Recette's Jesse Schenker Talks About Going from Private to Public Dining, the Genius of Tomato-Basil Creme Brulee, and the Passion of Gordon Ramsay

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Jesse Schenker has a new restaurant and some very impressive tattoos.
Yesterday, Jesse Schenker opened the doors to Recette, a contemporary American restaurant located in the old Jarnac space on West 12th Street. The restaurant is the public manifestation of Recette Private Dining, a private dining club that Schenker previously ran out of East Harlem's Savoy Bakery with Savoy's owner, Brian Ghaw, and Christina Lee, a former Per Se pastry chef. Schenker, a native Floridian and former chef de partie at Gordon Ramsay at the London NYC, took a bit of time to speak with Fork in the Road about his new menu, making the leap from private to public dining, and why his former boss isn't quite the kitchen nightmare he's portrayed to be.

How would you describe your food?

The food is modern American. Me and my staff are all French trained, with Michelin kitchen techniques, so there's a lot of finesse that comes through, along with playful touches on American classics. It's kind of mix and match: there's Mediterranean flavors with American local ingredients and techniques from France. They're all intertwined, and very refined and delicious.

Did you and Christina Lee work together on your menus?

We definitely did. We complement each other very well; we worked in private dining for a year prior to getting this open where we did, like, 10- to 20-course menus. She would do sweet garnishes for some of my savory dishes or I'd do some salty things for her sweet dishes.

Do you have a favorite dish on the menu?

Well, one of the newer dishes I put on, which I've been working on for couple weeks now, is raw fluke in a caviar sabayon with watercress and shaved fennel. It's very acidic and fresh; the caviar brings great saltiness to it, and the fennel brings crunch. The sabayon is from Italy, the caviar is from America. It's very refined and looks very pretty on the plate. And then there's the Berkshire pork belly, which is braised and cooked slowly in a sherry caramel sauce, with a classic Spanish romesco sauce and rock shrimp.

Can you walk me through one of your dishes, from concept to execution?

A lot of it has to do with what I read, or what I go to eat: I get inspired by things. For the pork belly with rock shrimp, I love the flavors of Spain and had an idea to do pork and seafood. I didn't know where I wanted to go, so I asked myself, what's the best-tasting pork? So I went to pork belly. With the sauce, instead of doing something completely sweet, I wanted a vinegar, and used sherry in the caramel sauce. When I went to Morimoto, I loved the tempura battered rock shrimp with ranch dressing. [For the pork belly] I wanted to do langoustines, but they're soft and I didn't want to ruin their integrity by frying them, so decided to do rock shrimp instead. And then I took some bitter local turnips and roasted them for caramelization, and liked the nutty texture of the romesco sauce, which uses Marcona almonds. The piquillo peppers gave [the romesco] a very bold flavor. So yeah, definitely, we play with things.

How'd you decide to make the leap from public to private dining?

I've always wanted to go public; I wanted to bring what I was doing to the masses in a casual atmosphere. In private dining, we charged an arm and a leg for our tastings - we had to because we were buying retail, not wholesale, and playing with very expensive ingredients. It took 8 to 12 hours to execute food for eight people, so they were paying for a lot of labor. I always wanted a restaurant in the West Village, and wanted to bring elevated food into a warm, casual atmosphere for moderate prices and let people create their own tastings. If they want a five-course, 10-course tasting, they can. If they want olives and piece of branzino, they can. It's completely up to the diner. We've got snacks and plates: the portion sizes of the snacks and plates are the same, but the plates are composed architectural dishes and the snacks are not composed.

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