2017 New York City Rising Star Chef Greg Baxtrom of Olmsted

2017 New York City Rising Star Chef Greg Baxtrom of Olmsted
January 2017

The minute he left high school, Greg Baxtrom set his sights on a career in the culinary arts. He began his journey at Kendall College in Evanston, Illinois, which soon shipped him out of the country for an internship in France. Upon his return, Baxtrom resumed his schooling stateside, while living just down the street from Alinea in Chicago.

Tasked with developing a restaurant concept for a class project, Baxtrom chose to mimic the venerable restaurant that stood just steps from his apartment. But, when he visited the team at Alinea, hoping merely to do some on-location research, Grant Achatz put him to work.

Three-and-a-half years later, having risen to the role of Alinea’s sous chef, Baxtrom set out once more to explore the wider world of cooking. He has spent time in the New York kitchens of North End Grill, Blue Hill at Stone Barns, and Per Se, as well as of Lysverket in Norway. Perhaps most fortuitously, he cooked at Atera during Matt Lightner’s tenure and met horticulturalist Ian Rothman, who would become a partner in his first solo project, Olmsted.

At Olmsted, Baxtrom and Rothman have built an inviting space rich with carved wood (Baxtrom’s father is a carpenter) and an outdoor dining area that features a beautiful, functional garden complete with two egg-laying quail. It’s the ultimate destination-worthy neighborhood restaurant, whose vegetable-forward menu is imbued with Baxtrom’s classic technique.


Interview with New York City Rising Star Greg Baxtrom of Olmsted

Caroline Hatchett: How did you get your start? 
Greg Baxtom:
As soon as I left high school, I went to culinary school at Kendall College. In culinary school I did internship in France. When I got back, the school moved from Evanston to Chicago. I lived on Halsted Street, and Alinea was on Halstead. Grant [Achatz] was plating food, and pictures were popping up. My class required us to come up with a restaurant concept, so I mimicked the Alinea concept. That was how I got in the back door—I’m doing something for school. He said to come in and trail and then at the end of it, Grant said, “when do you start?” So I started another internship. I stayed three and a half years until I became sous chef. It got to the point where I had nothing to compare it to. Sorbet better. Garbage cans cleaner. Mugaritz houses you. I only need a few thousand dollars, so I did that for 5 months. I also staged at elBulli and Arzak. When I got back, I came to NYC to work at Per Se.

CH: What was the vision for the restaurant?
Looking for my own restaurant for w hill. Paired it down, what do I actually need to showcase what i want to do. 10 seat bar, 40 seat dining room, and some outdoor space. Then did I come across it. Show me one restaurant you have that you’re making money. In that, coming with a new approach. When I paired it down, what do I need, 10 seats at the bar, places for Ian to grow stuff. Restaurant before that didn’t make it, some are silent parters. Ian, horticulturalist at Atera.

CH: What's the biggest challenge facing your restaurant? 
Price point constraint, but that’s turning into a positive. We don’t charge more than $24 for anything, so we have to be creative. Scallops after shucking, some break and there are scallops that are the same one, just two-thirds. We take those, piecing them together, and grill them with corn. When we were doing beef, they only killed 5 animals a week, and we had to commit to purchasing a specific cut.

CH: What's your five year plan? 
Get this to a place where we are seven days a week, restaurant is stable. We’re planning a dinner with Rose’s Luxury, Grant. We made it happen here. We want to change equipment, install a drain in the basement– stabilizing it on a more practical level. We want to expand the garden, put a cistern in, and get rainwater into our toilets. We also want to expand the compost program and dig a pond for fish. Whatever you do, make sure your mother is comfortable in your own restaurant.

CH: Is there anything you wish you did differently?
Even though I feel like I thrived in Per Se and Alinea, I wouldn’t change a thing. I don’t feel like I have all the answers. I’m trying to impart what I learned on all the cooks, but I don’t know why I don’t feel that I don’t need to yell at them to get my point across. Kyle and Jenny dance while they’re cooking, and talk to the guests. They get lost in the conversation. That’s an encouraging environment. You don’t have to be a certain way to get the same result. Pay them well. I would never want to work six days a week.