Category: Interview

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Meet Francis, Union’s General Manager

March 26, 2016

We sat down to talk with Francis Castagnetti Jr. , the General Manager who keeps things running over at Union. We discussed what makes a great dining experience, his background in the restaurant business and his love for Chef Kalman’s spaghetti.

 

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How did you come to work at Union?

I moved to California from the East Coast back in 2003 and got a job working over at Match in North Hollywood before it turned into Tiki No. From there, I met Marie Petulla (Union’s c0-owner) who brought me over to Firefly in Studio City. Then when the person who had my job before me at Union was moving on, Marie just said, “you’re coming to work for me at Union.”

Have you always worked in the restaurant business?

My very first job, when I was 15 years old, was in an ice cream shop in Framingham, Massachusetts. Then when I was 19, I started working in an Italian Bakery in Newton, Mass. I was the guy who made the bread. And I loved making the bread. It’s a science. But bread people are always talking about temperature controlled rooms. Go to Rome. No one cares about the temperature of the room. They just make the bread.

When I was 19, making bread was just a job. Who cares? But when you get older it becomes pretty cool to have these skills. Here at Union we get all of our bread from Etxea Bakery in Hawthorn. They make it specific for us. We give them the flour we buy from Grist & Toll and then they mix it with their own special sour.

Details like this are why I love working for Union. This restaurant is a philosophy. We don’t deal with any middlemen whatsoever. We’re dealing directly with bakers, farmers and ranchers. Working at Union brings me back to my Italian childhood. Grandma was cooking food from scratch every day. And if you wanted fish, you went out and caught it.

How would you describe the Union experience to anyone who’s never eaten here before?

Everyone who works here comes from a fine dining background, but we’re all super laid back. Dan, Flower and I all work in tandem to create the best dining experience possible. This is a dream team. We all have a massive amount of respect for what Marie and Bruce have built and for each other.

Restaurants are how I’m able to be social. Working at a restaurant allows me to bring people joy through the experience. It’s like I’m throwing a party for every single person eating with us. It’s our job to make people feel like this is the very best place they can spend their money.

If a restaurant’s look or music doesn’t match the crowd, you’re gonna have problems. We keep an upbeat vibe going in here. I’m playing DJ now that Bruce is downtown with Knead. But Bruce and I are from the same era, so our sensibilities are very similar. You’re gonna hear Led Zepplin. You’re gonna hear Michael Jackson.

But at the end of the day, it’s about the food. You have to ask yourself, would I drive 45 minutes across town for this food? If the answer is no, then we’re not putting it on the menu.

What are you excited about in the near future?

I’m also looking forward to us bringing in some more lamb, veal and beef to the menu.

What’s your favorite dish at Union?

The spaghetti. The first time I had it I was hooked. It reminds me of grandma. Chef Kalman’s spaghetti brought back tastes and flavors I hadn’t thought of in 2o years. I would not want to live without that spaghetti.

 

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Francis also plays drums in the band Foie Grock with Chef Bruce Kalman. You can follow them on Twitter @FoieGrock, Facebook and Instagram @FoieGrock

 

Restaurant Hospitality Interviews Chef Kalman

February 10, 2016

Bruce Kalman rolls out Knead & Co. pasta bar

The eatery/market is a nod to the chef’s New Jersey youth.

 

Dan Rebelo: Union’s new Chef de Cuisine

February 3, 2016

As Chef Kalman launches his newest venue with Marie Petulla, Knead & Co. Pasta Bar + Market at Grand Central Market, someone has to take the helm in Pasadena to keep the porchetta coming.
 
Dan Rebelo is the man Chef Kalman trusts to take over the kitchen at Union while he’s working downtown. We sat down and chatted with Dan to learn something about the man who’s been chosen to fill these very large shoes.
 
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When did you start working for Union?
 
I started working at Union in February of 2015 as a line cook. I saw a post on Instagram saying Chef Kalman was looking for people and I just applied.
 
