TNP: Are you inspired by other restaurateurs? If so, who?
CM: I was very inspired by reading Danny Meyer’s Setting the Table. That’s why I wanted to meet him. I don’t think very much about hospitality; for me it’s just about behaving, being kind and nice and present and just meeting people and showing them a good time when they are with you. I never had professional restrictions, instructions or expressions on what hospitality means, and there were so many good points in his book. To see a man like him creating such timeless projects is very inspiring. I get very inspired, not only by chefs, but also by meeting all types of people. You know, I’m not too “busy,” because when you’re busy, you don’t listen. When you get grounded in some sort of meeting, and you have nothing to do but to listen and you don’t need to answer emails on the fly, then life becomes more interesting.
TNP: What’s something you wish you could tell your younger self? Something you know now that you wish you knew then.
CM: You’re okay.
TNP: Tell me a little bit about what you’re opening in Grand Central Terminal in 2016 and what we can expect. How is opening here different from Copenhagen?
CM: It will be an upscale brassiere and a food hall. So the food hall will be in Vanderbilt Hall, and the brassiere will be in an adjacent room. Vanderbilt Hall, of course, will be a reflection of who I am and where I come from, as well as it’s location [in New York City]. We will definitely team up with local producers and do stuff here much more than importing stuff. But that being said, the restaurant in Bolivia, Gustu, represents Bolivian broad views. I hope that Americans expect me to bring real flavors and real products from Scandinavia to the hall, but the far majority of what we will be doing will be based on local projects. But of course, the flavor profile and the recipes will be rooted in my region, in what I’ve been doing so far in my life. I have a couple of small surprises up my sleeve.
TNP: So what are your favorite cities for food and your favorite restaurants in each?
CM: New York, obviously. I haven’t traveled and eaten in any other city – apart from Paris – as much as New York and I’ve had so much good food. I’m really sincerely impressed by the quality of the food here. I am almost frightened – like, how can I have any sort of success in this city with so many great chefs and so much good food? So New York definitely, and Singapore. I’ve been to Singapore many times and the quality of food there in all of the food courts is really amazing. Paris is booming again, and a lot of informal eateries are going up, but I would say my favorites are New York, Singapore, and Lima.
Food in Copenhagen is stunning. We’ve heard that the Michelin guys are a little more generous in New York than they are in Scandinavia. There is so much good food in that city. All these restaurants have spit out so many great apprentices and chefs; there’s so much well-trained talent. It’s like a talent fabric.
TNP: Why do you think that Noma is still considered the best restaurant in the world?
CM: First of all, because the food is very, very good. That is one reason. The second reason is the hospitality part. It has a very personal way of receiving people and giving them a good time. It’s very informal, like it was intended, but it’s been refined by René throughout the years. One of the ideas in the beginning was a family style, fine dining setting. The last part is that René has been very good at remaining relevant to the world. He has been very good at preserving some sort of relevance, and being larger than just a restaurant with a lot of good food. He has made the restaurant take on an almost universal role. He’s out there defending Danish. I hope that one day he will say, “Claus, you taught me something.”
TNP: In the same vein as the ’new black,’ what is the new potato in the hospitality industry?
CM: I think the new thing is the concept of launching, and starting a conversation at the bottom of the pyramid. That is what I am very preoccupied with. I think that many chefs are learning from what we did in the Nordic region; this idea of not just doing great things with other rich people in nice cities, or in beautiful hotels, but to reach out to the bottom of the pyramid (without compromising anything), whether it be a prison, a poor neighborhood, or an unknown food destination.
The new black sounds like it’s some sort of superficial trend, but I don’t see my answer as a superficial trend. I hate trends. I met someone the other day and they said, “I’m always following trends.” Following trends? What the hell is that? I think you have to live your life in the right way. Don’t follow fucking trends.
*Claus Meyer, photographed at Maialino in New York, NY by Danielle Kosann.