Saturday, April 5, 2008

Interview With Chef Harold Dieterle of Perilla

Last May 5th, Chef Harold Dieterle, along with partner Alicia Nosenzo, opened Perilla NYC. With just a month to go until the one year anniversary, we thought it would be fun to check in with Harold to see how things have been going...

Harold! Perilla has been open for almost a year now, and the reviews just keep getting better! What's your secret?

No secret really. Staff is getting stronger and more passionate. Everyone is really doing a great job. Just really trying to cook soulful food people will enjoy.

Once you began planning Perilla, exactly how long was it before you actually opened the doors?

The concept itself was the easier part. Its took roughly a year to raise the money. Then another 3 months to find the space.

How much did the restaurant change between what you originally imagined to what it is now?

I feel like the restaurant changes every day. I feel like the budget we opened on is a reflection of our resourcefulness.

What has been your high point since opening? Your low point?

Getting the doors open was huge. As far as low points -- the rare occasion that we don't meet guests expectations. I'm not really much of an emotional roller coaster. Always try and look at situations as half full.

What do you enjoy most about your work? What are your greatest stresses? Your greatest joys?

It's really nice waking up in the morning and just cooking whatever I'm in the mood to cook. The menu and specials are a total extension of my current cooking tendencies. Its nice to be the boss. That being said I don't think that anything is more stressful then managing people.

What has been the most surprising thing about running your own restaurant?

It's never a dull moment. There is always something happening that is unexpected, be it positive or negative.

We know that your menu changes seasonally, and that you offer daily specials, as well as a brunch -- where does your inspiration come from?

My ideas come from such random places. Anywhere from traveling, modern plays on classics. Childhood reinterpretations. Most likely lately the food I've been cooking is ingredient driven. Just let each individual ingredient dictate how it is prepared.

Speaking of inspiration, who have been the biggest inspirations to your career success?

From an integrity standpoint as a person, definitely my parents. Both are tremendous role models. On being a chef and restaurateur, my last three chefs have all brought various strengths and weaknesses that have rounded me out to where I am today.

Any amusing kitchen incidents that you can share with us?

Yeah. Just about every day something crazy happens. Tried making some squid ink soba noodles yesterday. The buckwheat flour wasn't being nice to me. After I made the dough and let it rest it felt and looked like a lead ball on the table.

We know that restaurant staffing can be problematic -- how long did it take you to get just the right staff balance?

Staffing is a constant challenge. The kitchen is very solid right now. I am lucky that Alicia is a fantastic teacher, the staff really responds to her service style.

Has the Top Chef frenzy that initially surrounded you died down a bit, or are you still stopped for autographs and photos?

I would say it has lightened up a bit. But its still nice to hear that we have helped people become passionate about food.

Are there any culinary trends that people expect, but that drive you absolutely crazy?

I like to see food on the plate. After eating three courses my feeling is that a guest should be full. Not feel the need to go grab a slice of pizza afterwards.

How did you like being on the judges side of the table during the Almost Famous Chef competition in Napa?

It was fun being on the other side. I really enjoy critiquing food and just seeing what my palate can pick up. It was tough though, seeing the kids making mistakes that you know they won't realize for another year.

Since opening, have you ever been in the position of having to run the front of the house? If so, how was that?

No way! My place is in the kitchen.

How did you and Alicia meet, and what made you decide to go into business together?

We worked together at the Harrison. I have always respected her; it was great to see the vision we had for a business together was so similar.

How much input does Alicia have in the menu area?

Well, quite a bit. I usually a write a menu, go through the tasting of each dish, then she gets to play devils advocate.

How do you organize your recipes, i.e., computer, recipe file, little scraps of paper?

In my head.

Is there any one dish on your menu that you consider to be your "signature"?

Anything duck related. My New Year's Day "lucky duck" tasting menu was terribly fun. Six savory ducks courses.

Have there been any dishes you put on the menu that you were unsure of, but that took off like wildfire? Conversely, is there a dish that you thought would really take off that failed?

Yes. We're currently doing "Cheek Du Jour". Using all different fish and meat cheeks, and changing the preparation daily. People are really into it. There are dishes that I come up with all the time that I think people will dig, but are not well received. No one specific dish is coming to mind. There have been a handful, though.

What are some of the qualities that you feel a successful chef should have?

Compassion, a teacher, fearless, business oriented, stubborn, good cook.

Have you considered expanding, or opening another restaurant?

I'd like to do a different concept. I'll let you know when I have something "in stone" to report.

Is there a Perilla cookbook in our future?

I'd like to put pen to paper at some point. Don't think I'd call it the Perilla cookbook, though. Cookbooks are very time consuming, and I would never pay someone else to test my recipes.

Is there anything else you can tell us about yourself, your career, or the profession that might be helpful to others aspiring to enter the culinary field?

Pay your dues, don't get into cooking or culinary school to be on TV. You gotta love it.

In September of 2006, you blessed our original blog with its first interview, and the infamous "Harold Dieterle underwear question" was born. Since this is a follow up, we have to ask -- Has success changed your style, or are you still going commando in the kitchen? (And have you thought about marketing "Perilla" boxers with a stubby pencil pocket???)

Hahaha! Stubby pencil. Gonna leave that one alone.

What will you be doing to celebrate Perilla's first anniversary?

A Cinco de Mayo party.

Harold, we'd better let you get back to work! Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us! We wish you continued success, and can't wait to taste your cooking!

Thank you for all the love and support.


rooroob said...

Wow. I do NOT want to miss this.

Not sure how I missed six courses of duck on New Year's day. (Oh, right. In Washington. The one year I have a nice invitation, and I miss Harold's duck.)

eggplant said...

Great interview, Gals! So glad Harold, Alicia and Perilla are doing well 11 months in. Is there any way Harold would share a copy of the Lucky Duck menu and/or his Cinco de Mayo anniversary party menu? I remember how I drooled over the menu you posted when Perlla first opened. One of the things that has always attracted me to Harold’s food is that he comes up with twists I would never have thought of that are really intriguing.


Emma said...

This is the kind of success story I love to hear about. This young man is reaping the rewards of his hard work. Good job, Mr. Dieterle.

Anonymous said...

I like the "don't do it to get on tv" answer. Smart dude. Not like the second season guy.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for linking the original interview here. You should have asked if ladies still want his "man juice". Both great interviews!

Rachel said...

I had brunch at Perilla - both the food and service were superb.

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