As Chris Cannon, formerly a partner in Convivio and Alto, prepares to return to Manhattan this fall with a new restaurant called All'onda, Eater wondered what was on his mind. In a market crowded with salumi boards, how will this new venture fit in or stand out? To get some perspective, we asked Chris:
What's the difference between All'onda and every other Italian restaurant in New York?
I would say that I'm involved [laughter]. No that's bullshit. I think we're taking...effectively, what we're trying to do is take Venetian cuisine that's always been a cuisine that is a meeting point of a number of different cultures — as most cuisine actually in Italy is — and Venetian cuisine has always been a meeting point with Eastern cuisine and culture. I think that what we are trying to do is basically take Venetian cuisine and a lot of seafood cuisine in Venice and take a very sophisticated Japanese lens and apply it to traditional Italian cuisine. So, I would say that you take a traditional dish and really not changing the basic components of traditional Italian cuisine, but changing in the sense that you're taking the same ingredients and treating them a little bit differently and making them more modern, more interesting.
Chris Jaeckle spent three or four years at Morimoto and I think that that has affected his vision in terms of food more dramatically than anything else in his career. He worked at Eleven Madison Park. He worked at Ai Fiori. He worked here and there. We've spent a lot of time talking and Italian cuisine and Japanese cuisine are very similar in terms of their philosophical approach towards food, which is to approach food with the sense that great product, basically, you don't need to do much to it to make it amazing. You need to take it and push it in one direction or the other to make it beautiful.
In my career... I've been spent 30 years in Italian restaurants, or whatever. There is a huge respect and cross cultural, basically intellectual back-and-forth between Japan and Italy. To me, it's something very interesting and they're two cuisines that I think are my favorites in the world and the same thing for the chef. We think that there is a huge amount of very interesting food that can come out of, not blending it in some kind of... what did they used to call it? Fusion cuisine. No, it's not fusion cuisine. It's taking some of the intellectual knowledge and approach towards food of the two different cultures and applying them to traditional Italian flavors and thoughts and creating something more refined and more interesting and something that I think because it's so natural, will resonate with customers. Is that a good enough answer?
Yep, that's great. And how do you see the wine side fitting into that?
Well, you know, I look at the restaurant and the approach towards the food is very natural and is shying away from the Veneto side of doing big Amarone and Valpolicella and red wines and heavy stuff and whatever. It's more going towards Soave and Prosecco and sparkling wines. And, you know, with Osteria Morini I really started looking at sparkling wine in Northern Italy, and I think it is a really unbelievably beautiful thing to mine and explore. There are so many different grapes, you know, in the sparkling wines from Northern Italy. Basically, sparkling wine today is pigeon-holed into being Champagne or not Champagne. Yeah, Prosecco can be very simple and not compelling at all. But then there are so many more compelling sparkling wines that are really interesting from Verdicchio, from Nebbiolo, from Malvasia, from Lambrusco. There's actually, when you start digging into it, more than you can possibly imagine. And all those wines, people don't take them seriously as sparkling wines. To me, they're inexpensive, really interesting, and fun to drink. Like I had a bottle of Erpacrife recently. The wine is brilliant. Fricking 2008 is unbelievable how good it is. Fantastic. I had it with crostini with tomato and lardo on top. And it was just friggin' phenomenal. It was awesome.
To me it's like... you know my philosophy on wine. There are wines that are fresh and young and great that have substance to them, that are serious, that are also easy to drink and people who don't know wine can love them and people who love wine can be totally amped by them. And I think sparkling wine is at a point now where, you look at Spain, you look at Cava and there are Cavas that are just unbelievable now. And I think sparkling wine's coming to a point where I think it's one of the next big things. And the wine, not that I'm a faddist, but I think it's been disrespected. I want to take a position and say, "Hey, these wines go great with this kind of food which is very elegant, simple, and clean. These wines go perfect with it." I think when you do a wine list you have to take a point of view.
Why the Veneto? Where did that focus come from?