Before I came to California and started cooking here, (Union) I lived on the East coast where I worked in a couple of restaurants that focused on Spanish cuisine. My parents are both Portuguese and so Portuguese and Spanish cuisines are my real specialties. And before that I graduated from culinary school in 2004.
 
How does it feel to be in charge at Union?
 
Union is a train that just keeps going. All I have to do is keep it on the rails.
 
Will you have a hand in the menu?
 
Just a little at first. Everything goes through Chef Kalman. I recently added a crostone to the menu, with cannellini bean puree, Ventura sardines, pickled shallot and wood sorrel. And I’m looking forward to testing out some lamb, but that’s a little ways off still.
 
What are you excited about in the near future?
 
I’m really looking forward to spring at the market. It’s a great time for produce. And I’m collaborating with Chef Kalman on a special Valentine’s Dinner menu which we will be releasing details on soon.
 
How is it cooking with fresh produce from the Pasadena garden boxes?
 

Great. Right now we’re using fresh harvested cauliflower, broccoli, their leaves and lots of fava bean leaves. We’re also meeting with Geri of The Cooks Garden by HGEL to plan out what to plant for the new upcoming season.
 
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Interview with Geri Miller from HGEL

November 23, 2015

515Yui60KtL._SX415_BO1,204,203,200_We’re very excited about our new partnership with Home Grown Edible Landscapes. They have planted a few garden boxes for us, the bounty of which we will be using for our menu. We spoke with Geri Miller, the owner of HGEL, to learn more about how the partnership formed, HGEL’s philosophy and exactly what they’re growing for Union.

You can preorder a copy of Geri’s upcoming book, “Vegetable Gardening in Southern California” at this link.

 

 

How did Union and Home Grown Edible Landscapes find each other?

Geri – Social media tends to bring people together in unlikely ways. Michael Fiorelli, of Love and Salt, is a friend Chef Kalman and I have in common on social media. Michael was posting about Dan Barber’s restaurant and WASTED, a group that brings together artisans to put together dinners of food that would otherwise be discarded. Michael was posting about how cool that issue was.

From www.WastedNY.com

“wastED is a community of chefs, farmers, fishermen, distributors, processors, producers, designers and retailers, working together to reconceive “waste” that occurs at every link in the food chain.” 

Geri – Bruce posted in the comments of Michael’s post and it really called out to me. Our company has a small urban farm on Abbot Kinney that serves restaurants near by. I mention that, a conversation sparked and everything came from there.

Home Grown Edible Landscapes does both private and culinary production gardens, both onsite at restaurants and at our prototype in Abbot Kinney which we hope spreads to all centers of high minded chefs in the area. We’re very excited to partner with chefs.

The center of what we do is the relationship between the chef and myself, the horticulturist. What I grow is exclusively driven by chefs. We use an artisanal approach. Bruce has been very communicative which makes my job easier and more satisfying. I was drawn to Bruce by his philosophies and the things I was reading on his social media. He’s got a social activist side that I love to see. He’s not all about running a business.

How many boxes have you planted for Union?

Geri – I would love to have more space, but we’ve planted three, 4′ x 10′ beds.

What’s the decision process like for what to plant?

Geri – I sat down with Chef Kalman and we chatted back and forth about his philosophy and what he wants to see over the next six months to a year. Then I gave him a reality check. From a lengthy list we paired down to fit our small gardening space. Then we whittled the wish list down to three main crops: broccoli, cauliflower and fava beans. But there’s a few different varieties of each plant. They grow differently and have different flavor profiles.

We’ve included white, yellow, purple, and green Romanesco cauliflower. The leaves are totally edible. Because of what I knew about Bruce’s thoughts on waste, I picked varieties that are all edible.

For the fava beans, while we’re waiting for them to develop, we can use the tender tips which have a beautiful earthy taste.  We can nourish ourselves with the same plant in different ways using different parts of the plant.

