8/20/2012 12:55:00 PM

Chef Katy Sparks Speaks About The New Tavern on the Green

Last week the news was announced that landmark restaurant Tavern on the Green finally has a new operator: the Emerald Green Group of Philadelphia, which owns Beau Monde and L’Etage in the City of Brotherly Love. This week it was anounced that there may be some hiccups with the deal, but all signs point to it going through.

That’s a good thing, because the other big news is that for the first time in the restaurant’s history, a female chef will preside over the kitchen. That chef is Katy Sparks, whose career has spanned NYC icons from the Quilted Giraffe to Mesa Grill to her own Quiltys. We had a chance to chat with Sparks about her exciting new opportunity, slated to debut in Fall 2013.

Zagat: You’ve spent the last few years consulting, not running one particular kitchen. Are you nervous stepping back into the kitchen with such a high-profile project?

Katy Sparks: You would think I would be but I feel like the timing is just right. I think the five or six years I was consulting with other projects really gave me a strong base in different kinds of operations in corporate food service and in retail and in different-sized venues, so I feel ready. I feel it’s going to be challenging, no doubt, but I feel energized by the challenge instead of nervous about it.


Zagat: What is your vision for the cuisine?

KS: Because there is a limited amount of back-of-the-house space, the menu will be very ingredient-driven, and I know a lot of people say that but in our case we have to buy really wonderful products and do little with it. I’m known for interesting combinations of flavors, so I will keep that going but there won’t be multi-layered preparations. We will build a lot of grill space, and a lot of griddle space - griddle in the Spanish plancha sense, and we will have two hearth ovens. There will be a lot of firepower on the line so we can pick up the food quickly and put it on the plate quickly. We’re going to make it so the food will be very well-sourced and thought through beforehand and in the final moments will be executed simply and effectively.

Zagat: Are there any Katy Sparks signature dishes that you will be bringing back?

KS: No, I think this project deserves a whole new fresh approach. I believe in growth as a creative person, anyway. I love some of the things I have created in the past but I am not overly attached to them.

Zagat: Will anything on the menu hearken back to Tavern’s history?

KS: I don’t think so. I’m one of the people that knows of its fame and history, but I’ve never had a meal there, personally, so I don’t have any frame of reference to hearken back to. We are going to celebrate the modern era of Tavern and move forward. It will be a real fresh take on it.

Zagat: How many seats will there be?

KS: At least 300 inside and 200-300 outside, so it is a big property and it requires a different kind of thinking altogether.

Zagat: And there will be take-out operations as well?

KS: Yes, there will be a window that people can access directly from the park. It will be in keeping with the style, so it won’t be short-order cooking or anything like that. It will be well thought-out grab-and-go dishes. Salads and sandwiches and smoothies and ice cream sandwiches.

Zagat: Can you give us a model or a reference on how casual or how formal the new Tavern will be?

KS: I haven’t seen anything that sort of strikes the same balance. The word casual is misleading because you think of it as an austere fast-casual, but it won’t be like that. It really is going to be a celebratory, wonderful experience but we’re going to make sure that the food is accessible and that the price point is accessible. It is meant to serve the neighborhood and the New York scene, but at the same time it is Tavern on the Green so it is going to be special and celebratory and unique in its own way.

Zagat: What do you want people to come away with from the Katy Sparks era? How do you want to make your mark?

KS: I want people to think, 'Wow, that was more than we expected but, hey, after we got our check we can come back next week.' And my ego around being a chef is strong, as most chefs are, but it’s not as if I need to create a mark for myself or a cuisine. I’m not going to be using Tavern as a vehicle, in other words.

Zagat: What is your response to Steve Cuozzo, who Tweeted this morning, “Anyone who believes there's a "deal" to reopen Tav on Green is nuts. No deal until there's a contract with Local 6, which there isn't yet.”

KS: We have had nothing but good conversations with everyone involved. The Parks Department has been amazing. I can’t speak directly to the labor issue, but those conversations seemed to have gone very well, too, and there is a real sense of cooperation and collaboration--not a sense of somebody is going to get somebody else. I know it has been hard in the past but we are hoping to usher in the new era of cooperation.

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