A Sense of Sensibility | Gabriel Kreuther

27 May 2021
7 min read

With a nod to classic French, German and Austrian food within his cooking, Gabriel Kreuther – chef-owner of his eponymous 2-Michelin-starred restaurant in New York City – proves that there is still space for consistency and precision in fine-dining.

“From my earliest memories throughout my entire childhood, I always dreamed of becoming a chef.  And that’s what I did – I followed my dream”, states Daniel Kreuther, who considers his role as chef as second nature to him. And understandably so, as Daniel was raised on his family’s farm in a small village north of Strasbourg and understood from a young age that pure, quality ingredients matter. With fresh local produce and seasonal meat and fish being a staple in his household, Daniel was heavily involved in the preparation of family meals even as a child.

“My mother was an excellent cook as well as my uncles, one was a pastry chef/bakery owner, and the other owned a hotel restaurant in the nearby mountains where I spent 4 years as an apprentice.

“Later in my life when I needed to differentiate myself from everyone, I followed the advice of my closest friends and family that told me to look deeper into my heritage for inspiration. In the early stages of a chef’s career, when you work for someone, you’re cooking the food and practising the philosophy of someone else for good reasons: to learn the basics and gain the skills required to lead a team. It’s only by gaining experience that you polish your own style.

And this is exactly what he did. Daniel embarked upon stages in Michelin-starred restaurants across France, Switzerland and Germany in order for him to refine his skills in French cooking and develop a greater understanding of herbs, plants and other local ingredients that were native to the area. Having used these early years to create a solid foundation for himself, he then took the leap and moved to New York, in 1997, where he immersed himself in the fast-paced world of metropolitan fine-dining.

Daniel quickly made his mark on the NYC dining scene following his role in Midtown Manhattan’s famous La Caravelle, restaurant Atelier at the Ritz Carlton, as well as in the kitchens of fellow Alsatian chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s namesake restaurant, and The Modern. Nearly twenty years later, Daniel finally decided to create his own concept of fine dining and became chef-partner at his own eponymous 100-seat restaurant in 2015.

“I always had the vision of opening a restaurant one day, I was just not sure where and when. The concept took shape over time, once I figured out that I wanted to draw from my childhood and roots. After that, things took shape very quickly. The one important thing I really wanted is for people to feel comfortable and welcomed so that I can invite them into my world and curate their time with us.”

Located in the W.R Grace Building at 41 West 42nd Street, and looking out onto the beautiful Bryant Park in the heart of Midtown Manhattan, the Gabriel Kreuther restaurant has since become part of Relais & Chateaux and awarded with two Michelin Stars.

Drawing upon his time spent in New York and his Strasbourg heritage, Daniel combines classic French cooking with modern techniques and regional East Coast produce to create a luxurious and contemporary dining experience.

“My food philosophy is to stay authentic and cook with my heart.  Keep in touch with my roots and not be guided by silly food trends. The goal is to make people happy and make them discover a different style by pleasantly surprising them during their visit. I like to emotionally trigger something deep in their soul so that in some way they rediscover memories of their own.”

Designed by Glen & Co. Architecture, the restaurant offers guests an approachable dining environment set to an elegant backdrop of reclaimed wood, glass and stone detailing, and an impressive curved platinum ceiling.

“The restaurant is one of a kind here in the city; it has its own feel, character and soul. Our design is unconventional.  For instance, we used reclaimed timbers from an authentic barn in Vermont dating back to the 1800s. The bar seats have a modern feel, but the blueprint inspiration was the original farming chair from my region in Alsace, France. The lights in the lounge are inspired by streetlights in my town, Niederschaeffolsheim, a very small town in Alsace where I grew up.  The green tiles found in the elevator have been inspired by the cemented furnaces known as Kacheloffen in that region. The artwork hanging in the restaurant is from a very progressive artist, and friend, in Alsace. We are also using a very old pattern of wall covering that originated there as well.”

“What we’ve created is a serene environment.  An oasis of sorts, that transports people away from the hectic feel of the city.  We maximized our large windows to bring brightness to the place and instil a comfortable elegance where people can lose track of time enjoying themselves.  The idea is to not be too serious where guests can be the way they like to be in their own home.”

By creating an upscale modern farmhouse sensibility, Gabriel has not only kept the atmosphere of the restaurant grounded and sincere but also managed to aptly reflect the nostalgic element of his food.

