FOOD FOR THOUGHT WITH LACHLAN MACKINNON-PATTERSON / by Brackett Bilodeau

Image courtesy of Frasca Food and Wine

Image courtesy of Frasca Food and Wine

We sat down with Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson, a FOOD & WINE Best New Chef and visiting master chef at our latest obsession, Chefs Club.

LA: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
LMP: I’m a chef/restaurateur from Boulder, CO, and we have two restaurants there. The first one was Frasca Food and Wine, which opened 2004, and that’s a restaurant I opened with Bobby Stuckey, who’s my business partner and Master Sommelier. We met working at the French Laundry in the early 2000s. We then relocated to boulder in ‘03, opened in ‘04, and seven years in did a huge renovation and at the same time added a full-service take on a neapolitan pizzeria next door. It’s called Pizzeria Locale. We still have those two restaurants today. and in addition to that, Pizzeria Locale has a joint venture with Chipotle and has two other locations in Denver that are more quick-service oriented. We’re also opening a restaurant in Kansas City this summer.

LA: What was it like to be named a FOOD & WINE Best New Chef?
LMP: Oh, it was awesome. I mean, we had only been open for 8 months, so yeah, it was crazy. We opened in 2004 in August and I got a phone call from Dana Cowin (Editor in Chief, FOOD & WINE) in like March. I think first what it did was it helped us attract better culinary employees and young culinary students. Frasca became an attraction faster than we would’ve thought; it definitely raised the bar a little bit. After that it just kind of continued to slowly build the restaurant brand and other things then came thereafter, whether they were James Beard award nominations or winning James Beard awards, things like that. It was the very first piece of PR accolade the restaurant ever got. Bobby in his own right had a lot of momentum already, but that too I believe really picked up after that. This was the first restaurant that he owned as well. The brand was very new, you know, very impressionable at that point and so it really sort of catapulted everything much sooner than we ever thought.

LA: What about when they asked you to be part of Chefs Club?
LMP: It was great. I’d actually not heard of what it was all about; I wasn’t aware of the concept’s potential. That may be because in the last year there’s been a shift in the direction and new people have come on board, so it seems to have really grown up a lot right around the time I was asked to be part of it.

Right when I moved back from France in 2001, the very first restaurant I was curious about applying to was when Alain Ducasse opened his first restaurant here called the Essex House. Didier (Elena) was the Chef de Cuisine. And so I actually met Didier long before Chefs Club, and I remember thinking, “God, this is going to be the best restaurant in the country for sure.” And so when I moved back from France, I was like, “Where am I going to find these kinds of restaurants?” About two weeks later, I was in California checking out the French Laundry, and it was just so different. It had such a different feel and atmosphere; it was just kind of, you know, you just can’t really explain it. It was just different. And I thought, “Well, I should just do something different.” So I decided not to move to New York and instead moved to California. Which was a great decision, because Bobby was the wine director there at the time. So had I not done that, there would be no Frasca.

LA: It’s interesting that after having spent so much time in France, you ended up going the Italian route. What was the decision-making process behind that?
LMP: It was a silly thing. Bobby and I wanted to open a restaurant that had a neighborhood feel but had some of the finer touches we had all loved working in fine dining restaurants for so long. And we read in a book about this idea of a “frasca,” and basically it’s a historic dining tradition in the northeastern part of italy, in Friuli specifically, where when that part of Europe became part of Italy, the Italian government basically said, “Here we have all these people that are newly Italian, so how do we indoctrinate them into the culture?” So to give them kind of like a financial boost, they allowed them to operate an agroturismo program. As long as they grew all the food themselves and the wine that they made came from their own vineyards, they could sell these things and not have to pay any taxes. So essentially they ran these countryside businesses to get their feet on the ground. They called these things frascas. We always thought the concept, the name and everything, was just super cool. So we kind of thought, no lie, “Let’s open a restaurant. Let’s call it Frasca.” And then about three months later we were like, “Wait. What are we doing? We can’t name a restaurant after something we’ve never seen. We gotta go.” So we went.

I think the really beautiful thing about Frasca is that at its core, it’s a restaurant that continues to evolve. There’s a way of eating there that’s different than it was ten years ago. And it’s because we continue to go back to the same region for inspiration as opposed to just saying “let’s just go everywhere.” So naturally, you become more of an expert at something the more you do it. That’s what we do.

LA: How is all of this and your background going to come through in your tasting series here?LMP: The tasting series that we’re doing here - every single one of those dishes is traditionally Friulano. so i think that if you come to the tastings, you truly get a piece of frasca. different than you would get from Chefs Club on a regular basis. the way the menu is designed in the dining room, which is a great way of laying this out, is so that guests can really come in and feel like they can what they want to eat from a variety of different places. you know, it’s like, “Oh, I want this and it’s from that chef? Cool!” If that dish happens to be from Frasca, great. But my tasting [in the Studio] is really just about traditional Friulano Frasca dishes.

LA: What’s your take on tasting trends in America as a whole?
LMP: I think from a trend perspective what we’re seeing in the US is the explosion of the casual restaurant. And I think there’s an up side and a down side to that. You can experience the art or point of view that was maybe once very expensive and it’s now kind of simplified so that you don’t have to spend as much money but can still dine well. The down side, I think, is in the service. Especially, I would say, where you may feel it the most would be on the hospitality side. So how you’re greeted, how you depart, you know, basic fundamentals of taking care of guests. I think sometimes they’re not very well done in this casual movement. The other thing I would say for sure is from a wine side; if you want to drink the great wines of the world, if you want great wine service, everyone associates that with fine dining. The truth is that this could also be, and is, in many cases, tricky for more casual restaurants and is often an afterthought for either the restaurateur or the group. There are a lot of casual restaurants in the US with either terrible glassware or poor wine programs as well as mediocre hospitality. My hope with that trend is that it does one of two things: it either is a backlash to the backlash and we’ll end up seeing a bridge to finer restaurants, or maybe they ease up on crazy expensive china in three Michelin star restaurants and be forced to have really extensive artwork...you know, all the fluff you need in order to get the Michelin star accolades. But maybe they keep the great service, the hospitality, the great wine list, nice glassware and bring that into the casual realm. I think that’s important because what’s causing this renaissance in dining is that people can afford to eat out more often because of all these casual restaurants...but it would be great if they still got to have the hospitality you’d get at a finer restaurant. That people would feel like they were really cared for. That the wine service was great. There are plenty of great examples. Maialino: great wine list. Totally casual restaurant.

LA: Lastly...tell us your favorite spot in the city. Aside from Chefs Club, of course.
LMP: My favorite restaurant in New York is Charlie Bird. To me that’s the most complete restaurant in the city. And when I say complete I mean price quality, hospitality, atmosphere, educated staff, great wine list, nice glassware. All bundled into one.