Atrium's Laurent Kalkotour: "Without the Farmers, There'd Be No Chef"
Yesterday marks the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, a storm so devastating to New York City that some businesses--restaurants included--have yet to return to the fold. Others, sadly, succumbed to the disaster; one of those was Governor, a then-new and much-lauded restaurant in downtown Brooklyn.
But from the wreckage of that project, which sent its partners separate ways, rose Atrium (15 Main Street, Brooklyn, 718-858-1095), a restaurant from a trio that met at DB Bistro. One of the owners who stepped in to take over the address is chef Laurent Kalkotour, a native of Provence.
Kalkotour learned to love food via his grandmother's farm. "My great grandfather was also a chef," he says. "We were a big family--always like 15 people around the table. I always liked to eat." When he was a teenager, his mother noticed his fondness for helping out in the kitchen, and she encouraged him to go learn to be a chef. So he secured a job at the local Michelin-starred restaurant, where he stayed for five years. "I learned everything there," he says. "I learned to peel a carrot--I really learned the basics. That's where I found the passion. It was a small restaurant, but it was very busy and very famous. I worked long hours, and it was very stressful. I guess I made it."
After a short stint in the army--where Kalkotour also served as a chef--and a year working pastry back in Provence, the chef was ready to move, and it wasn't long before he landed at Alain Ducasse's restaurant in Monaco. "I stayed five years," Kalkotour explains. "Three in Monaco and two in New York. I had to forget everything that I learned before--it was a different way to approach technique."
Here in New York, he met Daniel Boulud, and he briefly worked as a sous chef at Bar Boulud, doing 600 to 700 covers a night--"It wasn't for me," he recalls--before heading over to the St. Regis to become Ducasse's executive sous chef. Two years later, Ducasse wanted to ship Kalkotour off to a different city to advance his career--but the young chef was married with children, and his wife didn't want to leave the city.
So it was back to Boulud's kitchen at DB Bistro, where he met his now-partners in Atrium Alex La Pratt and Leslie Affre. Last year, the group began putting together plans--and when they heard the Governor team was shuttering for good, they jumped on the space. After a renovation and overhaul, the restaurant opened over the summer.
In this interview, Kalkotour reflects on the neighborhood after Sandy, the French tradition, and why he dislikes restaurant critics.