Gray (Kunz) is the new Black
So the t-shirt was made. "Have you seen him" with a picture of one of the most admired chefs among chefs. I think DJ Clue, from the radio station Hot97 in NYC, refers to himself as "your favorite DJs favorite DJ".
Gray Kunz could probably hold the title of "your favorite Chefs favorite Chef."
I wanted to write this in order to explain the development of this idea. I've had the privilege of working closely with a number of Executive Chefs throughout my career. I would like to stress closely because many cooks and Sous chefs would be challenged to use such an adjective honestly when describing a relationship with their Chef.
A common thread has become apparent among the ones I've admired the most, Lespinasse.
The emphasis on greatness, focus on freshness, and importance of quality ingredients are only some of the factors that appear to have weighed heavily upon people working in that kitchen. Fear of failure, one of my favorite values a young cook can possess, ran rampant in his kitchens. With the walk-in refrigerators nearly a city block away in the St. Regis hotel, cooks at Lespinasse needed to make every trip to that area worth the journey as it not only cut into their prep time - it was also locked for the evening at the start of service.
The stories I've been told of scrubbing cooking suites, polishing copper, and refrigerators organized by wicker baskets full of vegetables create an image of what things were like vs. what they are like now. I don't even think Culinary students do their own dishes anymore at the CIA and could only imagine what decay and disrepair kitchens across New York City would fall into were it not for overnight porters.
These men, who became Chefs, continued to push these standards within their own kitchens in a manner that inspired cooks to abide.
To have affected so many professional cooks, whether it be first hand in the kitchen of Lespinasse or indirectly through the legacy of Chefs he created, Gray Kunz has become an idol to a very specific few. The cooks who think they are immune to or are simply unaware of Chef Gray's influence are probably basting fish with one of his signature spoons, proving that they too can not escape it.
Just read the New York Times review by Ruth Reichl from 1994 and imagine the mental stamina it would have required to be successful on that line.
But it closed.
And he's gone. Cafe Gray exists in Hong Kong but what about NYC?
Sure, the standards enforced by Chefs like Eddie LeRoux at places like Daniel are of top notch and many go on to inspire others after their time served but not in the almost mysterious and magical way someone from Lespinasse can.
And so the idea for the design had festered even before I knew it was one.
My first moleskin (bottom left) had a sticker which I cut into two pieces from a surfboard company that appealed to the youth in that market, Lost. An obvious knock-off of the original Powell-Peralta skateboard companies ad campaign "Animal Chin". Both had their implications of undeserved recognition in an industry running rampant with it.
Our version here at forked shirts is focused on the facial recognition of Chef Gray and the emotions it may evoke from that select few who had the honor to work for him. Its existence is to bring the conversation of greatness back into the world of cooking. It is to highlight the back breaking work, stress and humiliation endured on a daily basis. It should bring pride to those who know and remind them of their important role in relaying these standards.
For me it is a wolf in sheep's clothing, a timid smile with the fire of someone obsessive and controlling behind. It asks "have you seen the current state of talent in our industry?" (an article in and of itself). It asks "have you seen what it was like?" It begs for an institution like Lespinasse to return to New York City and create the next generation of greatness.