It’s important to me that when I bring in a product that I have to propagate from seed that there’s a cultural connection. It’s not just broccoli, it’s an heirloom variety that’s been around for a hundred years. So the chefs can have a connection to the plants.

Union staff will be trained on harvesting herbs so they can stop by and pick a few things when they need anything.

 

Chef Kalman makes Spaghetti for Resy

November 5, 2015

Thank you to Ben Leventhal for the beautiful piece he did on Chef Kalman for Resy. Read the full piece below to see how Chef hand makes the pasta for his spaghetti alla chitarra or read the article at this link.

Behind the Line: Union Pasadena

November 3, 2015 at 5:21 pm
post by Ben Leventhal

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Welcome to Behind the Line, wherein you go backstage in search of what makes LA’s top kitchens tick.

At the very top of the pasta heap today is Chef Bruce Kalman of Union Pasadena. The accolades have streamed in from every corner of the critic-sphere for his noodles, which range from potato leek mezzo luna to classic of all classics, spaghetti alla chitarra. But, how does the Jersey fresh chef keep it al dente? It’s starts with the flour, then technique, experience and instincts take over. Have a look:

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The spaghetti alla chitarra starts with a well of Grist & Toll’s durum wheat mixed with semolina and in the center vibrant orange yolks from marigold-fed chickens. Yes, even the yolks are taken up a notch, “It’s this idea of building flavor from the bottom up. I was taught in culinary school shit in shit out.”

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He works the dough with the heel of his hand, a key step in building the structure of the pasta. Another clutch technique that is often skipped, letting the dough rest, “You need to let your pasta dough rest for a couple of reasons. One, it gets tense so it needs to relax. More importantly, flour takes time to hydrate properly.”

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Out comes the chitarra, the OG way of cutting spaghetti, often imitated by machines but never coming close to the real deal. “This is my own theory, the pressure of pushing it through the strings creates the bite, it gets taut. That’s the idea of the pasta chitarra. It should be a little thicker and it should have a great bite to it.”

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Back to the flour for a second, any chef will tell you that ingredients are key, but chef Kalman takes it to the next level. “Have you ever opened a bag of flour and had it smell like something? It should have a smell, it should smell like wheat.”

So he turned to Nan Kohler of Grist & Toll. She’s changing the game with her small-batch, single varietal grains milled by an Austrian-manufactured stone mill. The proof is in the flour. “It’s not nearly as refined. The more we leave in, the more you have the power of using that expression,” says Nan.

“Dedicated. Thoughtful. Passionate. Trustworthy.”

September 18, 2015

PlateOnline.com interviews Chef Kalman after he landed a place on their 1 of 30 chefs to watch. Enjoy their full feature at this link or read the article in its entirety below.  Make a reservation to dine with us tonight by clicking here.

Chef To Watch: Bruce Kalman, Union

(Bruce Kalman, photo Marie Buck)

Bruce Kalman is having the time of his life, and you can feel it in the food he creates at Union, his restaurant in downtown Pasadena that is attracting people back to this once-forgotten community. He’s cooking his heart out, with each plate of albacore crudo with housemade spicy pickled lemon cucumbers; each pork meatball bright with capers and chilies; each bowl of housemade squid ink garganelli tossed with lobster, truffle butter and Meyer lemon; each tray of donut peaches gilded with lardo and honey. He’s offering up his soul and presenting it to guests on every plate. And like the omnivores they are, diners at this packed restaurant are devouring not just the food but the whole package.

“I’m 44 years old, and for the first time in my life, I’m cooking my food,” Kalman says about the transformation in his cooking since opening Union with business partner Marie Petulla. My chef friends are like, “This is unadulterated you.”

Maybe that’s what it is, that Kalman is doing his own thing instead of following someone else’s vision. His enthusiasm was certainly there when he cooked at Chicago’s Okno, and at The Churchill in West Hollywood. His creativity exploded when he founded his own “vine to jar” pickle company. But something is different now.

