Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Bits and Morsels gets Pumped

Quick sauté of zucchini at The Red Cat.

Last week I met up with my former New School college professor, Michael Pettinger, at The Red Cat. The Red Cat has been a Chelsea fixture for about 10 years now, and a very popular post-gallery hopping choice.

The food is delicious in a homey kind of way and the atmosphere is amply comfortable. I don't think you can say anything negative about a meal that begins with tempura of green beans and concludes with strawberry shortcake. The shortcake was especially good, made with fresh cream and those tiny, sweet summer strawberries, you are forced to savor every single bite. Of course the first-rate company and conversation only made the meal that much more enjoyable.

The Red Cat
227 Tenth Avenue
Quick sauté of zucchini. Tempura of green beans.
Grilled pork tenderloin with blue cheese tomato gratin and wilted spinach.
The Red Cat strawberry shortcake.
I am thrilled about the new location of Financier Patisserie on 54th and First Avenue. Financier has some of the best pastries outside of Paris. There is no better afternoon treat than an almond horn or mini-macaron to dunk in your mug of coffee.

One of their signature items, the financier, is a buttery almond cake. And it's addictive. The financier was invented in the financial district of Paris and is baked in molds that make the cake resemble bars of gold. Pastry Chef and co-owner Eric Bedoucha is devoted to making authentic French pastries with all natural ingredients. Financier also has great sandwiches, salads and breakfast items. This is Financier's first non-Financial District location ... and I hope it thrives.
Financier Patisserie
983 First Avenue (at 54th Street)
Inside Financier Patisserie. Executive Pastry Chef and co-owner, Eric Bedoucha.
Coconut Rochers and Madeleines.
Colorful macarons.
The breakfast menu includes tartines, waffles, cakes, croissants, danishes, crepes, and more. Broccoli and gruyere quiche.
Their namesake, at only $1.35 a piece.
Almond horn up close. A wide selection of beautiful treats.
Everything in moderation

Every New Yorker should know about The Pump. I’m an enthusiastic fan and am rooting for more locations throughout the city. The Pump is the place to go for fresh, healthy and convenient food. The Pump demonstrates that healthy food can actually be tasty; that's what I love about it. All of their menu items are very well-balanced and they do not use butter, salt or mayonnaise.

Adam Eskin of The Pump.
The Pump started out as something mainly appreciated by the gym-going set. Two years ago Adam Eskin became its CEO and he streamlined the whole operation, making it more mainstream. We sat down for dinner at The Pump at 80 Pine Street.

How did you get involved with The Pump?

I was a customer and I loved it. I was in the investment business based in Greenwich and we had spent some time investing in restaurants ... we thought that the world was heading in this direction in terms of obesity, health and wellness. We also figured that consumer demand and ultimately legislatively there would be a large push to address this problem. We thought it made sense so we ended up buying it. We were trying to figure out how to run it and we agreed why not me?

Are you a live to eat or eat to live kind of guy?

Both, because I don’t think extremes work or are sustainable. Diets and limiting yourself doesn’t work. I love our food and I have access to it so it’s all I eat during the week and it’s both for me. We really spent a lot of time working on this type of food and how to make it exceptional, and I enjoy it. I also enjoy the fact that I am putting really healthy things into my body. I also enjoy going out on Saturday and having half a pie or having tiramisu for dessert or getting a steak. If you lead a lifestyle where you are a pretty healthy person, having pizza on a Saturday is not a big deal. It’s just one meal out of four or five meals a day, seven days a week.
The Pump's mantra: We Think. You Eat.
The Pump offers such goodies as veggie chili, broccoli, sweet potatoes, spinach, portabella mushrooms and chicken.
How do you pick locations for The Pump?

We are still really trying to learn that and understand it. One thing we look at is how well do other restaurants do in that area or on that block. We're very early and this is our first flagship, but with each new location we open we learn more.

From when the lease is signed till you open how much time does it take?

It depends on a lot of things like the landlords and the approval process. This took three months to build. We should be able to build a restaurant inside three months as we go along.

How has the economy affected The Pump?

Well, we are a little different because we are not a mature chain with a nationally recognized brand. We have only had this location open for five months so we don’t have last year to compare it to. I would say that anyone who is in the retail or restaurant business in Manhattan has been affected. There are less people spending less money and people have lost jobs and left the city.

Many healthy options to choose from.
My go-to fav: spinach, veggie chili, tofu, sweet potatoes, cheddar cheese with red pepper sauce.
A closer look.
From when you took over The Pump, what was the first thing you did to change it?

It’s basically a completely reinvented concept from the food to the menus to what the restaurants look like. I spent a lot of time understanding what the business was like that we had acquired. What worked and what didn’t. It was a really big menu with about 150 items on it at a time. It was hard for customers to understand and process. It was hard to train on, you couldn’t really train cooks. These cooks that we had were exceptional at what they did but there were very few who could do what they do. So if one of them wouldn’t show up one day, we had a problem. Once you have a problem, you have a lot of upset customers.

What we discovered was the operation wasn’t scaled and we couldn’t grow it. We weren’t satisfied if we couldn’t get every order right, every day. So we went back to the drawing board and created a system that works. We spent a ton of time thinking about how we could prepare exceptional food that, even though it’s healthy, is still exceptional in a culinary approach.

Over the last two years this is what we came up with. We studied other restaurant concepts and what they did well and decided that the assembly line model works well ... and then we turned to the food. You can serve a turkey burger but everyone serves turkey burgers. There’s nothing special about a turkey burger.

So although it used to work for us in our old restaurants, that wasn’t where we wanted to take it. We wanted to raise the bar with food. Wouldn’t it be amazing to serve real fresh turkey breast? We started looking at new equipment we could use and we spent a lot of time in a test kitchen working on that. It’s been a process of learning, doing, making mistakes and getting feedback until we are at the point where we are now. We have an operation that we think works very well and have great food, but that’s one thing we are going to work on forever. We are going to do more work on food and introduce new things because most of our customers come every day or multiple times a week. We don’t want them to get bored and we want to keep it fresh.

What’s next for The Pump?

The next stop is to build a handful of new locations in New York and then when we feel like its appropriated, we want to move to a new city like Washington, D.C. or as far as Los Angeles.

Do you love what you do?

Yes. I don’t think the restaurant business is the easiest to execute on a day-to-day basis because you have a lot of factors that you can’t control. I wouldn’t say it’s the easiest business, but that’s part of the challenge. I’m in a niche that’s personally something that I feel strongly about and that I practice in my life.

Until we eat again,
Jordana Z.

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