Photograph by Shimon and Tammar
Got a minute? Chef Laurent Gras, of Chicago's L2O, opens up about his new restaurant and explains why a recession can be the best time to eat out.
Q: This is the first restaurant you've co-owned. Have there been any surprises since opening last May?
A: It's going pretty well, besides the fact that the economy is hard. We're not doing well enough, but nobody is. Business is very hard all over the country.
Q: How do high-end restaurants like yours survive during a recession?
A: It's hard for us to cut back prices. Everything is becoming expensive. In fine dining, people expect something very pristine. You can't do sales, like "30 percent off for three months." It's really a good time to go out. All restaurateurs are giving their best, for people to enjoy the experience. The trend is being flexible to people's requests.
Q: For you, what constitutes a great meal?
A: Seafood is the definition of fine dining, more than steaks or vegetables. It's luxurious, it's very pristine, it's clean. It's also lean, and diet is very important to people. You have a lot of seafood, you feel good about yourself. You don't feel heavy.
Q: What did you hope to bring to the Chicago culinary scene?
A: Comfort. It was key for the dining room, for the kitchen design. And we work with DJ Timka, a DJ at Buddha Bar in New York, on music. He's making about 50 to 100 songs for us every three months.
Q: Do you follow any cooking TV shows or websites?
A: I just watch cycling on TV, sometimes a movie. Food is what I love to do, and I don't dig too much into books, websites, and things like that. It's more about inspiration, research, and communicating with people.
Q: You've worked in New York, San Francisco, and Chicago. What makes fine dining in these cities unique?
A: Chicago and San Francisco are very similar in terms of the restaurant scene and the sophistication of the diner. Chicago has more money to spend than San Francisco, so it's a better place to be doing business. It's hard to compare New York to any other city in the country. It's a great city, and it has a very special energy that you can't find anywhere else. Ryan Wenzel