“Being a chef/owner, and having that opportunity and freedom to cook what I want, has made all the difference to me,” Kalman says. “I’m a very straight-up, honest person; I believe you should stand up for what you believe in, and stick with it. If you’re passionate about it, other people will be, too. Without the distractions, your creative ability changes, and you become this much more inspiring leader, and much less frustrated. I care what people think—my partners, my managers, my staff, the guests. I’m much better at taking constructive criticism than I was in the past. Because of those factors, I’m cooking better than I ever have.” 

And so, he’s inspiring his cooks (all 20 of whom are name-checked at the bottom of each menu) to cook thoughtfully, and reduce waste as much as possible. Under his guidance, the team at Union is figuring out how to use seeds, stems, roots, leaves and cores in their cooking, from dehydrated toasted seeds to fennel-top sorbet. 

“Respecting the ingredients plays a really big part in what I’m doing,” Kalman says. “A head of fennel deserves the same respect as a pig. Someone put in the time to plant the seed, take care of it, to harvest it. We’re constantly challenging ourselves with what we can do, looking at everything we get in and how can we use every part of it. It’s cool and fun to play with it. The whole thing is edible; it’s just how you treat it.”

That success has followed all this positive juju is not surprising. Kalman and Petulla are opening a fresh pasta stand in the Grand Central Market in downtown L.A. and have an eye out for other projects. 

“I’m cooking things that I never cooked before and having fun,” Kalman says. “If you’re happier, you cook better food. I’m my own chef. It’s all-around great. It’s just fucking great.” 

Chandra Ram Q&A


Albacore crudo with housemade spicy pickled lemon cucumbers

What was the first dish you ever made?

I think it was chopped liver with my grandmother; I remember grinding hard-boiled eggs, liver and onions. I still have that meat grinder.

What is your pet peeve in the kitchen?

I have a few. When people don’t care—when they go through the motions, and it’s a job, instead of them being passionate and excited about things and getting involved. I tell my cooks to do everything with a purpose. And I don’t like fussy food, or people who communicate poorly. And I can’t stand dirty cooks—they make me crazy.

What career would you have if you weren’t a chef?

I would be a rock star. Or trying to be a rock star – I play guitar.

Who is your dream dinner guest, and what would you cook?

Probably the Foo Fighters. I would serve them three pasta courses, and then the braised pork neck. [Ed note: I am so going to this dinner.]

What restaurant is your dream stage location and why?

I’d go to Vetri, because I respect Marc Vetri so much for his food and what he’s about. His food is insanely delicious. I want to go there and get inside his head.

What is the next cooking challenge or technique you want to try?

All I can think about right now is the new pasta machine, for Knead & Co., the pasta stand we are opening in Grand Central Market. We’re honing on past on a regional level and diving into how dishes came to be, historically. How all the old classics came about – mostly out of necessity because they didn’t have refrigeration. Now, we put ingredients together because they work, but going back and understanding how it happened is important. Being back to basics what I’ve always done, but I think it is the next molecular gastronomy. I continue to simplify and hone what I do.

What meal changed how you feel about food?

It was eating at Lincoln, Jenn Louis’ place in Portland, Ore. Her corned lamb neck dish is ridiculous. She cooks like I do. The first time I ate there, it solidified for me how powerful that is, to really view a similar situation and chef from a guest perspective, without the nit-picking I do when I’m in my own restaurant. I feel her passion for the food. It inspires me.

Also, Girl and the Goat. Stephanie Izard deserves every award and honor she’s gotten. The food blew me away, and for it to be that crowded five years after she opened says a lot about what she’s doing.

Who would play you in the movie about your life?

Denzel Washington.

What three words describe you best?

Dedicated. Thoughtful. Passionate. Trustworthy.

