The New York restaurant opening I'm most excited about in 2022 is a yet-to-be-named French restaurant by a young Japanese chef stepping out on his own for the first time in a city that's always welcomed dreamers.
Chef Mitsunobu Nagae may be be taking the reins as executive chef for the first time in his culinary career, but if you've dined at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, Shun or Le Jardinier in the past few years you're already familiar with his cooking. The 34-year-old chef says that his new concept will be a 50-seat French "bistronomy" restaurant in Tribeca, scheduled to open in the spring of 2022.
'Bistronomy' is a new term – a combination of bistro and gastronomy – representing the style of pure, no frills cooking by a new vanguard of creative young chefs. These chefs have extensive training in haute cuisine, but wish to serve honest, ingredient-driven food in a more accessible fashion rather than chasing Michelin stars. This is just what New York needs after emerging from the pandemic. A place where you can enjoy Michelin-quality food without fussiness, sky high prices or the formality of dress codes.
Nagae grew up in Osaka, one of Japan's greatest cities for foodies, and he began making bento boxes for himself and his younger sister when he was in high school because his parents had such busy work schedules. “I’m not sure if it was delicious but they were happy,” he says.
He was 17 before he tried French food for the first time – roasted French duck and foie gras at a bistro in Osaka – and started learning French a year later before moving to Lyon to attend the French branch of Tsuji Culinary Institute on a coveted scholarship.
“I didn’t know anything about French cooking at that time,” he says. “The unknown world attracted me and I wanted to learn real French cuisine in France. The Tsuji program in Lyon also offered a great opportunity for students to work at respected local restaurants for six months.”
His internship at Restaurant Régis et Jacques Marcon in Saint-Bonnet le Froid, a fine dining restaurant with three Michelin stars, was his first introduction to a Michelin-starred kitchen and left a lasting impression with its dedication to quality and discipline. Nagae bounced between Tokyo and Paris after graduation, working at fine dining temples like Joël Robuchon and L’Osier in Tokyo and Ledoyen in Paris.
In 2017, Nagae moved to New York to join the opening team of L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, helping them achieve two Michelin stars in 2019. I remember dining at L'Atelier in New York in October of 2019, marveling at the bright flavors in dishes that were simultaneously bold yet delicate. There was hamachi sashimi with yuzu dressing followed by chanterelle Parisian gnocchi. I noticed Asian accents like wasabi tofu on a composed plate with tomatoes and king crab. Nagae has always naturally thrived while balancing French and Japanese cooking techniques and philosophies.
Shortly thereafter, the management team of L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon in New York invited Nagae to join Shun and Le Jardinier as chef de cuisine under director of cuisine Alain Verzeroli.
“I like the style of traditional French cuisine made in France but I often adapt them using local, in-season ingredients and make tweaks inspired by my culinary training,” Nagae explains. “For example, I once made a cassoulet, normally a hearty slow-simmered stew of confit, sausage, pork, and white beans, with lobster and chorizo. The use of in-season lobster transformed the dish from a winter-time favorite to a lighter summer dish with a slight kick from chorizo.”
At his new restaurant, Nagae hopes to create a sophisticated yet accessible atmosphere for diners to relax and enjoy a great meal with family and friends.
“I value the first impression of the food and the essence of cooking,” he says. “For me the first bite has to be delicious and the first impression lasts until the end of the meal.”