This interview with Matt Levine & Joe Isidori was conducted and modified by Céline Bossart.
We chatted with our favorite market-to-table pioneers for the skinny on SoHo foodie staple Chalk Point Kitchen. Check out the exclusive Luxury Attaché interview featuring Matt Levine, owner and founder, and Joe Isidori, Executive Chef. Take it away, gentlemen.
LA: What’s your vision as a New York City restaurateur?
ML: The vision: I decided to name our food & beverage holding company indieFORK to attempt to always stay true to our ‘indie’ individualized artistic and creative approach - a juxtaposition of the traditional restaurant arena. Restaurants are growing beyond brick and mortars; they are brands, and in many ways a lifestyle. And my vision as a restaurateur and indieFORK’s overall inspiration is to take that cultured grassroots approach (along with artistic and creative, unconventional concepts) and ideas and apply that to our everyday restaurant operations.
With increasingly higher rents in NYC, “Mom & Pop-esque” restaurants are disappearing. One of my further goals as a NYC restaurateur is to showcase “family recipes” in conjunction with organic and sustainable practices while applying my experience as an L.E.S. style entrepreneur. Bringing that community and neighborhood home cooking-focused menu to the culinary scene while building our base from the inside out is a priority, as is putting locals & neighborhood first. Beyond the culinary scope, enhancing all the small details and adding personalized touches create a truly hospitable and unique food & beverage experience each and every time.
Most recently, with our opening of Chalk Point Kitchen, a further vision came to life…growing up in New York and living in the Lower East Side for the past 8 years, you see the diversity, multi-cultural influences and a variety of green markets, all in your backyard. I wanted to create a restaurant dedicated to everything local by taking advantage of what New York City and our surrounding region has to offer: a true commitment to local, heirloom and heritage products. Being a native New Yorker, you are on your grind, your hustle, and you value dining out - I found myself looking for a fresh, healthy and quality dining out alternative - with a laid back, chill/downtown vibe. When I met Chef Joe (along with his outstanding resume and commitment to organic ingredients and sustainability) we had a shared vision of what we wanted to accomplish with Chalk Point Kitchen, and he (along with Chef Freddie) were able to execute and bring the menu (and vision) to life.
LA: How does your personal style transcend to your work?
ML: As you grow and as you gain experience, your personal style and taste certainly change as well, and eventually your personal experiences and lifestyle translate to your work. I am very hands on when it comes to the development of our projects, from the architecture, design, menu concept, operations, the steps of service, and so on. I would certainly say my personal style is at the roots and core foundation, but realistically it’s our team that executes my vision. Along the way, their approach, style, and personalized touch expand on my initial implementation. And in regards to style, I have to congratulate the squad...The Fashion Spot named Chalk Point Kitchen “NYC’s Most Stylish Restaurant Staffers” - and I can honestly say I had absolutely nothing to do with that (otherwise our entire staff would be rocking Air Force Ones and plaid flannels). All in all, I tell my team regarding their uniforms, be comfortable, dress your personality, be you. If you are comfortable with who you are, that confidence will translate into our service and result in a more relaxed guest experience.
But aside from my personal style, neighborhoods play the most influential part in transcending to our work; for example, when I originally opened up Sons of Essex, I had my employees tour the Lower East Side Tenement Museum to get a true understanding of the history of the Lower East Side. And most recently at Chalk Point Kitchen we went through a series of “history lessons” on the evolution and growth of SoHo, which included the foundation and meaning of our name - Chalk Point Kitchen is named for the oyster shell middens left by the Native American inhabitants at our doorsteps. We paid homage to Basquiat by lining our kitchen ceiling with his work as a nod to his influence in the downtown art movement and passion for food.
With so many markets in our L.E.S./Little Italy/SoHo backyard and NYC in general, our “market to table” concept allows us to be a dedicated restaurant that truly concentrated on the city’s diverse multicultural influences, dedicated to everything local. Think “Chinatown meets Union Square Green Market.” In fact, we created this video to showcase our local markets as well as acknowledge the hard work of our staff via our “Meet Our Team” video, available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-LQVNBXZ8a4/
Sourcing from local markets, Long Island fish purveyors, and Tri-State area farms while maintaining an organic and sustainable menu is fundamental and the basis of our concept at Chalk Point Kitchen. Besides putting a detailed listing of our local partners on the menu, our Executive Chef Joe Isidori trained our entire team on not only the advantages of sourcing local, but also the health benefits of our organic and sustainable menu.
LA: Any future plans/endeavors for Chalk Point Kitchen?
ML: Our indieFORK team has a couple of pretty cool pop-ups and projects in the works. It’s important to create content for your restaurant brand through non-traditional outlets - for example, we recently did a pop-up in the Hamptons and catered backstage at Lincoln Center for New York Fashion Week. Right now Chalk Point Kitchen is still in its developmental stage; it’s only been 5 months. We are constantly looking for guest feedback (I personally read every comment card myself), and areas in which we can improve our operations and guest experience as a whole.
LA: If you could eat only one dish from the current menu for a month, which would it be?
ML: Wow, that’s a hard question. Our menu updates every Friday, and while making my rounds on a nightly basis throughout the dining room, I always get asked similar questions...but in all honesty, I eat at Chalk Point Kitchen a minimum of 6 nights a week, and I switch it up each and every night with Chef’s market driven & purveyor specials. Not gonna lie, when I see Chef Freddie walking in with puntarelle from Paffenroth Farms I get kinda excited...that’s my new fix.
LA: Tell us a bit about your culinary background.
JI: I’m born and raised here in NYC. I am also a third generation professional NYC chef. My grandmother, my Father & myself. I am also the second person in my family to graduate from the prestigious Culinary Institute of America. I love to cook all things NYC in NYC!
LA: What's your M.O. in the kitchen?
JI: No B.S….I always say, "Stop it! You’re acting like a chef again! Think about the guests first!"
LA: Your all-time favorite Chalk Point Kitchen dish to make?
JI: Korean Style Maine Mussels with kimchi & bacon
LA: Name one ingredient you could never live without.
JI: Vinegar or any type of acid ( I.E. lemon). Acidity helps balance everything I do.
And there it is. Contact your Attaché for menu picks and more insider details.