Chef Kalman talks food scraps with Rodale’s

September 17, 2015

Enjoy this article from Rodalesorganiclife.com that features ideas on how to use food scraps in the kitchen. Chef Kalman has a fennel tip at #4. You can read the full article at this link or below.

8 Homesteader Recipes That Make The Most Of Food Scraps

Incredible edibles you’ve been throwing out or adding to the compost pile might just belong on the dinner table.

AUGUST 17, 2015

PHOTOGRAPH BY PAULO SIMAO/EYEEM/GETTYWe strive for a diet packed with fresh organic fruits and vegetables, but there’s just one problem—what to do with all the leaves, stems, and leftover bits to avoid unnecessary waste and an overflowing compost bin? We’re taking a cue from efficient homesteaders and nose-to-tail cooking about how to reuse the castoffs.

Onion Skins

PHOTOGRAPH BY STEFANIE GREWEL/GETTY

They’re great for veggie stock, but they’re a surprise ingredient for a pungent tea and are rich in antioxidants such as quercetin. Simply steep the skins of an onion in boiling water or a tea baller for a few minutes, bearing in mind that the longer they sit, the more assertive the tea will become.

Cantaloupe Seeds

PHOTOGRAPH BY OTMAR WINTERLEITNER/GETTYSave your cantaloupe seeds and that goopy stuff around them called “the mesh,” and throw them in a smoothie for an extra dose of fiber and protein.

Pickle Juice

PHOTOGRAPH BY CAMPVIOLA/GETTY

There’s no need to throw away a jar of pickle juice once you’ve eaten all the cukes. Just do as Molly Siegler, culinary content editor for Whole Foods Markets does, and store blanched veggies or hard-boiled eggs in the pickling liquid.

  • Fennel Fronds

    PHOTOGRAPH BY BRIAN YARVIN/GETTY

    Fennel is so flowery and showy, but we typically only use the bulb part. Add the fronds to a flower arrangement, or steep them in hot water for a mild anise-flavored tea. Chef Bruce Kalman of Union in Pasadena turns fennel fronds into sorbet. Start by juicing the fronds—you’ll want 2 cups of liquid. Then mix the juice with 2 cups of simple syrup and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. Pour the mixture into an ice cream machine, or turn it into a granita by freezing in a shallow container (stirring with a fork every hour, fluffing once it starts to freeze). Kalman finishes it off with a pinch of flaky sea salt and 1/4 teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil.

  • Herb Stems

    PHOTOGRAPH BY TWO RED BOWLS/GETTY

    Cookbook author Dina Cheney likes to grind up the stems of dehydrated herbs (such as cilantro, basil, or mint) in a coffee grinder. She then adds them to salt or sugar in a ratio of 1-to-4 (herbs to salt or sugar) to create a finishing seasoning, which can be sprinkled on both sweet and savory dishes.

    Watermelon Rinds

    PHOTOGRAPH BY DEBBI SMIRNOFF/GETTY

    Pickle them. Slice off all the pink fruit and pickle the green rinds using your favorite recipe or try this one for starters.

    Cherry Pits

    PHOTOGRAPH BY KRISTEN HESS/GETTY

    Cherry pits can add a new, nutty dimension to ice cream. Pastry chef Diana Valenzuela of Elan in New York City smashes the pits with a meat mallet, picks through the pits for the kernels, and then toasts them in the oven at 300 degrees for about 10 minutes. She then pulverizes 2 tablespoons of cherry pits with 1 cup of organic cane sugar to a fine dust and sprinkles over ice cream.

    Fruit Scraps

    PHOTOGRAPH BY WESTEND61/GETTY

    If you can or jam, you likely produce a great deal of discarded skins. Instead, you can ferment peach, plum, apple, or apricot skins (fermenting is a long process; try this recipe) and use the resulting vinegar as a tonic with seltzer (like an old-fashioned shrub), as a marinade, or in a salad dressing.

