Why Fine Dining Will Never Die: A Chat With Beautique's Craig Hopson
Craig Hopson's cooking career has been a constant upwards trajectory, which took him from Australia to a three-star Michelin kitchen in France to Le Cirque. But he fell into the profession with little foresight. "When I was 16 years old, I didn't know what I wanted to do," he says. "I was surfing all the time. I didn't come from a food family, and I didn't have ambitions growing up to be a chef. But I got a job at a local hotel cooking mediocre bar food, and it was just a job."
Soon, though, it came time to choose an apprenticeship, part of education in Australia, and Hopson opted to stay in the biz so that he could travel the world and continue to surf. He landed at a hotel restaurant in Queensland, where, he says, he got his ass kicked, and that eventually propelled him to Sydney to a bigger and better restaurant. After his tenure there, he contemplated continuing to climb the rungs in his home country, but instead chose to move to Europe, where he wrote a letter to every three-star Michelin restaurant in France, and Lucas Carton took him in.
"That was a great experience," he says. "It was the first time I really saw that average people in the street knew who famous chefs were. That was a surprise to me. And then there was the food quality, from baguettes to meats to fruit and vegetables -- everything was perfect. Everything tasted amazing. You ate a sandwich in France, and it was the best sandwich you ever had."
A brief return to Sydney followed, and then a friend recruited Hopson to the States to help run a restaurant at the Ritz Carlton in New Orleans. He became focused on getting to New York, and after a move to Philadelphia, his chance materialized: Hopson scored a position at Artisanal and then finagled a lead role at Picholine, where he stayed for four and a half years, seeing the restaurant through its two-star Michelin coronation and learning the New York City restaurant industry in the process.
After departing, he spent a few months trying to breathe life back into One If By Land, Two If By Sea, but when he realized it was a battle he wasn't going to win, he jumped ship for the executive chef role at Le Cirque. After that career pinnacle, he was ready to strike out on his own, but the project he had planned with a partner never materialized. Earlier this year, he joined the team at Beautique (8 West 58th Street, 212-753-1200), where he's serving New American fare to a well-heeled Midtown crowd.
In this interview, Hopson weighs in on why fine dining will never die, where you should cook when you're young, and what cooking in the real world -- as opposed to culinary school -- is like.