Dan Kluger is a chef. Todd Snyder is a designer. They met through a mutual appreciation of each other’s work. Todd likes eating at Dan’s restaurants; Dan likes wearing Todd Snyder’s clothes.
As they got to know each other – Todd ate at ABC Kitchen and ABC Cocina often enough to become part of the extended family – they realized that though they do completely different things, they have a very similar approach. They both take good quality, everyday ingredients and add their own little twist to create something unique.
Another similarity is that though both have enjoyed working for and learning from the best in their respective fields, they each had a dream to strike out on their own, to be their own boss, to work with unrestricted creative freedom. And they didn’t just talk about it as a distant pipedream – they were brave enough to take the risk, to back themselves, and to make it happen.
Each of them has spent much of the last year working hard to design, construct and finally finesse the physical manifestations of their dreams which, coincidentally, will both launch at exactly the same time. Dan is about to open his own long-awaited restaurant, Loring Place on W 8th St just by Washington Square Park, and Todd is putting the finishing touches to his flagship store on Madison Square Park.
Todd has made the grey chambray chef’s aprons for Loring Place – a version of which is available for purchase – and he popped in to the restaurant to present them to the team. Of course, while he was down there, he and Dan cooked up a little something in the kitchen. And then they opened a bottle and started reminiscing. We recorded their conversation…
Todd: I think we met, was it three or four years ago?
Dan: It was close to six years ago at ABC. You were eating there for lunch one day.
Todd: Oh yes, that's right. Then I came down like, three more times within that month. It was my favorite place. I fell in love with your food before getting to know you. Immediately, we became best friends. I realized that there were so many similarities in what you do. Just your process...
Dan: This idea of simple ingredients with a perfect twist. That's what we do in the kitchen anyway.
Todd: I like the idea of taking something that's very common and twisting it and making it look different and elegant. I've seen you cook. I've watched you perform, I always call it perform. I know you don't consider it performing but it's pretty amazing. You can take these simple ingredients and turn something into this amazing dish. I think that's the thing I love about your cooking. I can understand what you're doing. The ingredients are known but it's how you put them together. Dan: It's a very organic process. We've talked about the similarities. it was very obvious how similar the process was, how definitely you can be inspired by one small thing. I think we started seeing similarity in trajectories of work. I could be walking through a farmers’ market. One of my favorite dishes came from walking from one stand to another. At the first one, I picked up fennel. The next one, I picked up peaches. Peaches, fennel – that works. Then, that's when I picked up tomatoes. I'm like, "Oh, one of my favorite cheap salsas is tomato and peach. OK, that can become something." Then, I got to the next one. I found sunflower sprouts. All these things, I started thinking about how they would work together and it became a dish.
Todd: What I love about your process is that you'll reinvent the basics. You reinvented the burger and you reinvented a pizza. You reinvented all the things that are staples in everybody's way of eating…
Dan: I think it's a matter of reinterpretation. That, I think, really comes very much from the heart, I guess. I worked for Floyd Cardoz at Tabla for seven years. I remember one day I was in a pissy mood and I had to make something. He pulled me aside and said, "I don't care what you do, always cook from your heart. If you're not into it, don't do it." That's always rung some truth. It always left that mark of: if my heart’s not in it, it's not going to be good. I think it's probably the same thing for you. You get to do these collaborations. At first you like, "Oh my God! I'm so excited to do this collaboration. Let me sit down and start working on it ... how am I going to get this done?" Sometimes it's that sort of writers’ block: we walk away and we come back. How many times did we work on the apron? Little tweaks. Could it be a different button? Could the logo be somewhere else? I think all of those things got us to something, in my mind, perfect. I'm going to be proud to wear it
Todd: I’m excited to wear it as well. It's unique but familiar. It's always like a weird balance of trying to get those two worlds to look together. I think you do it well with food. I love that you asked me to work with you on something for the restaurant. I'm thrilled to be part of it.
Dan: I remember taking a picture of you drawing it. It was kind of religious. You took a piece of paper and you drew out an apron. It was something I wanted to put on right off the paper. It was at a point when we were doing so much design stuff for the restaurant. So I was really enamored by everybody's ability to take a piece of paper and draw something. Like, "Oh wow. That's going to be a table. That's going to be a light."
Todd: One thing I really admire about you, I think we both have in common obviously, is, you know, I had an amazing job. I used to be at J. Crew men's. You were at the best restaurant in the city. What drove you to leave that?
Dan: I think probably the same thing as you. At some point you get to the point in your life where you want to choose the napkin, you want to choose the table color, you want to choose the glass. That was my dream. I’d worked for the best, I've worked for pretty much everybody. I was working for Jean-Georges who I think is the most talented chef out there, he's an incredibly smart business man, and I was learning a ton from him. But at some point, it's time to move on. To go work for one more person is probably not what I need to do.
Todd: I always knew that I wanted to go out on my own. I knew I wanted to learn as much as I could from the best. That's what my dad told me: “If you want to be the best, work for the best.” The reason why I left? I had turned 40 that year and I was like: "I got to do this today or I'm not ever going to do it." I had an amazing time. I worked for Ralph Lauren. I worked for GAP. Mickey Drexler was there and then I got to work with him at J. Crew. It was a dream come true for me. It gave me the launch pad.
Dan: [In Mickey] You worked for someone who I adore and I think someone who is an amazing business man and very smart in retail. You really helped create that part of the brand. You were the one who said, "I think we should do it one way, I think we should do these things." You helped build that into another business.
Todd: You were at the best restaurant in the city. It's my favorite restaurant. Part of me was a little bit ... I knew you were going to do your own thing but then I was like, "Where am I going to eat for a year?” I've definitely been missing it.
Dan: Haha. We both had goals and we met those goals. It felt like, now is the time.