We're extremely pleased to welcome noted food authority, restaurant creator and operator, trendsetter and master chef, Ed Schoenfeld, for an eGullet Q&A on Thursday and Friday, December 5 and 6.
Ed Schoenfeld is a man known simultaneously for making the best potato salad of a lifetime, the best matzoh ball soup, and the best Chinese food in America. In his milieu as culinary expert and jongleur, and as one of New York's best maitre d's or hosts, Schoenfeld has emerged as master performer, director and producer, pulling together the different components of the restaurant world and remarkably making the whole greater than the sum of the parts. The ultimate foodie insider, the man who knows what really good is, a guy that can conceive, create and operate -- these are a few ways that Eddie Schoenfeld has been described.
A man Tim Zagat calls for advice or a lead, Schoenfeld knows where to find the best bistro in Nice as well as the best banana cream pie in LA. Ed Schoenfeld is a man Ruth Reichl as restaurant critic of the New York Times, enthusiastically describes as reason enough to change her plans with whom to go out and have dinner, who Gourmet Magazine calls the Chinese Food Curator, who Gael Greene of New York Magazine calls her own Chinatown guru, and who Arthur Schwartz of New York's most listened to radio food show, Food Talk, calls the ultimate powerful insider in New York's food and restaurant community.
As a young man Schoenfeld set out to become the preeminent food authority of his generation, the James Beard of his time. According to a Sunday New York Times Magazine profile, Schoenfeld had earned his culinary Ph.D. by the time he was in his early twenties as a protégé of the great twentieth century Chinese master chef, Lo Huey Yen. Regular trips to France's three-star Michelin restaurants, combined with a compulsive quest to discover the greatest practitioners of New York's different cuisines have helped him earn the reputation that he has today. Equally at home with Jewish home cooking, Asian food, fine French and Italian cuisine, as well as traditional and contemporary American food, Schoenfeld has taken this breadth of knowledge and has used it to become one of the top restaurant creators and operators in the country.
Schoenfeld started his career at the top. His first job was to set up and ultimately operate what turned out to be one of the most influential Chinese restaurants in the United States. Uncle Tais Hunan Yuan opened in New York in 1973 and within weeks was lauded, receiving the New York Times's highest four-star rating. While Schoenfeld's passion was cooking and great food, his day-to-day work for the first ten years of his career focused on operating the dining rooms of some of New York's finest high-end restaurants. It was here that he developed a reputation for knowing how to recognize and please New York City's most powerful and discerning clientele. "Schoenfeld knows everybody," was whispered throughout the industry, and as he moved from one restaurant to the next, his customers followed.
In the early '80s, Schoenfeld moved from operating dining rooms to creating and operating new restaurant businesses. From 1983 to 1985, over a brief period of 18 months, he created and opened four new restaurants, which caused the New York Times to refer to Schoenfeld and his partner David Keh as "the Barnum and Bailey of the New York restaurant scene". Working with celebrated designer Sam Lopata, Schoenfeld's creations were noted not just for their terrific food and personalized service, but for their creative interiors and cutting edge marketing strategies.
He opened New York City's first gourmet Mexican restaurant, Cafe Marimba, which was widely recognized for its delicious and authentic regional Mexican dishes, as well as its dramatic decor in the style of one of the world's greatest contemporary architects, Luis Barragan. Auntie Yuan, which opened in May 1983, was a beautiful and visionary restaurant. Featuring the cooking of four Chinese women chefs, the restaurant was an harbinger of the trend that arrived in Paris several years later, Cuisine de Femme. Auntie Yuan featured a tasting menu of small portions of the chefs' specialties served one course at a time, a style of service currently in vogue among top chefs.
A cover story in New York Magazine, titled "Restaurant Madness," prominently featured Schoenfeld's next creation, Pig Heaven. A Chinese restaurant with an irreverent yet chic barnyard decor, Pig Heaven featured great barbecued meats, the dumplings of Madame Chaing Kai Shek's personal chef, and top quality Sichuan cooking. In the spirit of the decor, Pig Heaven offered coffee mugs with undersides resembling pig snouts that made the drinker look aptly "snooty," and to get an order delivered, patrons simply dialed: 212-PIG-IT-UP.
Safari Grill opened a few months later and became the city's hip, casual-chic, high-energy spot, with serious Californian cooking created by star chef John Terczek, the original executive chef at Gordon's in Chicago.
In 1986 Schoenfeld entered a new phase of his career working for New York City real-estate mogul Howard Milstein. The Milstein organization used Schoenfeld to develop restaurant concepts for vacant commercial properties that they hoped to lease. Working with such famous designers as Adam Tihany, David Rockwell and Randy Croxton, Schoenfeld developed plans for a Champagne and caviar bar, a multi-concept restaurant for the lobby of the former Biltmore Hotel across the street from New York's Grand Central Station, and eventually came to operate the Food and Beverage department of Milstein's 1400-room hotel located in Times Square.
In 1990, Schoenfeld returned to the restaurant scene and opened three new restaurants over a period of 3 years. The instantly successful Vince and Eddie's was a charming American bistro in a New England country inn setting. It featured updated versions of classical American home-cooking in an intimate room with a working fireplace and a garden. Vince and Eddie's regularly turned tables four times in an evening. A year later, the same group opened Fishin' Eddie, a contemporary seafood restaurant with an Italian accent. The following year, Schoenfeld created Chop Suey Looey's Litchi Lounge, a restaurant far ahead of its time with a unique tropical drink program and state-of-the-art contemporary Cantonese cooking.
After selling his interest in the Vince and Eddie group, Schoenfeld moved forward as Director of New Business Development for New York City's largest privately held restaurant company. In this capacity Schoenfeld created The Java Shoppe, a new style coffee shop in Times Square, and Knot Just Pretzels, a gourmet bread pretzel bakery located across town in New York's Penn Station. He also ran a test kitchen and developed recipes for a roast chicken and traditional American barbecue concept. Schoenfeld supervised the architectural and interior plans for all these spaces as well.
Starting in 1996, Schoenfeld developed a restaurant consulting practice. At the well-known luxury department store ABC Carpet and Home, Schoenfeld took over the high volume restaurant called the Parlour Cafe and redesigned the food preparation methods to overcome the limitations of an all-electric kitchen. At the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas, Schoenfeld was hired to locate a top quality chef and management team to meet the increasing demands of the hotel's sophisticated Chinese "high rollers." In 1998, the Hong Kong Tourist Association brought Schoenfeld to Hong Kong to taste and to report back to them on what restaurants he deemed exciting and excellent. They used his notes for visiting journalists as a primer to help guide them to their city's culinary delights.
Back in New York City, Schoenfeld started developing one-of-a-kind restaurants for Manhattan owner/operators. Jacks Fifth, Thalia, Our Place, Shanghai Tea Garden, City Eatery and Ping's each used Schoenfeld in various capacities, and subsequently were all highly regarded and well reviewed in New York City's restaurant and food world. Schoenfeld was featured in the 1999 PBS series Jewish Cooking in America, and has been regularly quoted as an authority on the restaurant world by the New York Times, New York Magazine, and The Wall Street Journal, among other publications.
Currently, Schoenfeld is in the early stages of writing his first book about the Chinese food world and is presently working as a consultant on several upcoming restaurant projects in his hometown. He was the head of a nationwide restaurant group, Club House, where he brought his New York savvy to diners across the country. He has also recently worked as a consultant to Opera, a new and trendy Chinese restaurant in Chicago.
And he is a very nice guy.
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