Specialising in Alsatian food with American influences, guests can choose between the more casual, less expensive lunch menu and a large bar serving cocktails dedicated to the history of Bryant Park as well as smaller plates of Alsatian fare such as savoury kougelhoupf, country paté with homemade bread and pickle, and tartes falmbées with a variety of locally sourced toppings. In fact, the Zagat Guide named The Bar at Gabriel Kreuther to their selective list of the “Best Bar Food” in Manhattan, while renowned Grub Street named Gabriel Kreuther Bar as “The Absolute Best Bar Food” in New York City.

However, the tasting menus are where Daniel’s old-school training really comes into action and the culinary show begins. Guests in the dining room can choose between a Heritage or Carte Blanche Chef’s tasting menu, which consists of mouth-watering dishes such as Foie Gras terrine with pistachio praline, husk cherries, pear jam and a sweet potato pain d’epices; the infamous sturgeon and sauerkraut tart with Siberian caviar mousseline and applewood smoke; roasted dock to dish tilefish with local red grits, charred broccoli and Bouchot mussels and Greenwalk Hatchery Trout on a cedar plank with marinated kohlrabi, artichoke and a champagne sauce. Crafted around iconic ingredients, Gabriel and the kitchen team create imaginative dishes with traditional notes and an evolutionary vision.

“The creative process tends to have multiple facets.  One could be a childhood memory or a taste of a specific dish during a specific time.  Another is persistence and focus on a certain product to come up with something to surprise guests. It could include a challenge coming from a guest, or the team, like the Sauerkraut and Sturgeon tart that was a challenge from someone telling me to figure out a way to put sauerkraut on a fine dining menu.”

By combining local and seasonal produce, and paying homage to journey that Gabriel’s cooking has taken, the gastronomic experience is both a trip through the flavours of the Alsace and New York State.

“We are focused primarily on using local products.  We are not far away from great farmland in upstate NY, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. We are also privileged with a great fishing region, with Montauk and the entire Long Island shore a stone’s throw from New York City. We are part of a local fisherman program called Dock to Dish based out of Montauk.”

“Since we are a tasting menu only venue, the menu evolves constantly, but my favorite dishes tend to include caviar and truffles, as eating out is a festive act for me in general. I love the sturgeon and Sauerkraut tart, the trout dish, our hay smoked duck and our Foie Gras preparation.”

“Our aim is to create a cherished moment for the guest by curating an experience that will stay in their mind for a long time and share with them our passion for food and hospitality, serving them from our heart. In fact, our motto is ‘genuine passion and a relentless pursuit of excellence drive us to create an authentic and memorable experience.”

And this notion is clearly shared by critics and reviewers alike, as in just a few short years the restaurant has received numerous accolades and awards including, “Best New Restaurant of the Year” by New York’s Village Voice, the highly selective AAA 5 Diamond Award, 3 Stars from the NY Times, two Michelin Stars and named one of “The Best Restaurants in America” for The Daily Meal, Open Table, Gayot, Wine Enthusiast and Business Insider.

Highlighting originality and consistency and welcoming guests with familiarity and making them feel part of the family are some of the most important factors that have led to the success of his restaurant. It’s clear that Gabriel delivers a deliberate and curated experience for his diners.

“I feel that ‘classic’ fine dining is coming full circle and settling back in, as for a while it was fluctuating. It is now a time to go back to the essentials without any artifices. Sensibilities are returning and diners want to have a time that will transport them. The complete experience is more than just the venue, the senses are an essential part, and authenticity and sincerity are the keys to success. The art of the craft is making a big come back; people want to know how it’s made, where it comes from and if it’s sustainable and healthy.”

“There will always be a place for great food and younger generations want to learn more about where things come from. Understanding who’s providing the product is important. The commonality will be food that is produced responsibly and sustainably so that the following generations can continue to appreciate it. At the macro level, there are a lot of good things going on with sustainable products. Hopefully, the future will prompt industrial food giants to gain integrity by becoming more involved in this movement.”

In just five years Gabriel has shown that by embracing both old-school luxuries and global sensibilities, he has managed to maintain a high and consistent level of success within the competitive fine dining market. Using his culinary prowess and dedication to excellence, Gabriel has his finger firmly on the pulse of what creates a long-lasting impact within all of his projects.

“Our chocolate business, Kreuther Handcrafted Chocolate, is growing and we plan to open a commissary for production purposes. I’m working closely with The Baccarat Hotel New York as their Culinary Director, all while in the midst of completing and publishing a cookbook. This keeps us all busy! ”

“New opportunities will arise from time to time, but we want to really focus on what fits for us.  Quality is the first denominator in our progression and making sure we stay focused on educating a new generation of professionals.”

This editorial first appeared in FOUR’s 01.20 Edition.

Images © Eric Laignel