2007_02_food_greenie.jpgEric Greenspan might be the best chef you’ve never heard of. The 31 year-old Jersey born, California raised, and one-time New Yorker spent the better part of the last decade working his way through several top-rated restaurant kitchens- Bouley, Union Pacific, and Alain Ducasse to name a few- before landing his first high profile chef’s job at Patina in Los Angeles four years ago. Later, a stint at the highly-regarded but short lived Meson G left Greenspan without a kitchen to call his own. “I was doing cookie demos in combi-ovens at trade shows,” says Greenspan, “but it paid the bills.” Now the chef will put everything he knows about food to test when he opens The Foundry on Melrose, a place that will serve what he calls “fine dining for the everyman.” This past weekend, Greenspan came back to New York to catch up with some old friends, and to survey the current restaurant scene.

Back in 2001, Greenspan left Alain Ducasse at the Essex House to pursue a four-week stagiaire at El Bulli in San Sebastian, an experience that changed everything (it is even rumored that The Foundry on Melrose’s pastry chef will be flying in from Ferran Adria’s kitchen). “It had a profound effect on me,” says Greenspan. “The juxtaposition of the two places really changed the way I felt, because I took the time to talk to Ferran instead of just writing down how many grams of agar I was supposed to use.”

Gothamist had the chance to catch up with Greenspan on Monday, who was in Manhattan with The Foundry’s 29 year-old chef de cuisine, Alfonso Ramirez, for a little white tablecloth fact finding, and to have one last look at New York before the end of March, when The Foundry opens for business, and becomes a sixteen hour-a-day commitment for the chef.

How’s everything going with The Foundry on Melrose?
People keep asking about it. There’s this feeling on the street that we’re doing something special; that we’re doing something new- something that people haven’t seen for a while. I’m amazed by the kind of support we’ve been getting.

Having worked in both, what’s the difference between the food scene in New York, and the one in LA?
In a city like New York where so many people are into food, fine dining is always changing. It’s different in LA, where the same few fine dining restaurants have dominated the scene for a long time. Mind you, we’re standing on their shoulders, and LA is changing, too- but a lot of people in LA don’t go out to restaurants for entertainment- they eat pre-entertainment. Then they’ll go out to a nightclub, and instead on dancing on the dance floor, they’ll sit and order a $300 bottle of Ketel One and a tuna tartare.

What we’re trying to do at The Foundry is fine dining for the everyman. I’m not giving you a menu of forty items you have to choose from and you don’t know what anything is; I’m going five entrees and five apps- come back next week and the whole menu will be changed.

We’re trying to do some different things- like bringing in Christopher Dowd [formerly of Fishbone] to play some music. He was going to the culinary school where I was teaching. Now he can cook, but he’s a better musician. We’re going to try and have an Internet feed on the pass, so you can go online to our website and see the food being plated.

What was it like working at El Bulli, considering the impact that restaurant has had on chefs all over the world?
We used to sit down for family meal every day. [Ferran Adria] is always doing stuff that nobody else is doing. I asked him if he was ever worried that, with 40-50 people coming through the kitchen to work every year- it’s like the Tower of Babel in that kitchen- if he was afraid he’d lose his edge, that people would catch up to him, just taking his techniques. You know what he said? “Everybody who comes in here always asks how, but nobody asks why.” That’s the difference.

There’s a lot of style and sometimes not a lot of flavor in molecular gastronomy. A lot of people are doing it these days on menus, some much better than others.
People sometimes make this stuff and are like, “Isn’t this crazy what I can do? You thought it was going to be disgusting, but it wasn’t! Isn’t that crazy??” So many chefs are picking up the cookbooks and saying, “ooh, look at that; let’s do that.” It doesn’t work. El Bulli is really rooted in tradition, and that’s what a lot of these chefs don’t get- they’re too busy making pearls of caviar- in the end it’s just apple juice with a chemical whooped into it. Yippee! If I’m going to use a foam, I use one where I’m looking for something light, as opposed to, “look at this neat thing I can do!” It’s about the mindset, which I learned at El Bulli, and one a lot of these guys don’t have.

What interests you about that style of food?
It works when there are little things hidden here and there to catch my attention, to keep me focused. I call it the Ben and Jerry’s technique. I always wondered why I was eating a whole pint of Ben and Jerry’s every time I sat down with one, and it’s not just because I’m a fat bastard. That’s helped. That’s given me the fortitude to walk away from it. But it’s like when you eat a scoop of ice cream and you get a chocolate covered pretzel, you go back for another bite and you don’t get it again- this time you get a salted caramel, or then you get a nut, and by the time you’re done looking for all those things again, you’ve eaten the whole fucking thing. That’s how I approach a la carte food, so that every bite is interesting. Why not do a mille feuille and put it with a great lobster salad, all layered so that every bite is interesting, instead of laying a shard of whatever on a piece of fish. That’s not fun.

The reality of the situation is that the only people who are willing to open up a restaurant of repute are chefs. Call me fucking nuts, but I think I got it. I don’t serve a dish until it blows me away. And I think that if you just come on and eat my food, you’re going to dig it. It’s bold, and it’s fresh, and it’s fun, and it’s tasty- people are afraid to be bold.

Where’d you eat this past weekend while you were here?
[My chef de cusine] Alfonso Ramirez and I ate at WD~50, Bouley Upstairs, Country, Shanghai Joe’s, and Katz’s Deli.

Can you tell us a few of the dishes you’ll be serving at The Foundry?
We’re doing a quail egg ravioli, with really, really thin pasta, with some fava puree and a yolk inside. We’ll serve it with charred fava greens, some pan-fried favas, and also a parmesan foam- but the foam is there for a reason. There’s already enough fat with the yolks, so we aerate it, so we get the creaminess to coat the tongue and the intense Parmesan flavor.

We’re doing a gremolata of sweetbreads on veal scaloppini. I cut up the sweetbreads real small, and fry them up crispy. Then I mix them with caperberries, garlic confit, and whole dice of lemon, and roasted pine nuts. So it’s a layering of these really intense flavors.

We’re not doing fusion, but I’ll confit Hen of the Woods mushrooms- which I’ll char, put a sea urchin gratin mixture on top with some crab in it, throw it under the broiler and brulee it, so it’s nice and caramelized. It gets a little ginger in it and some shiso on top. It’s not exactly Japanese, but it’s also not fusion.

In the past four days, have you seen anything here in New York that particularly impressed you? Or are you just here for a little R and R, the “final fling” before opening day?
There is a little of the “final fling” thing going on here, but for example, Alfonso’s never been to New York, but he’s worked at some of the best restaurants in Los Angeles. I thought it was important for him to see it here.

One of my goals in Los Angeles is to raise the bar a little, and I think it’s important to be able to show Alfonso how far it can go- it’s not just a glorified pizza place- that don’t cut it for me. If we keep pushing it, then it’s just going to get better.

We’re interested in the more casual-elegant places- we’re going to Joel Robuchon’s Atelier to eat tonight, because that is what I’m trying to bring to LA. It’s how you do fine dining, but keep it casual enough so that you can wear a t-shirt and jeans and come in and still get great, great, great, food. And you know, it’s also just to hit New York City one last time. For at least a year, I’m on lockdown. I’m going to be working every day, and we’re not going to surface for a while, and when we do, it’s going to be a whole different world for us. So I said to Alfonso, “let’s get out of town for a few days; let’s eat.” This town knows how to eat.

The Foundry on Melrose opens in March in Los Angeles.