2008 New York Rising Star John Fraser insists he wasn’t shooting for three stars when he opened Dovetail; the New York Times’ starry review made him change some things, in fact. What opened as a chic but neighborhood-focused Upper West Side restaurant drew such acclaim that Fraser put his servers in ties and made a tasting menu—but the comfortable, approachable character stayed the same.
Fraser’s first exposure to the culinary industry came as he pursued a degree in anthropology from the University of California, San Diego. He worked as a bartender and line cook during the year, and spent summers in Montauk, Long Island, cooking in various American bistros. Exposure to freshly-caught fish and local Northeast produce captivated his attention, and confirmed his inkling that a career as a chef was the right path to pursue. He proceeded to cook for two notable Los Angeles establishments, Cocco Pazzo and Raffles at L’Ermitage Beverly Hills, rising through the ranks to become sous chef at both locations. Seeking to further cultivate his fine dining expertise, he moved to Napa Valley to become a chef de partie under Thomas Keller at the French Laundry.
Fraser spent two years steeping in the renowned chef’s philosophy of seasonal ingredients and playful creativity, and Keller’s influence shines through on the creative, refined dishes of Dovetail. Stages in Paris at Taillevent and L’Arpege were influential as well—they gave him a global perspective on haute cuisine, and inspired him to move to Paris for a year to return to Taillevent and Maison Blanche, and spend a year exploring the city’s food markets and learning from local restaurateurs, farmers, and chefs.
Back in New York, Fraser opened an intimate Greek trattoria, Snack Taverna, with a friend, and two years later moved to Compass, where he drew critical acclaim and two stars from The New York Times. Fraser was named one of only four young chefs to watch in America by Esquire in 2006, and rave reviews for Dovetail began pouring in as soon as he opened the doors. In early 2011, Fraser opened the groundbreaking pop-up restaurant What Happens When on a shoestring budget and with no plans to stay open for long. After receiving critical praise and keeping the dining full for its seven-month run, What Happens When closed in July 2011.