As reported this morning, Ronny Emborg will take over the kitchen at Atera when chef Matthew Lightner leaves next month to pursue his "own thing." In light of that news, Eater spoke with Emborg, to hear what's in store for the acclaimed Tribeca tasting counter, and what sorts of changes to expect from the new chef.
While Emborg is probably unknown to most New Yorkers, the 32 year-old Danish chef has won wide acclaim in Europe. He is the 2007 Danish chef of the year, and his resume includes time at El Bulli, and as the private chef for Margrethe II, Queen of Denmark. He earned a Michelin star at Restaurant AOC in Copenhagen, and currently (until next month) is the executive chef at Restaurant Marchal in the Hotel d’Angleterre. He is also the author of The Wizard, a cookbook that introduces his concept of the "sensory kitchen" where a "guest must use both eyes, ears, nose and taste during the meal."
Emborg was selected by Atera owner Jodi Richard from three candidates, all of whom cooked a dinner for her in her home here in NYC. According to Richard, Emborg was the obvious choice to succeed Lightner, because they share a "culinary DNA." The two chefs do share a similar aesthetic and sensibility, both being classically trained and at the vanguard of the Nordic movement.
"I am Nordic chef who cooks with local ingredients," Emborg tells Eater. But at Atera he will also look further afield than purely local, and "will not hide" the fact that he is using imported ingredients. The chef already has a general vision for the menu, although it is far from being written. He says the kitchen staff at Atera, all of whom are being retained, will be "involved creatively" in developing the new menu, and once the restaurant is up and running, he plans on holding workshops with the staff on a weekly basis, to foster further creativity.
Remarkably, though he and Lightner know each other, Emborg has never eaten at Atera, and never will, since it will close before he arrives in the States. He has, however, eaten at Per Se, Eleven Madison Park, WD-50 and Blue Hill (although not Blue Hill at Stone Barns, which he is "looking forward" to visiting). But don't expect his cooking to resemble any of those restaurants. When asked which he felt closest to spiritually, his reply was curt: "I am not close to them, I will use a lot more vegetables and a lot more raw flavors. Classic preparation, but with a Nordic twist, with the lightness and rawness." The chef will also add juices to the menu, both incorporated into the cocktail program, and as a possible pairing option in place of wine. Expect, he says, drinks like a toasted hay and anise soda.
According to both chef and owner, the price point will remain the same, even though the menu is being completely re-written. That means dinner will still cost $225, plus $165 for the wine pairing, $325 for the reserve pairing, and $55 for the "tea progression." The meal is also expected to run around the same length of time. Emborg says he has not yet decided whether he will continue to serve an a la carte menu in the downstairs lounge, where Lightner currently serves an excellent burger, among other things. But both the lounge and the dining room are being remodeled during the changeover, so the downstairs space may well be repurposed.
When asked if he is used to cooking in front of his guests, as he will be doing at the counter only Atera, he admits that "it is a lot more open that I am used to, but I am OK with that." Lightner’s last service will be on March 28, the restaurant will then close until April 21 at which time Emborg will debut his menu.