At The Modern, the Chef Is a Maestro

April 21, 2011 Updated: April 21, 2011
MORELS MONKFISH: The monkfish combines all the elements of musical notes. (Ellen Silverman)
MORELS MONKFISH: The monkfish combines all the elements of musical notes. (Ellen Silverman)

To my surprise, harmony and quiet emanated instead of loud, bustling noises. As if a conductor facing his orchestra, executive chef Garbriel Kreuther prepares a signature dish, Chatham Cod Crusted With Chorizo White Coco Bean Puree and Zeres Vinegar Jus. The pan in his hand serves as a baton in the kitchen of The Modern, another one of celebrated Danny Meyer’s additions to Manhattan’s restaurant scene.

Each ingredient is thoughtfully placed like notes on music sheets, the ingredients assembled on a platter one note at a time, yielding an elegant, delicate, and flavorful meal, like the sweet sound of music heard for the first time.

The first oeuvre of my concert night at The Modern was a perfect arrangement of lettuce on thin-sliced, red-circle beet salad looked simple enough—but with its light creamy dressing, it was a culinary masterpiece.

Hesitating only briefly, my fork speared bite after savory bite—light, refreshing, and crisp with the perfect amount of dressing.

LOBSTER SALAD: It vibrates with flavors and color. (Ellen Silverman)
LOBSTER SALAD: It vibrates with flavors and color. (Ellen Silverman)
The second piece, befitting an event I had attended earlier that day, was a memorable mound of cous cous with stewed lamb and dried dates. The lamb was bathed in a vibrating, zesty, aromatic sauce and melted in your mouth. Such food preparation is an example of perfect execution of culinary skills.

Executive chef Gabriel Kreuther heads the venue. He exquisitely blends modern American and French Alsace cuisine, delivering menu offerings that are a feast for the eye and thrilling on the palate.

Each previous visit to the restaurant with friends during private events was truly an occasion to remember. The meals reminded me of listening to an opera for the first time, a delicious discovery. This should not surprise, for Kreuther lends to each dish his impeccable culinary skills, with focus on classical influences. He had garnered Michelin Star ratings and has worked with the best-celebrated chefs in Europe and in New York.

CHERRY CONSOMME:  Created by pasty chef Marc Aumon, it is like jewels in a pond of wine. (Ellen Silverman)
CHERRY CONSOMME: Created by pasty chef Marc Aumon, it is like jewels in a pond of wine. (Ellen Silverman)
We agreed to meet one afternoon. Engulfed in a book, I waited patiently in the casual dining area next to the bar. Waiting was understandable since the chef manages two kitchens with two cuisine styles and 70 employees. Then he appeared and said, “Now I am ready. Would you like to stay here or go to the other dining area?” I preferred the latter since it was quieter and I wanted to get his utmost attention.

Leaning across the table with his arms crossed, the man with silver streaks in his blond hair spoke in his charming French accent, “I think the people that stay in the business and become successful are people who are really passionate about it. To get a great result, you have to keep on going without counting. If you count, you won’t get anywhere. Do I have any regrets? No regrets at all … because I always loved what I do.”

The Modern is unpretentious, but chic and sophisticated. It has two dining areas: the barroom section, and the formal dining section. Food in the barroom is much more what Kreyther grew up with. ”It is Alsace style, but modernized and changed. Alsace’s cooking style—basically peasant cooking—is influenced by famers. Most dishes are based on pork, sauerkraut, sausages, and a lot of fish.

“What I have done is I take the basics from the old-style cooking and rework and reactualize some of the dishes in a more modern way, in a lighter way. It is flavorful and more suited to modern environments and also for the American palate.” While the formal dining area leans toward French and modern American cooking that is full of vibrancy without forgetting the flavors.

He leaned back in his chair, smiled, and his eyes reflected his passion for cooking. His family was in the hospitality business. He said that ever since he can remember, “I always wanted to be in the kitchen. I always wanted to be a chef.”

Kreuther studied with the renowned Jean Drouant at the Ecole Hoteliere in Strasbourg, France, for four years. He then worked in different places in Paris. In the summer of 1997 he came to New York.

He worked with Jean-Georges Vongerichten at his Jean George for five years here in New York, “I worked with a lot of different people and learned a lot of different points of view on cooking. … Being in a foreign country and he [Jean-George], like me, comes from the same Alsace region. He was here in the early days, and he was part of that whole new movement on the way people eat here in New York. So that helped me understand what was going on with somebody who is involved in bringing to diners a raised level of cooking.”

We both looked up at the server who was pouring water in our glasses and smiled at him as Kreuther proceeded to tell me that the greatest challenge a chef faces is making the whole team cohesive, to have it run like a well-oiled machine but letting the staff have fun together. A sense of satisfaction came over his face when he said, “I feel very lucky to have a great team. We are in a highly competitive, difficult business and its people can make a big difference.”

The Modern is located at 9 W. 53rd St., New York, NY 10019.

Bar open 7 days a week.
Dining room closed Sundays.