2004_10_igelinas.jpgThe Essentials
- Name: Paul Theodore Gelinas
- Age: 23
- Neighborhood: Chelsea
- Originally from: Brooklyn
- Number of years in New York: 23 (-2 in China)
- Profession: Designer/Restaurant Owner

The Essay Questions

You spent part of this summer and fall living La Dolce Vita in Milan designing for Fashion Week and an Italian villa. Describe it so Gothamist – who summers in Brooklyn, thanks – can live vicariously through you.
I was hired by the gourmet wing of Barilla (the pasta company) to design an exhibition and restaurant for the 2,000 journalists covering Fashion Week. It was the largest stand at the event and it turned out to be one of those things where you have incredibly high hopes for yourself, you watch sadly as the budget gets cut and cut, you're left with a tiny piece of what you began with, and then you're really happily surprised at how well that little piece works. In this case, the original concept was to have a 50-seat-long bar with 10 huge blank canvasses hung on a wall behind the chefs with a painter--the excellent Beijing-based Miguel Payano--rushing to complete a painting a day for the ten days of the event. People would watch this gifted guy paint as they eat and speak with the chefs about the food they are preparing and leave excited to come back the next day to see what the painter is up to next. The final product involved one giant canvas behind a smaller bar with Miguel on a huge pedestal working on the same piece for the whole event. Chefs came from behind the canvas to serve the journalists personally and to discuss Barilla food with them. Every seat in the house had a great view of the painting that was slowly revealing itself over the course of Fashion Week.

The Villa renovation is a work in progress. I was asked, with my partner, Jeewon Paek, to re-program an 18th Century villa for Barilla; they want to turn it into a museum, private restaurant, and gastronomic library. This project is really interesting because the villa is protected by preservation laws and so there's very strict rules on what we can and can't do and it is a fun ongoing challenge to figure out to work with a smaller arsenal of options than we are used to working with.

What about set design appeals to you?
Working on plays and musicals is my favorite activity because people who make theater tend to be incredibly invested in their work. The setting elevates and glorifies the action of a play in the same way the courthouse elevates the law or the skyscraper glorifies the banker. So for me, the set is an integral part of the charade (and the part that has the least to do with actors...).

Could you answer some questions on the installations you’ll be doing for Governor's Island – namely, “What installations?” and “Why Governor’s Island?”
I can't really talk about that yet.

You left college for a year and a half to open a restaurant in China (!). How did that opportunity come about?
After freshman year, I went off to China (I'd spent summers and my last year of high school in Beijing studying Chinese). My plan, if it can be called that, was to make it from Hong Kong to Beijing in 3 months on two hundred dollars. I'd arrive in a city, hopefully stay with people I'd meet on the train or bus, and cook for them in exchange for a place to sleep. I stayed in train barracks, parks, elderly homes, hospitals, all types of weird old buildings... It got pretty absurd. When I finally got to Beijing, I was really out of resources, but the husband-and-wife owners of a cafe called Diaoke Shiguang (Literally: Sculpting Time, after Andrei Tarkovsky's book, "Sculpting in Time") agreed to let me spend nights in their cafe. I became close with them and their staff and it was great. It was a beautiful space in an old part of Beijing; instead of decorating the walls, they installed bookshelves from floor to ceiling and from wall to wall and they just had thousands of magazines, photos, manuals, encyclopedias, diaries, letters and books laying around, and people would just sit there, drink coffee, chat, and, on weekends, watch great films.

When I went back to Columbia at the end of August, I really missed it and two years later, when I was really distracted and not doing so well in school, I REALLY missed it, so I went back to Beijing, and worked out a way to open a new place with them, which I would design. The final product is a four-story building with a bookshop, the restaurant, Speakeasy (a foreign language school inside of the cafe), and an antique shop. It was a collaboration between four of us-- myself, the couple, a Taiwanese genius (named Nell), and another American, who is to this day still in charge of Speakeasy.

You attended St. Ann's, so what's your take on Founding Headmaster Stanley Bosworth?
Saint Ann's is great against all odds and it’s his baby, so I can't really hold all that stuff against him. Plus, I think he's hilarious.

Gratuitous Q & A

Favorite subway station?
125th on the 1/9. It's elevated and wobbles when the trains arrive and depart.

Rudest obscenity yelled at you?
(Not NYC) I was walking around in Santa Fe two summers ago and someone driving by yelled, "get a car, you fucking hippie!"

Funniest NY Post headline?
"Yanks Slaughtered in Desert!" published days after the start of the war in Afghanistan, but referring, of course, to a Yankees game in Arizona. (I think it was the Post...)

You get to be Bloomberg for a Day. What do you change
Scrap the Ground Zero proposal and try again.

What do you do while riding the subway?
Read and hope for coincidences (like running into people I was just thinking about).

Whose face should be put on the Statue of Liberty?
Jeewon Paek's.

What attractions would you recommend for visiting enemies?
Showtime at the Apollo, South St. Seaport.

Best bargain in the city?
Lately, it's the hot dogs at the Chinatown bus. Honorable mentions: the software dealers on Canal and the TKTS booth.

First the smoking ban. What's next
Cell phone jamming.

Best place for a first date
Brooklyn Heights promenade.

Best place for a break-up?
Columbia University, the steps of Low Library.

New York's best-kept secret?
Governor's Island.

Have you ever been mugged here? If so, what’s the story?
Twice in middle school. Once by two fat kids with a dull knife. They got four dollars. Once by a really old man in the Prince St. station who wanted my watch, but he was talked out of it by a nice old lady bystander.

Interview by C. Mason Wells