The Best of London Comes to New York: Chef Michael Hartnell of Le Caprice
Luxist had the opportunity to talk to rising star chef, Michael Hartnell, Executive Head Chef at Le Caprice, the fashionable Martin Brudnizki-designed restaurant in Manhattan's Pierre Hotel overlooking Central Park. The 28 year old wunderkind is known for his creative and modern European dishes.
Hartnell has worked for the Caprice Holdings Group for the past six years; prior to opening Le Caprice in New York, he was Head Chef at Daphne's in South Kensington, London.
Le Caprice, which opened in October 2009, is the American outpost of the famous London brasserie that shares the same name.
Luxist: Tell us about your background?
I was born in West London and grew up on the outskirts of London. My big opportunity came at the age of 15 when I did my work experience with my brother at The Ivy in London's West End. After finishing school, I completed my apprenticeship there and at other restaurants including Daphne's in South Kensington where I eventually became Head Chef at age 26 and Locande Locatelli, which is a One Star Michelin Italian Restaurant owned by Giorgio Locatelli.
Luxist: How does Le Caprice reflect your personality and vision as a chef?
Le Caprice embodies everything I love about food: its simple, well-produced and well executed. There is something on the menu for everyone's taste and that is a good reflection of myself. I'm not a complicated cook that likes to over elaborate on dishes, but what we do is done with a lot of passion. I aim to produce simple food using the best produce possible in sync with the seasons.
Luxist: Describe the menu offerings at Le Caprice in New York. What are the specialties? How often will the menu change? Describe your seasonal fare.
Chef Hartnell: We have Breakfast, Brunch, Lunch, Dinner and Bar menus. We have weekly changing specials and we also tweak the a la carte menu on a weekly basis to keep the menu as seasonal as possible. At the moment we are using fantastic fava beans, peas and artichokes. One of my favorite things right now is King Salmon, which we get from Washington State.
Luxist: Where do your ingredients come from? Are many local? Organic?
Chef Hartnell: I try to source local produce. During the spring, we used only Jersey asparagus. This summer we have been sourcing local strawberries and blueberries. I have started to work with Basis, who links up local farms in New York State with restaurants in the city; which is a fantastic concept.
Luxist: Tell us about the prix fixe lunch & dinner special that will run during Restaurant Week. What will the menu items include? Why did Le Caprice make the decision to participate this year?
Chef Hartnell: Le Caprice is participating in NYC Restaurant Week for the first time. We will be offering lunch ($24.07 for three course prix fixe) and dinner ($35 for three course prix fixe) menus which include Signature Caprice dishes such as the Mixed Beets Salad and Chicken Milanese as well as New York Specialties such as the Caprice Burger. Restaurant Week will run until Labor Day. Restaurant Week gives everyone the opportunity to visit the restaurant to experience our Signature and New York specialties if they have not already done so!
Luxist: I understand Le Caprice is quickly becoming a hot destination for power breakfasts. The location is unbeatable and the food and surroundings are exceptional.
Chef Hartnell: Le Caprice's Breakfast Menu is the largest menu we have in New York. Generally, guests know what they want to order before coming in and we try our best to cater to everyone's needs. We are always happy to cook what ever the guest orders. The menu includes a few classics such as the Corned Beef Hash with Duck Egg and Eggs Benedict, which I just cannot resist in the morning!
Luxist: Describe some of your bar's signature cocktails.
Chef Hartnell: Our New York outpost recently introduced the first Signature Cocktail. Included on the menu are signature drinks such as Gabriel's Martini and the Ginger Caprice. Right now we have a few Summer cocktails on the menu which include a light and refreshing Raspberry Mojito and the Amalfi Martini - made with fresh lemon puree.
Luxist: How often will there be live music in the restaurant? I know there is a piano in the bar area.
Chef Hartnell: We have a pianist during the early part of the evening, when the restaurant is a little quieter. Once the restaurant is in full swing, the live music stops. Because of the shape of the room, the piano acoustics does not travel well through the space, getting somewhat 'lost' and 'muddy'. We allow the food to take over at this point!
Luxist: Who are some of your well-known regular customers?
Chef Hartnell: Some of our regulars include Anna Wintour and Glenda Bailey but we treat everyone with the same service whether you are a celebrity or not. Donald Trump and family were in recently, so you never know who will be dining.
Luxist: How many tables are there in the restaurant? How many people can it accommodate? How many at the bar?
Chef Hartnell: Le Caprice seats 80 persons in the dining room with 16 at the bar area.
Luxist: Is there a separate bar menu, or is the menu the same as for the table service?
Chef Hartnell: We have a Bar menu that is lighter bites, but the full a la carte menu is available at bar during service time.
Luxist: Describe your wine list. How many options? From what parts of the world? All different price points?'
Chef Hartnell: Le Caprice's wine list features 35-40 whites and a similar number of reds. We also offer a small selection of Rose's and Champagne choices. Guests are able to select European wines from small producers whose focus is quality rather than quantity and who release small parcels to the US. We also enjoy featuring smaller boutique producers from the US who likewise focus on the craft of their wine making rather than the status of their labels. In this way we hope to foreground the work of similarly minded wine makers across the world. We are keen to offer great value wines from some lesser known producers and to maintain a guest focused pricing structure. Value to our guests and the voyage of discovery is our priority.
Luxist: How would you like me to describe the decor of the restaurant? Art-Deco chic? It is a beautiful space.
Chef Hartnell: Martin Brudnizki used a palette of black and white marble and leather Venetian upholstering to create the art deco feel. He chose to display shots of Jean Shrimpton from the 1960's, shot by famed photographer David Bailey to complete the look.
Luxist: I understand you are young (though quite experienced) to hold such a prestigious position. How is your youth an advantage? Are you more innovative, or maybe more of a risk-taker than many of your older peers?
Chef Hartnell: Being young has its advantages as I am still learning new techniques and skills. Both Jonathon Waxman and Tim Hughes who have been great mentors. I am constantly thinking of what I can try next in the kitchen. I do not want to become pigeon-holed in any specific cuisine because I truly enjoy updating the menu to feature new dishes.
Le Caprice is located in the Pierre Hotel at 795 Fifth Avenue in New York. The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, seven days a week, with bar dining and cocktails available from midday. Weekend brunch from 11.30am to 4pm Saturday and Sunday. It is open for lunch from 12 pm to 3 pm Monday through Friday; dinner is served from 5:30 pm to 11:30 pm. On weekends, brunch is served from 11:30 am to 4 pm. To make a reservation, call (212) 940-8195 or book online at Open Table.