Where did it come from? I think that the Veneto is, in terms of Italy, it's a very interesting place because it was a port that basically brought in so many of these things that are taken for granted in Italy. All these spices and different things that came in through the Veneto. And, basically, it was multicultural and if you want to take a multicultural approach towards Italian food, especially with a focus on seafood, the Veneto is probably the best place to start. If you really explore curry, it came through there. And tomatoes came through there, and potatoes came through there, rice came through there. Everything came through there. Not that the restaurants there in the Veneto are the best in Italy right now. They're not. Within Venice no, because it's actually very touristic, but outside of it there are very great restaurants. I think a real approach towards Italian food is a multicultural one. In the past in New York it's been like this regional, kind of faux Tuscan food with this, that, and the other, and that's all bullshit. Tuscan was just an easy way for Americans to do California cuisine, grilling meat, doing whatever. "Oh, it's Tuscan food? That's great."
When it comes down to it, if you look at Italian cuisine and you understand Italian cuisine — from Sicily up to the North to the Veneto or wherever — it's all cuisine of an empire. It's all cuisine that is entirely multicultural and that's absorbed flavors and attitudes from a thousand different cultures. And it's all there in Italy. You go up North and it's Bollito di Manzo, which is Tafelspitz. Wiener schnitzel is veal Milanese. If you go down south you have couscous alla Trapanese which is from North Africa. You go to Venice and they do fricking curry. It's from all over the world. Because there was a Roman Empire. It was absorbing from everywhere. I hope that eventually... you know, I opened up Alto 10 years ago, and people said, "Oh, the food is German." It wasn't German. It was basically Italian food, from the north. That's what it is there. It's Spätzle. It's Tafelspitz. Cabbage. It is what it is. That's Northern Italian food. In Trentino they serve you a pilaf with curry and you're like, "Is this from here?" And then you actually start thinking about it. Yes, it is from here. This is what they have been serving for 300 years, 400 years. Because curry came there 700 years ago. And they like it and they serve it there. And you're like, "Is this Italian food?" Yeah, it is actually some Italian food. It's what it is. It's what they do.
Everyone has kind of preconceived ideas about what Italian food is... there's more to it than people think. It's a very open, very dynamic food culture that absorbs a lot of different things into their cuisine, and there's been a lot of cross referencing with Japan. Veneto has a whole lot of rice and seafood, literally. Think about it. You think crudo came from Italy? Forget it. Crudo came from Japan. Italian is a cuisine with progression and change. But the most important thing is that the philosophy of the food is to take great product and treat it with respect and love and simplicity and make something great.
How did you first meet All'onda chef Chris Jaeckle?
I met him the first time when I was finishing up with my ex-partners at Ai Fiori. Chris Jaeckle was a very respected person who was very talented, and on the street the word was that he was an incredibly gifted guy. Michael [White] hired him and I think Chris is very intuitive and understands food really well. He did a really good job with the French-Italian menu. Afterwards, after I finished up with Michael and whatever, I hooked up with Chris on LinkedIn and it was one of those things where we hooked up and we accepted each other and all of a sudden it was like why don't we have lunch? Basically to see what the other is doing, you know, compare notes. It ended up that six months later he was like, "Oh, I'm doing this restaurant would you like to consult on it?" and I was like, "Cool. Great. No problem." And I spent enough time with him that I really understood that he had a great point of view about food. The guy is an extremely talented chef and has a lot of technical chops.
When do you expect All'onda to open to the public?
I would say third week in October.
And who's the owner?
The owners are Chris Jaeckle and Mr. Chodorow.
How formal will the restaurant be?
I would say we're trying to make it a place that is kind of a Brooklyn restaurant in Manhattan, you know? Laid-back sophisticated. Classically Italian, in the sense that the food is not overwrought or overthought. Service wise, from what's open in New York, it's kind of like Charlie Bird, but a little less self-aware.
You've opened Italian restaurants that had strong listings for both French wines and Italian wines on the same list. Is that something you're planning on doing this time?
We are limited by the space constraints there. I'm pretty much gonna keep it Italian, because then I can keep it at 150 wines at the most. In my point of view, there's no use in going to different countries and stuff because there is so much to mine out of what we are doing that there's no point in going anywhere else.
