This past weekend I interviewed Mitchel London at the Fairway Café and Steakhouse. I am an admirer of his food because quite simply, it’s delicious and always fresh. Besides the cupcakes, which put most bakeries' versions to shame, he makes these French crullers (my favorite donut), which are soft, light and airy, and addictive. Originally, we were supposed to meet at his kitchen at Burgers & Cupcakes, but it turns out our meeting was moved to Fairway.
His food business is big and in addition to his beefy catering outfit, he runs the restaurant at Fairway, Mitchel London Foods shop, and Burgers & Cupcakes (in his former life, he was also Mayor Ed Koch's official chef at Gracie Mansion for seven years). Throughout our interview he was simultaneously interacting with the staff and customers without missing a beat. I was impressed. On top of that, he is gracious and genuine and obviously loves his business.
What’s your routine everyday?
I go to my kitchen everyday on 35th and 9th. I spend a couple of hours there, then I come here. Sometimes I am here for lunch and sometimes for dinner then sometimes I go to the Harlem kitchen for Fairway. I divide it up.
No, it’s my wife and myself. We have very good management in the stores and people work very hard so it works.
How did you get involved with Fairway?
About nine years ago Fairway opened this restaurant and they asked me to run it. I said sure and we have been together ever since with a minor split in the middle somewhere.
How do you know how much to make of everything and what to make?
At Burgers & Cupcakes we know we are going to sell 800 or 900 cupcakes on a Monday and 1500 on a Thursday or Friday, so we keep track of that. The shop at 65th Street has been there for twelve or thirteen years and so we obviously know what will sell there in the course of day. At Fairway, the menu changes five or six times a year. It’s seasonal and based on what’s in the market and we know what we sell day to day, week to week and year to year.
What is your most popular item on 65th Street?
I have to say it is the lemon chicken cutlet. It’s popular because it’s very delicious and a real comfort food. It’s served with mashed potatoes and anything with mashed potatoes sells.
What’s your favorite food to make and to eat?
I am very lucky. It ranges from a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, which I can enjoy with as much gusto as sole meuniere. I feel bad for people who can’t enjoy both ends of the spectrum.
What do you mean?
Some people think its got to be sole meuniere every night or something on that level, but you can’t eat and enjoy it every night. I love cold cereal.
|What’s your favorite kind?
I have to say Rice Krispies and Raisin Bran. Things like that, very basic and from my childhood.
How did you get into the food business?
My mother told me to be a cook. My mother is a very good cook and everything she makes is delicious. She told me to be a cook so I went for it and the rest is history as they say.
I went to the Rhode Island School of Design cooking school, which is now defunct. They taught me all the basics and I took it from there.
What do you eat everyday?
I make a point of having a salad everyday. We have a great salad at Fairway, Boston lettuce with 25-year-old aged Balsamic vinegar, sea salt and olive oil. I love that. I used to have a cupcake everyday but I had to cut that out. I just got tired of it. I had one last night, which was excellent. I eat a lot of bread. I eat too much toast, cinnamon toast, tartines and stuff like that. I love toast.
When did the first Mitchel London open?
In 1987, 1988 something like that.
Was it successful right away?
No, it was a big bomb. It was a part time business with a full time rent. That’s always a bad mix. Then we opened Mitchel London Caterers in 1990 and that worked well.
What restaurants do you like to go to?
I eat at Fairway Steakhouse five nights a week. I love the food.
How do you come up with the recipes?
They are all very classic standards that have been around for 200 years. To me, to take great lamb chops and put them on the grill with a little bit of olive oil, rosemary and sea salt ... there is nothing better. There is nothing easier, more satisfying or more delicious. I don’t feel the need to create dishes. I love the classics. I think sole meuniere is one of the best dishes invented by man. I like the old standards done well and fresh. The older I get the fresher my food has to be.
Across the board whether it is ice cream in the freezer, steak or fish. It has to be made then eaten; I can’t go back to it.
|How has this industry changed from when you started?
More people know more things about food, everything is much more expensive and the rents are insane.
How did you pick the location for the 65th Street store?
We purchased it from someone many years ago. It was a functioning business we just took it over.
Whenever I go, there is always a line to get in.
It’s a small shop so it doesn’t take much to get a line going, but when I go it’s very busy.
|I know at the end of the day you are out of everything.
If I walk into a prepared food shop at eight o clock at night and they have a case full of food, I know that food is coming back tomorrow morning. I would not want to be purchasing that food. It has to be done everyday. The guy makes 5 or 6 deliveries everyday because they are constantly making stuff in the kitchen. I love being out of food at 7:00 at night. I don’t mind telling someone who comes in for a roast chicken that we are all out.
How do you know exactly how much to make?
There is no exact number. You can sell ten of something one day and none the next day. You don’t need an exact number. If you are a little short or a little over it’s not the end of the world. People always say to me can I take this and freeze it? I don’t freeze anything. In our freezer in my kitchen we have ice cream, that’s it. People love to put stuff in the freezer and we are the opposite.
Do you have a motto?
Yes, very simple, very fresh and very delicious. Delicious is the key word and it is a very underused word in the food industry.
Mitchel London Foods, 22A E 65th Street Phone: (212) 737-2850
Burgers & Cupcakes, 458 Ninth Avenue Phone: (212)643-1200
The Fairway Café and Steakhouse, 2127 Broadway Phone: (212) 595-1888
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Until we eat again,