Why Morimoto's Erik Battes Is an Iron-Willed Chef
Morimoto (88 Tenth Avenue, 212-989-8883) executive chef Erik Battes tackles questions efficiently and articulately, his gaze never wandering, his answer never straying from the point, not even to embellish that point with more details. It takes about three exchanged sentences to understand that he's intense, focused, and driven, a perception he confirms when he reveals that he became a sous chef at Jean-Georges Vongerichten's Perry St when he was 22 years old -- and chef de cuisine when he was 24 -- and when he says he loves Japanese food for the diligence and commitment engrained in its culture.
The chef grew up in California; his parents were artists who encouraged him to pursue whatever experiences he wanted to experience, though they challenged him to take something to a high level. Through most of his childhood, that was music, but he shied away from it after high school because he was turned off by the unstable career path.
He'd always loved food, he says, so he asked the Wolfgang Puck Cafe in Woodland Hills if he could work there for free. The kitchen agreed, and after he learned the ropes, he enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America, which allowed him to trail in several New York City kitchens. He landed an externship at Jean-Georges because he was willing to devote one day a week to the restaurant before that externship started.
After graduation, he returned to Los Angeles for awhile, but he was soon back in New York, this time as a line cook at Jean-Georges. He moved over to Perry St when that restaurant opened, rising through the ranks, and after five years, he left to work with Laurent Tourondel at BLT. He returned to Jean-Georges not long after that, but he soon found himself looking for a place where he could run the kitchen. "There was an executive chef at Jean Georges, a corporate chef, and then Jean Georges himself," Battes explains. "It was an amazing experience to cook at a place like that, but I wanted it to be mine."
In 2013, he joined Morimoto as the executive chef, where he's had the freedom to apply his own vision to the menu.