 

Tasting Table and Chef Kalman bring you “A garden party in your mouth”

September 14, 2015

Chef Kalman shot this gorgeous video with Tasting Table featuring his handmade trofie pasta. Chef Kalman gives a few tips for cooking an amazing plate of pasta and the recipe for this specific dish can be found at the Tasting Table link here.
 
Click the pic below for the full video.

 

Trofie Winner

 
Master hand-rolled pasta with chef Bruce Kalman’s trofie with carrot-top pesto
9/13/15
 
By Karen Palmer – Executive Editor
 
Video & Photo: Dave Katz/Tasting Table
 
Screen Shot 2015-09-15 at 1.27.55 PM
 
“I’ve been cooking for a long time, and it always comes back to pasta,” Bruce Kalman tells us as he kneads, rolls and shapes trofie pasta (see the recipe).
 
The chef is a Jersey boy (his first job was at a Paramus pizzeria, no less), but life has taken him to Southern California, where he runs the Italian-flecked Union in Pasadena. This fall, he plans to open Knead & Co. Pasta Bar + Market in Downtown L.A.’s ever-growing Grand Central Market.
 
“I’m specifically into Northern Italian cuisine, because it’s soulful and delicious and handcrafted,” Kalman says. “I like working with my hands—I feel there’s a much deeper connection from you to the food and to the guest. It makes the experience very intimate.”
Trofie pasta is, not surprisingly, from Northern Italy, and more specifically from the Ligurian city of Genoa, where it’s traditionally served with pesto. In his updated version of the dish, Kalman makes the pasta with nutty spelt flour, then ingeniously pairs it with sweet roasted carrots and a garlicky carrot-top pesto.
 
“Spelt flour is lower in gluten and protein. It gives the pasta a softer, sexier bite,” Kalman explains. “As a chef, one of my big beliefs is to use everything. We slow-roast the carrots, then blanch and chop the tops to make the pesto. You want it to be all about the carrots and the pasta. Everything else should be supporting ingredients.”
 
Making the trofie is easier than you think—the only equipment you’ll need is a rolling pin. After the dough is mixed, kneaded and rolled thin, it’s simply sliced into small strips that you roll between your hands, as if you’re trying to warm them up (watch the video to see the technique). The resulting little squiggles hang on to the carrot-top pesto to give garlicky flavor in every bite.
 
At Knead & Co., Kalman will be serving old-school favorites like baked ziti and manicotti, as well as house-made cheeses, from-scratch butter and his famous giardiniere pickles. But he’ll also be creating newfangled dishes, like the trofie, starring pastas made with fresh-milled flour.
 
“When you’re composing a pasta dish, it’s important that the pasta be the star,” he says. “Even if you just eat the noodle itself, it should be fantastic.”
 
Of the trofie, he says, “It’s like a garden party in your mouth.”
 
And it’s one party we’d be happy to attend.

Chef Kalman answers question, “Who can be called chef?”

September 10, 2015

Bruce Kalman’s Op-Ed: “Why Chefs Should Also Be Owners”

June 16, 2015

Our esteemed chef and owner, Bruce Kalman has written an op-ed for Eater LA. On the eve of opening his second restaurant, this time in Grand Central Market, Chef Kalman lets us in on his success which includes having a great business partner, training his staff to expect the worst and cooking from the heart. Please enjoy the full feature below or at this link.

Union’s Bruce Kalman: Why Chefs Should Also Be Owners

by

An opinion piece by chef Bruce Kalman of Pasadena’s Union.

Bruce Kalman is the chef of Union, which opened over a year ago to critical acclaim and a steady stream of diners in Old Town Pasadena. Partner Marie Petulla offered to give Kalman some of the ownership, which has set the restaurant up for long term success. Here now, Kalman bring his perspective as a co-owner and chef of the bustling operation.

