Chef Dan Kluger
Dan Kluger is the Executive Chef of ABC Kitchen and ABC Cocina in New York. He majored in Nutrition and Hospitality Management at Syracuse University, spending his externship in the dining room of Danny Meyer’s Union Square Cafe where he developed a passion for seasonal cooking. In 1999 he became part of the opening team of Tabla Restaurant, and he later became Tabla’s first Chef de Cuisine. He was then hired by Tom Colicchio as an Executive Chef for The Core Club, and has since helped open restaurants in Arizona, Utah, DC, and New York.
What inspires you to cook and create new recipes?
It’s about finding something that excites me. ABC Kitchen is a block away from the farmer’s market, and I love spending all week at the farmer’s market. Just that tactile approach to touching something and thinking about maybe a peach and what you’re going to do with it, then walking over to another booth and finding something else. Next thing you know, there is a dish that comes out of it. That really inspires me. Also the research– whether it be eating out, reading something, seeing a recipe on a blog, and anything that might create a spark that makes you want to do something with it in your own voice.
What do your knives mean to you?
It’s like getting behind the wheels of a sports car and thinking you can drive really fast, when you really can’t or shouldn’t. When I get an amazing knife from Japan, I feel like I could be a sushi chef but I can’t and I shouldn’t be. I love the feel of them, they’re light. My favorite is the Masanobu. I love the handle and the weight of it. They keep an edge well and are easy to sharpen. The knife is a major part of what we do, and I find that the Masanobu knives are the most comfortable knives to use. But there’s a level of respect that should go into your knives. It’s great to have a car to get from A to B, but if you don’t treat that car properly it’s not going to take you from A to B. I try to instill that mentality to my cooks. Nothing upsets me more than when I see a dirty knife on a cutting board or on their tray of tools- they are not receiving proper care. To some respect, what we do is very sacred. If we are going to prepare your food, it has to be with the proper tools.
What is your advice for aspiring chefs?
This isn’t a field that you can just jump into and do half heartedly. If it’s something you want to do, whether you go to school or not, you have to really give 110%. There is no immediate claim to fame, and there are very rare instances of instant gratification. You’re going to cook away, and not necessarily get the feedback that the customer enjoyed something. Your gratification has to come internally from being excited about what you’re doing. The money is not great, the hours are not great, schedules are not great, but it’s one of few fields where you can be excited about what you did all day long and realize that there is a skill behind it the whole time. There are a lot of people who end up cooking as a second career, because they all of a sudden found this new passion, and I think that’s amazing. We all need to eat, food is everywhere, the culture of food is everywhere. But again, it’s important to do your own research, realize what it entails, and think if you want to give 110% each day. With the popularity of chefs and TV shows, it’s all too easy to get caught up in the idea that you’re going to work somewhere for 6 months and become the next chef on TV. That’s not the reality. It’s a matter of paying your dues.
How did you find out about Korin?
In 1997 when I first started cooking, before you guys were open to the public. I was one of those guys that picked up every cookbook I could find, every equipment catalogue I could get my hands on, and I mean, I don’t know what joy I found in looking at a catalogue with cake pans in it, but for some reason it was important, and it was the same with knives. I’m sure I found it in some magazine, or one of the guys in the kitchen said “oh you gotta go down to this place,’ and it was before you guys renovated. Whenever I got some Christmas money, I would go out and buy a Christmas present for myself. Then every promotion when I got my gift for myself I would buy a new knife, which is how I ended up with so many knives and each time I moved up a little bit. All of these are nice, but to pick up a knife and get to work, the Masanobu knife is the one I’ll always go to. I’m lucky that my wife gave it to me one time.
What is your philosophy towards hospitality?
Hospitality is this overall picture of the dining experience. All the way from when you make the reservation to the end. We like to keep it simple and casual, but we want our customers to feel respected and this reciprocal excitement about what we’re doing. People wait for a month to come and eat at ABC kitchen, we need to make sure we live up to those expectations. It can’t just be that the food was great or the service was great, it really has to be the whole picture. For me, I try to look at the whole picture from wherever I am, whether it be in the kitchen or out on the floor, and figure out how I can be a part of the whole picture. How can I make sure that your experience from start to finish is what we think it should be and what we want it to be.