When Michelin-starred British chef Jason Atherton opened Berners Tavern at The Edition in London four years ago – his first restaurant in collaboration with Ian Schrager, the godfather of boutique hotels – it was a huge success right off the bat. Schrager was so impressed he asked Atherton if he wanted to open one in New York. “To which I replied: ‘F*** me, does the Pope sh*t!?’” recalls Atherton. Would you guess that Atherton was Gordon Ramsay’s protégé for 10 years? “I literally said that. He laughed and shook my hand and said ‘We don’t need a contract. I’m going to bring you to New York.’ And a year later we were here.”
Atherton’s Clocktower Restaurant at The New York Edition is one of 17 restaurants he now operates around the world with a collective turnover “in the region of $60 million, $70 million or something like that”. Casual.
The restaurant overlooks Madison Square Park, two minutes’ walk from Todd Snyder’s flagship store. Snyder was one of the first people to welcome Atherton to the neighborhood. “We got on like a house on fire and became friends through a mutual respect of food and fashion,” says Atherton, arguably Britain’s best dressed chef. “Then when he opened the store, I went over, had a look around and bought some things.”
Atherton, who works out religiously, is a particular fan of Todd Snyder + Champion range. “I wear it in the gym, I wear it to go out – it’s really comfortable and fits beautifully,” he says. And when he saw the range of limited edition ‘Speakeasy’ Todd Snyder + Champion t-shirts featuring the names of iconic New York bars, it sparked an idea for Atherton’s latest restaurant venture – a New York-style pizzeria in London called Hai Cenato (which means ‘Have you eaten?’).
We caught up with Atherton for breakfast at the Clocktower on a recent visit to New York to ask him about his partnership with Todd Snyder and what he eats for breakfast, amongst other things.
What is your Breakfast of Champions?
A five-egg omelet and black coffee.
Five eggs! That’s a lot, isn’t it?
Monday through Friday, I live on a high-protein diet because I work out. Tomorrow morning I've got a boxing lesson at Mendez Boxing Gym next to Todd’s store. I just really enjoy it. Weekends I eat what I want. I'll go out and have a burger or pizza, a bottle of wine, no problem. But Monday through Friday I'm very strict in what I eat: white fish, chicken, broccoli, asparagus. It just enables me to control my weight. At one point, quite a few years ago, I was 28% body fat. I'm now 15. I'm not trying to like walk around with a six-pack but I want to be able to buy 31-inch wait trousers and they fit nicely and I've not got like a roll of fat hanging over them and I've got to buy a baggy jumper. I work out because I like my fashion, not because I'm going to take my top off every five minutes to show everyone my six-pack. I'm not worried about that. And the boxing, I just really enjoy it.He wanted to get a reservation at Berners Tavern because we were fully booked – we were able to look after him and I went over to say hello because I wanted to meet him. Stayed in touch ever since
Yes, you’re into fashion. How did you first meet Todd Snyder?
He wanted to get a reservation at Berners Tavern because we were fully booked – we were able to look after him and I went over to say hello because I wanted to meet him. Stayed in touch ever since
And all the staff at your new restaurant in London all wear Todd Snyder t-shirts?
Yes, Hai Cenato is a New York-style pizzeria for people who really respect and understand pizza, with good bespoke beers and an interesting Italian wine list. And we have an East Coast hip-hop soundtrack. Todd did the t-shirts for the staff. Their are all based on classic New York speakeasy bars, and iconic liquor brands. I’ve stolen a few to wear at weekends.
Did you have any specific New York pizza restaurants in mind when creating your own?
Roberta’s in Brooklyn, Pasquale Jones and Charlie Bird in Manhattan. Whenever I'm in town I always go to Pasquale Jones.
How often are you in New York?
I come about four or five times a year. It's the one I visit the most out of my international restaurants because it's just six hours from London. I can start service [in the restaurant] in London and finish service here. There's not many places in the world you can do that. I just love New York. It's a very, very, very cool city. To be able to have a restaurant here in New York, especially with Ian Schrager. He's a legend.
Have you been to Schrager’s new hotel here, Public?
Yes, I called him yesterday to congratulate him. He was telling me about how he's reinvented the hotel in terms of the reception and concierge and check in. You still get a five-star experience, but in a different way for the new millennial traveler. And I mean, for a guy who's so successful, probably worth a couple of billion, I have no idea, but it's like he doesn't even need to worry about stuff like that. But that's not the point, do you know what I mean? It's mind-blowing in what he's envisaged.
What's the first thing you do when you get into a hotel room?
I’m a neat freak. I'm a Virgo. I can't do anything unless I've unpacked, put everything away. I take a hand towel I lay it out, put all my toiletries in a line, get myself organized so I know my room is sorted.
You worked for some of the world’s most famous/infamous chefs before striking out on your own. What did you learn from each of them?
Marco Pierre White was very single-mindedly determined to be the best chef in Britain at the time, if not the world. Very hell-bent on how he did things. He never stopped until he got what he wanted. I suppose I got that determination from him. And his simplicity was second to none, and his work ethic was phenomenal. But he burned out very young. So, I learned the work ethic from him, but also how to control that so I didn't burn out.
And Gordon Ramsay?
I learned from Gordon how to run a business because being a chef in modern day times is not just cooking. It's using media to your advantage and all those things. But I don't want to be famous personally. I want the restaurants to be successful. I'm very happy just going about my life and being nobody when I'm not in a chef jacket, you know?
What about Ferran Adrià?
The creative side absolutely comes from Ferran Adrià because I've never worked with anybody who is so creative. It was quite incredible. I don't cook molecular gastronomy, I never did. I went there [the now-shuttered El Bulli] to learn how I could be more creative with my style of food, think outside the box. Because that guy never looks at food like a normal person, and I don't think anybody will look at food like that again.
What would your Death Row meal be?
Have you been to the new Brooklyn Fare here? The one on West 35th Street? I went three months ago when I was here last. I've got to say it's probably the best meal I've eaten in my life. So I'd want Cesar Romero to cook me his tasting menu. It was just incredible.