking comfort food as if it were kaiseki. And that, for our money, makes him one to watch.

Judge him by: Sea-urchin bruschetta draped with Stonewall lardo. “We had these Catalina sea urchins that were so big and so sweet, and I thought, why not bring some paper-thin lardo to give them even more richness, and also an acidity that steps in at the end, cleaning up the whole taste?”

Guestimated time of arrival: At least two years. Says Finn. “It’s a long time away. I have my hands full just running the kitchen here.”

Gordon Finn Is Mike White’s Secret Weapon at Alto