My career started in the mid 80’s in Jersey, making pizza, chicken parm sandwiches and antipasti salads. Mind you, I was just 13, but after one day I was hooked! The ingredients, the energy, the sarcasm; I fell into the food and beverage industry head-first. Since then, I have experienced working in numerous restaurants and hotels, from fine-dining to fast-casual, all very unique, yet all had one thing in common: An owner.

This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, because I had the opportunity to work with a lot of owners directly and learn a ton about operations, business, drinking, smoking weed, and then some. I also learned about the frustrations chefs have working with owners who keep them on a tight leash (reference Jon Favreau in “Chef”). It’s the recipe for an extremely uncomfortable workplace, with tension so thick you can cut it with a knife. Everything and everyone suffers: The food, the staff, and, ultimately, the guests, usually resulting in a loss of business and sales. Can you guess who is blamed?

Now that I am both a chef and an owner, I get it, and I see both sides. You have a responsibility to the guest, and a responsibility to the staff. These days I spend most of my time developing chefs and cooks, teaching them how to stand on their own two feet and the importance of everything, not just the food.

Their responsibilities are endless – cook great food all day every day, move their asses, keep the place clean, keep things organized, make sure items on the shelves face the front like a grocery store, work like a team, have a great attitude, respect ingredients and each other, etc. The list keeps going, but this is what it takes to become a great chef and, ultimately, a great restaurateur. When my chefs ask me how I’m able to see everything, I tell them I was taught to come in expecting everything to be wrong every day. It trains you to constantly scan the room like Kit from “Knight Rider.”

Opening Union has been such a wonderfully challenging experience. During friends & family, myself and my two sous chefs decided we would set up the line and figure out where mise en place should go, as we were cooking for guests. Maybe not the best decision I have ever made, but I was free to make that decision. I was free to write the menu without “approval” from a boss; no burger required! We wanted the menu to be defined not by what was currently trending, but by the ingredients we were procuring from our purveyors, like Ben Hyman from Wild Local Seafood, and Nan Kohler from Grist & Toll, who actually opened her mill in Pasadena around the same time we opened Union.

I have a lot of chef friends, many of whom have visited me at Union, and the response is typically the same: “This food is unadulterated you!” I don’t claim to be the best chef in the world, or even in LA for that matter, but freedom has led me to cook and create some of the best food of my life. People can taste that passion.

The opportunity to partner with Marie Petulla was a definitive moment for me. She is one of the best people I know and having a partner that shares your philosophy is not only vital to the success of a restaurant, but vital for creating a cohesive team from the front to the back-of-house. There is no dividing wall between the two, like in a lot of restaurants. We always joke about how much we used to fight during the opening of Union, and say, “Hey, at least we were communicating!”

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When people talk about how much they love the Union experience, we talk about what a big role our symbiotic relationship plays in our success. We taught our team hospitality first, service second which makes for an incredible feeling as soon as you walk through the door. I’m not saying that everything is hearts and rainbows all the time, as that would be a pipe dream! But when we have to be tough, they understand that it all comes from a great place, and that our vision and philosophy is rich and meaningful. They drink our “Kool-Aid,” which of course is local, natural, sustainable, and humanely raised!

If restaurant owners would just realize that they would benefit from allowing their chefs to do the job they were hired to do, their top lines would most likely increase, resulting in a bigger bottom line and a happier environment. Now more than ever I understand the stress and pressure that comes with owning a restaurant.

However, I also know that I can’t do it alone, so everyone’s voice needs to be heard. I do my best to teach the standard and expectations, and then try to step back and allow the team to do their best. It’s tough sometimes, but it’s the only way to build a solid foundation to grow a company. Marie and my shared commitment to operating this way has been an instrumental part of Union’s success, and something we are both excited to expand upon when we open the pasta bar at Grand Central Market this summer.

I’m not saying I haven’t learned a lot from the owners that I couldn’t deal with, in fact, without them I wouldn’t be the leader I am today. In the end, I just realized that I don’t like being told what to do!