With a new open kitchen to revel in, chef Abram Bissell of New York City’s The Modern restaurant is amping up his efforts to create harmonious and memorable moments for guests. We sat down with him to chat about the new Kitchen Table, how he stays inspired, and of course, The Art of Plating.
For those unfamiliar with Bissell’s work, his resume includes time at The NoMad and Eleven Madison Park before heading The Modern, which under his direction snagged its 2nd Michelin star last year. Although Bissell is too modest to say he’s got it together – in his own way, he does and it shows in his self assured yet jovial approach to the restaurant’s dining experience.
Bissell, dressed in his standard blue apron with a warm big smile, invites us to see new open kitchen. The staff is prepping for lunch service inside the beautifully renovated space – results of a tireless 6 week design overhaul. Vintage copper Mauviel pans hover over the cooks passing plates that graze immaculate marble countertops. And yes, it is as dreamy as it sounds.
“This is where the Kitchen Table will be,” he says while pointing to a cozy corner of the kitchen.
What will the experience be like here?
Experience-wise there’s a lot more opportunity for experimenting that you can’t get any other way than in this setting. We’ll really curate it to the way the guests wants it to unfold. If it’s that long 18-20 course meal you want to have then great, we would love to do that. If you want a more traditional 5 course meal with slightly larger portions, we can do that too. We’ve even talked about doing a more casual family style tasting menu in the kitchen as well.
The guests will also have a chance for movement through the kitchen space instead of just being locked into the corner. A chance to be more hands on. And I think it really depends on how interactive someone wants to be with the actual space. You’re interacting with the cooks right there so the more fun you want to have, the more fun you will have.
How does a guest request to sit back here?
It actually has its own email address firstname.lastname@example.org
How many guests will it seat?
Will you stick to the same menu as the dining room or will it be a little more exploratory?
The really cool part about having a maximum of 4 guests is it’s going to allow us to source ingredients we can’t get for the other spaces like a single fish, a very special cut of meat, or even a vegetable or herb. I do a lot of gardening and we also just started gardening here in the building. The production from what I can grow here or in my garden is very small but we’ll be able to use those products for 4 people.
One of the things I’d like to bring in as it’s starting to get colder is wild turbot – things that we prefer to roast whole and actually carve right at the table. We’ve also talked about getting the table up and over into the pastry department to be part of plating a course.
Speaking of plating, what’s your plating style?
Natural. When I work with plate designers, I’m looking for something beautiful on a plate that compliments and doesn’t take away. So I would say the same for food. I like the natural shape. We’re always looking at the natural shape of the ingredient, whether it’s a vegetable or protein, and finding a way to keep it natural as it finds its way onto a plate.
What plate designers do you work with?
All of them. We work with everyone. When we get into plateware, shapes are very important. I love matte finishes and flowing lines. We just did a whole line with Hering Berlin for the kitchen table that’s all based on blue.
You’re very hands on when it comes to the entire process. Would you say that everything here is your exact vision of how you want it to be?
No I would say it’s our vision. One of the most important things that I’ve learned from my 7 years with chef Daniel Humm is that collaboration is really important. It’s part of my philosophy here because that’s kind of who I am. From our wine director Michael and general manager Simon to my sous chefs, as managers we all have input because it gives more value. Obviously, the more people involved the more complicated it can get, but at the end we get something that’s really thought through and everyone feels pride in it.
How do you stay inspired?
I always ask my cooks, “How did it feel when you came into work today? Was it hot? Was it Muggy?” One of my first inspirations of the day is how I felt like when I stepped outside and I try to remember that’s the feeling every person will have when they walk through our front doors. How I felt in the morning is how I want to approach a beginning of a meal. If I felt hot then I want something refreshing. If I felt cold, than I want something that reminds me of a warm hug.
Also remembering to smile because every day is another day to create a wow moment and another opportunity to create something that is going to be someones memory.
And I know it’s almost corny now but I love nature. I love gardening and getting my hands in the soil. I like meeting farmers and talking to my purveyors about what’s going on with the products.
Tips for plating?
1. Plating on the same surface the guests eat on and in the same lighting will give you that mimicked experience. We put white linen on all the passes and have LED lights that replicate sunlight in our kitchen.
2. Work clean. The cleaner your station is, the cleaner you’re working, and the cleaner the finished plating is.
3. Use the right tool.
What are your favorite plating tools then?
Medium sized tweezers and deep big Chinatown spoons that don’t cost more than 35 cents.