4/20/2012 02:59:00 PM

Chef Richard Diamonte Talks Ken & Cook, Opening Tonight in The Former Travertine Space

The Travertine space reopens tonight as Ken & Cook 
For the last two nights, the former Travertine space at 19 Kenmare Street in Nolita, was abuzz with VIPs including media elite Jason Binn, Peter Davis, Lucy Skyes and Euan Rellie, super-agent Jon Rosen, fashion heavies Terry Lundgren and Fern Mallis, and chef John DeLucie, gathered to celebrate its reincarnation as Ken and Cook, and sample the food of Richard Diamonte. Both the chef and managing partner Artan Gjoni come from the world of Jean-Georges Vongerichten – Diamonte as executive sous chef at the four-star establishment in Trump International, and Gjoni as manager at Mercer Kitchen. The room looks a bit more McNally – a warm bistro glow with leather banquettes, polished brass and glass doors. We caught up with Diamonte on day two of his tastings and he shared his thoughts about the new restaurant.

Zagat: What is exciting you about Ken and Cook?

Richrd Diamonte: The freedom. I worked for Jean-Georges for eight years, and it got me where I am, but I was always cooking Jean-Georges food. Here it’s my vision.

Z: And what is that vision?

RD: I want to do something a bit more casual; to cook for my peers. I used to look around the dining room and it was a very select group of people.

Z: The prices are casual and the room is relaxed, but the dishes are still sophisticated.

RD: I want this to be more accessible, but my team comes from fine dining. The ingredients are serious and we have all learned high-end techniques.

Z: Where do you source the ingredients?

RD: 70 percent of our produce is from Union Square Market and we also use Satur Farms on Long Island. For oysters, I like Island Creek from Massachusetts. They have six to eight kinds of east coast varieties and they are honest; they will tell you what they like. It’s really a relationship.

Z: What are your favorite dishes on the menu?

RD: I’m really into the squid with Greek yogurt, fingerling potatoes, mint and chili. I also love the monkfish which is pan roasted; basted with a little butter and thyme and served with grilled fennel and a touch of fennel pollen.

Z: We've noticed that all your pastas have a little element of crunch.

RD: Yes, I like the texture. I put toasted breadcrumbs on the papardelle with veal, fried clams and the linguini and pine nuts with the fettuccini and roasted cauliflower.

Z: Where did you come up with that last dish?

RD: Every Saturday at Jean Georges, the chefs would cook for each other. I just made that with chicken stock and a drop of butter one night and everybody liked it.

Z: The flavors in general taste very fresh.

RD: I’m not a big spice guy. I use a lot of fresh herbs, citrus juices and vinaigrettes to bring that out.

Z: What was the best thing about the last two nights?

RD: It sounds lame, but I am 31 and this is my first restaurant. After spending so much time in this space the last few months, it was a rush to peek out of the kitchen at 9:30 and see the room full of people eating.

-Beth Landman


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