From Food Writer to Restaurateur with a ‘Hot Chefs’ Detour

April Lisante and Christian Gatti
April Lisante and Christian Gatti Photo: Avril

You may have heard, former Daily News food editor April Lisante and her husband, chef Christian Gatti, are opening their restaurant, Avril, in Bala Cynwyd tomorrow. We sat down to talk with them about how they met - during a hot chef contest! - how City Tavern chef Walter Staib played a part in their romance and how Lisante’s experience as food writer affects how she plans to run the restaurant.

Is it strange to go from reporting on restaurants to running one?
April Lisante: It’s very bizarre being on this side of things! The front-of-house stuff is different from anything I’ve ever done. I was at the Daily News for 10 years, I left and had twins in December of ‘07. It’s starting over in a new life and It’s something [Christian and I] wanted to do together.

Are you worried about what other food writers will think?
AL: I’m very nervous about reviewers coming in. We’re two ‘food people’ - our expectations are higher. I’m not just hiring a GM and leaving for the weekend, I’ll be here. I look at it two ways: I did five stories every week with chefs I’m still friendly with - I don’t think I’ve made many enemies in the business!

What kind of restaurants inspired you - what do you want this place to be like?
AL: We want it to be ours. I know the feeling I want it to have. Taquet is the closest to it, I think, but there’s no particular restaurant model. I want people to come in and see that we’re friendly and we recognize people - we’re going to spoil them. I call it spoilage - you have to spoil, spoil people!

What sort of things made you crazy about restaurants when you were reporting on them? What won’t you do as an owner?
AL: A lack of attention to detail. When there’s nothing personal about a place - that really bothers me. People are spending money and they feel like they’re in a factory with [owners] trying to turn over tables three times a night. Also, when a pretentious chef won’t come into the dining room. We want Christian to be out here and involved and talking to people.

So you and Christian met when you were working on a “hot chefs” feature?
AL: I had done a couple of stories on City Tavern [where Gatti was pastry chef] in 2002. We did the hot chefs story in September 2003. We met and shook hands for a long time.

Christian Gatti: I was taken with her. Smitten.

AL: Six months later we did a contest at City Tavern - a competition with a bunch of kids from a local culinary school. 12 kids, one eliminated each week - like Top Chef. We hadn’t seen each other in six months. And then… we went on a date and moved in together in May of 2004. We had to be very secretive about it. We kept it quiet for a while - you know how the industry is with gossip.

CG: [City Tavern chef-owner] Walter [Staib] knew. He pushed it! He loved it - he thought he’d be in the paper every other week!

AL: Except that the Daily News said I couldn’t write anything about him or City Tavern.

CG: Sometimes he’s mad at me about that, sometimes he’s not.

Avril opens Wednesday August 5, check out the menus here and more details here.

From Food Writer to Restaurateur with a ‘Hot Chefs’ Detour