with Charlie Palmer
By Merrill Maiano
Maiano: What are your earliest food memories and when
did you know that you wanted to cook? Was there a particular
person or event that influenced your passion for food?
Palmer: I began cooking in high school as a job, not thinking
it would become a career. That idea was instigated in part
by Sharon Crane, our high school home economics teacher, and
Tell me a little bit about the things that helped to create
the groundwork for your interest in local and artisanal foods?
What prompted you to stick with "American" food
as opposed to French, or any other kind of cuisine?
Growing up in what I consider a very American part of the
country, and then being exposed to mostly French food, it
just made complete sense for me to become part of a movement
to create what I hope someday will become an actual "cuisine"
based on American ideals.
What do you value most about having had a formal culinary
The exposure to old world chefs, and a solid basis to work
How did you initially imagine yourself in the restaurant world?
Did you always know that you would expand into so many culinary
I, like many other young culinarians, became intensely involved
in food and dining at a young age. From there it was just
a constant progression, what we do just makes sense.
"American" food has long been looked down upon as
a generic identity-less cuisine. In cooking "Progressive
American" cuisine, you have done a great deal to promote
the kinds of products and producers that are helping to give
American food a sense of identity. How far has American food
come since you started cooking? Do you think "Progressive
American" has come of age?
I think we've made great advances in many ways. Probably most
importantly, we've made advancements in the quality of ingredients
and the commitment of artisanal producers. I think Progressive
American cooking has certainly become important and recognized
at this point.
What do you think it is that sets "good chefs" and
"great chefs" apart?
I think to be a great chef you need to understand and apply
yourself in many different ways, and most importantly have
a vision of, as we refer to it, "the big picture",
which is basically a philosophy of food.
What's your philosophy on food? On business? On restaurants?
Our philosophy is basically very simple: to seek out the highest
quality ingredients and to treat them or enhance them to show
them in the best light. Although the creativity is a huge
part of it, the main focus always needs to be on taste. Though
we've been blessed with many incredible build-outs, creative
restaurants, wine towers, etc., the simple fact is that our
business is based on people. We're constantly thinking of
ways to move our restaurants in fresh, interesting directions.
As far as new concepts, we want to be on the cutting edge
of where I think food and dining is, and should be, going.
What are your favorite things to eat?
My tastes change as much as the seasons change and I'm always
interested in new taste sensations. But, I'm certainly always
happy with a great burger.
What are some of your favorite "can't live without it"
ingredients, and when you fix yourself a little something
to eat, what do you make?
Artisan cheeses, great bread, good Pinot Noir or Burgundy.
What is the biggest mistake you've ever made or worst experience
in the business? What's the best experience you've had while
in the restaurant business?
Worst? Opening a restaurant in Palm Beach, Florida. It's extremely
seasonal and not a community that embraces great food. Best
since I've been in the restaurant business? The birth of my
We all know that the restaurant business is intense, time
consuming, and relentless. All of that was reinforced after