I recently took a stroll with Murray Moss and David Rockwell to find out the backstory of their first collaboration, the décor of Chefs Club by Food & Wine, a new restaurant in the Puck Building.
Design giants David Rockwell, left, and Murray Moss, right, on our tour of Chefs Club. “This is what happens when you put two gypsies together,” Moss says, laughing. “We come together, I think, on the theatricality.” The 6,000-square-foot collaboration between Food & Wine and a private developer is set within the Puck Building and its majestic interior architecture. Rockwell asked Moss to conceive site-specific installations within the space.
The entrance offers a window into the kitchen. “Our goal for Chefs Club was to capture the mind of a chef, so we crafted an environment that dissolves the boundaries between the chef and guests,” Rockwell says.
One enters via the bar area, a section of which is shown here. The first-floor dining space is composed of four areas: the bar-lounge, the main dining room, the open kitchen, and the private dining room (not shown).
Sitting at one of the marble-topped counters gives you a bird’s-eye view of the theater of the kitchen. The restaurant’s culinary program revolves around a crew of visiting top chefs working under director Didier Elena and Dana Cowin, the editor-in-chief of Food & Wine and talent scout. The dual-glazed tiles on the wall are by California-based Heath Ceramics.
I ask Moss to explain this 1,350-pound shard of Himalayan pink salt in the vitrine suspended from the ceiling. “I don’t know anything about food,” he tells me. “So David sits me down with the chef, Didier Elena, and I don’t even have a question to ask — what am I going to say to him? So it occurs to me to ask the common question: ‘Do you put salt on the table?’ That is where it started. I thought, He is either going to throw me out of the room or be a little bit polite.” The ensuing salt conversation led Moss’s team to research one of the best and oldest salt mines in Pakistan, where this behemoth comes from.
For the chefs’ portraits, Moss says, he thought “it would be interesting to show these people not wearing tall white hats, but covered in tattoos, people that work out, a whole array.” He didn’t want head shots, but instead something particular to New York, which led him to Central Park, where he observed the portrait artists who do quickie likenesses in charcoal. The Chinese artist Ren stood out. Moss brought Ren photos of each chef, 60 in all.
I love this view of the restaurant toward the bar and entrance. You can see that Rockwell incorporated the space’s dramatic architectural aspects — the massive columns and vaulted brick ceiling — into his design plan. As for his collaboration with Moss, there is more to come. “We have a lot of different ideas, which we put in reserve — so we’ll see where that goes,” Moss says. Stay tuned.