Q&A: Dovetail's John Fraser on Mixed Martial Arts and Vegetable-Forward Cooking
When much-lauded chef John Fraser isn't tending the pass at Dovetail, the acclaimed Upper West Side restaurant he opened in late 2007, he's living a lifestyle that includes vegetable-forward eating and practicing Muay Thai, a form of Mixed Martial Arts known also as Thai boxing. His personal diet made an impact in his kitchen, where he says he's become more attuned to flavor and inventive with produce. It also inspired his Monday night vegetable menu and garnered his eatery a new following. Now, he's taking his fitness hobby to a new level: This Friday, Victory Combat Sports, the Mixed Martial Arts event production company in which Fraser is an investor, will host its inaugural event at Terminal 5.
We caught up with Fraser, who talked to us about his involvement in the Mixed Martial Arts world, his own training routine and eating philosophy and how his lifestyle choices affect his cooking at Dovetail.
Village Voice: How did you get involved with the Mixed Martial Arts world?
John Fraser: I've been a boxing fan my whole life, and I became a Muay Thai fan once I started to do it. After that, I became a Mixed Martial Arts fan via the UFC [Ultimate Fighting Championship]. So I'm basically the ultimate fan turned minor investor. The guys who set Victory Combat Sports up really know the fight game well. Ultimately, I see this as something that's terrific -- it's not like boxing, which is grueling, violent and hurtful. I'm really excited by it as a fan, and there's only one place to experience it right now.
How does Victory differ from the UFC?
With UFC, it's this huge production. It's almost like a circus. It's so impressive, so larger than life. But this is not about lights and firecrackers, it's about human experience. I liken Victory to watching your local college football team play, and you're integrated into the whole experience. You're going to be able to reach out and touch what's going on in the cage. Kevin Lillis, the CEO, and Justin Blair, the head of Friday Night Fights, saw a hole in the market for people who love MMA but can't go watch it because you just feel like you're in a street fight location. That chokes off the audience. Kevin is a restaurant hospitality guy, too, and we've thought a lot about the experience outside of the ring. We've thought, what if you don't know who's fighting? Could you still have fun? We're going to bring an experience that will feel home-grown. I'm not sure we'll be able to get all of our ideas into this first show, but eventually, outside of the ring will be just as exciting as what's in the ring.
What's your own training routine like? What's the appeal of Muay Thai?
I did martial arts and karate when I was a kid, but I was introduced to Muay Thai by a friend at a gym in New York City. It's a good balance of getting out any aggression you have and a simple cardio workout. I'm not sure how many years I have left, though. It's definitely a young man's sport.
Is that why you became a vegetarian?
Well hold on a second, because you say I'm a vegetarian, but if vegetarians heard me say that, they'd rip my arms off. Whenever possible, I'm a vegetarian. But if I'm at someone's house for dinner, I'm eating meat. I just took a trip to Portland and had three days of meat and fish for research.
So what is your philosophy?
I don't have a good reason for having bacon on my breakfast sandwich or chicken on my sandwich for lunch. I don't really like how those things taste, so I don't really need them. So this was really an experiment that turned into a lifestyle, but I don't have a political motivation. I cook for flavor, but I see food as fuel more than flavor for myself. It's fuel to keep the body working hard and brain operating at a high level. That's important for successful fighters, too.