Napa chef and food-television regular Michael Chiarello spoke with Grub Street last night in New York (he's in town for the New York City Wine and Food Festival, and to spread the word of a new partnership with Delta airlines), and let slip some very interesting news: He’s looking to open a curious new eatery — a tiny laboratory, he says, that will serve “experiments” to no more than 40 people per night.
Chiarello, who turns 50 early next year, says the foodie science project has been on his culinary bucket list for some time, and after seven cookbooks, ten restaurants, and a winery (“I’ve done it all,” he admits), it’s perhaps the biggest project he hasn’t yet crossed off.
Chairello told Grub Street that the place wouldn’t be a traditional fine-dining eatery. Diners would instead try conceptual dishes that even venture into the world of molecular gastronomy — “prosecco whipped cream” was the example Chiarello used — and give considerable feedback to the staff. “We’re trying to solve a problem, or problems, in food,” Chiarello explains. One example problem he gave us: How to add the taste of vinegar to burrata without ruining the flavor of the cheese? The solution: A very El Bulli–esque Balsamic “caviar” dotting the cheese. “People love variety, textures in food,” he adds.
Chiarello says he already has a space in mind, likely in Napa, but it's not the only thing he's thinking about: “I’d also love to do something in San Francisco that’s not Italian,” probably with a broader Mediterranean focus. Yet he assures us the Lab comes first; Chiarello says we can expect to see it sometime in 2013.
And what of New York, where Chiarello also just announced that he’s overseeing the business-class menus on Delta Airlines’ flights between JFK and San Francisco? “New York scares the hell out of a lot of people, including me,” he told us. As a chef, "New York is not a city you phone in.”
Perhaps not, but we know a least a couple of New York chefs who probably feel the same way about San Francisco.