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Chef Charlie Palmer is one of North America’s best-known culinary figures, regarded as a pioneer in the farm-to-table movement. Raised in Upstate New York, he splits his time now between California and Manhattan, where his restaurants include Aureole and Charlie Palmer at The Knick.
We asked the chef about his career, his bi-coastal life, and his New York recommendations.
It’s almost 30 years since Aureole first opened on the UES. At that time, did you have any idea just how far-reaching your restaurants would become?
When I first opened Aureole in 1988, I knew we had something special. The food was progressive, and we opened in a down economic time and it still prevailed. It’s hard to say that I knew how far we would go, but I’ve definitely always been driven.
You’re a pioneer for progressive, farm to table cuisine in America. How has that movement changed over the years?
Back in the River Cafe and early Aureole days, people just weren’t choosing farm over factory food. Now it’s so commonplace; everything is farm to table. At the end of the day it’s an incredible thing though—everyone thinks much more about what they’re eating and putting into their bodies. We look at food differently and I feel pretty fortunate to have been part of that change.
Is it true that a bribe led you on your path to become a chef?
I wouldn’t say a bribe; it was more of a challenge. Someone challenged me that I couldn’t take Home-Ec. Imagine myself and 5 other football players in there.
You moved to the West Coast in 2002. What do you miss, if anything, about living in NYC?
It’s true that my family and I moved to Healdsburg in Sonoma County in 2002, but we always kept an apartment here, and I spend half my time in NYC. It’s really the best of both worlds. All four of my boys are now here in school or working so I find myself drawn to NYC even more these days.
When you’re here, do you have a New York tradition you always do?
I’m a bit of a workaholic, so when I’m here I’m usually in the restaurants. Lisa (my wife) and I like to see shows, we catch brunch with the kids, we’ll go to the movies. I run most mornings – I like to explore different downtown neighborhoods each time.
You have eight restaurants here in NYC. When you’re not eating at one of them, where are some of your favorite spots to eat?
We live in Greenwich Village here in the city, so my regular spots are pretty close to home. I’ve been going to the East Village outpost of Ippudo for pork buns and the akamaru modern ramen since it opened in 2008. For a neighborhood drink, I’ll hit up the bar Analogue on 8th street with my kids from time to time. For one of the best Italian meals around, Crispo’s been a regular spot for me for over a decade, especially the pork shank….plus I like to pay Frank a visit as much as possible. And for a late night bite and drink after a long day in the restaurant, I’ll go to Bar Sardine or Corner Bistro on my way home, that is if I don’t stop for one at Crimson & Rye.