And what's the plan for wine by the glass? Anything special going on there? Any special formats?
We're bringing in a couple of wines from the Veneto on tap. We're going have a Garganega and Corvina by the glass on tap that are really good and that will be served very fresh. And then I will probably have four or five sparkling wines by the glass and a bunch of whites and reds and interesting stuff. I think the whole point of the restaurant is to give people something fresh and little bit different from what's out there because I think the Italian idiom has been so explored in a certain manner that there is really nothing new to that. And, not that we think we're revolutionizing the world, but it's basically taking a different perspective on it and taking the strengths of who's working at the restaurant to present something different and very personal.
If you look back in three years and feel like you have accomplished what you wanted to accomplish, what would that look like?
Honestly, everything I'm doing now — I'm doing this and I'm doing a New Jersey project — I only do stuff that I believe in, that I believe can be really interesting and different and successful. The most important thing is to provide customers with a fun experience that is unique, that is fresh, that is an experience that they will want to experience again and again and again. You know, come back to the restaurant and enjoy it again, and I think that's something that I've impressed upon Chris, the other Chris.
He can be a great chef and everything, but the most important thing is that your food resonates with people in the sense that it's fun, that it's interesting, that it is something that you want to try again. You know, you want to come back.
One of the great things about the location of the restaurant is that we're a block away from the greenmarket. It's going to be a very seasonal, farm to table, whatever you want to call it, without making that a political statement. It's just like, "Hey, we're going to bring it in." We're going to change the menu and have a good time with it. And we're going do it in this way. I think it's going to be interesting. And I think people in New York are going to think it's interesting.
Do you anticipate the wine list being somewhat seasonal?
No, not really. I think that seasonal wine lists — well what does that mean? I always try to think about the food and pair the wine to go with it and it's hard. And New York is the biggest wine market in the world. If you make a wine list that encompasses everything, you end up a rudderless ship. There's no position. You have the advantage in New York, because there's so much wine, you can take an area or a specialty of wine and you can explore it fully, better than anywhere in the world. And if you believe, as I believe, that what you're doing is appropriate with the food, you can create something very interesting.
There is a personal expression of what you believe goes well with the food, takes a point of view, explores something fully in an interesting way where people say, "Hey, I've never really thought about this kind of wine this way and wow, it's great." But the most important thing is not to pontificate, but to present it in a way where people get it. They'll sit there and they'll try a bunch of stuff and they'll say, "Hey I didn't realize those wines could be great." To me it's about presenting it in way where people have a sense of discovery and understanding when they experience it. "This is a great wine, and this is great." That's what you want.
Listen: No one can sell sparkling Italian wines. Franciacorta? Doesn't sell. And it's not because the wines are bad. It's because people don't showcase it, or present it in the right way. Everything can be great if you put it in the right perspective and put it in the right position to sell it. Are they always my favorite wines in the world? No. My favorite wines in the world I can't afford. But, then again, I also love today what you can taste out there. That's the thing about wine. If you really love wine you're open to anything. You sit there and you just wait, you let it hit you, and you say, "Hey, this is great." What happened when I did Osteria Morini, with the sparkling Lambrusco and sparkling Malvasia, they opened my eyes to a whole different way of thinking. To thinking about lightly sparkling wine being great with food.
If you've been in the business of Italian wine for a long time, the coastal whites 40 years ago were all vivace. They were all a little bit sparkling. But they eliminated that because they thought that the international marketplace wouldn't accept it. And they lost something there. I think a lot of Italian food goes great with that kind of slightly sparkling stuff that's very simple and fresh and clean. I'm not trying to shovel it down people's throats. I'm just saying, "Hey, have a good time. Enjoy yourself. And these are wines that are on the list for like $40, $50, and you can have a good time with them." That's what food and wine are about, having a good time. The most important thing in the world is just having a good time around a bottle of wine and great food. When you start taking it too seriously? who needs that? You want to go to church? Forget it.
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