24 May 2013


Chef of Hotel Elysée’s Monkey Bar (for Vertu)
AT 75 years-old, this Manhattan institution, bordered by banquettes and wrapped by an urbane mural of caricatures by Vanity Fair cartoonist, Edward Sorel, has been refreshed and reinvigorated by Graydon Carter. The libertarian and editor of Vanity Fair is co-owner of this and the Waverly Inn, both venues glittering with an A-list clientele.
‘I enjoy working for Graydon Carter’ says head chef, Damon Wise cheerfully. ‘In the early days of the re-launch, I’d take regulars’ feedback to heart, but Carter said: “see through moments of failure – keep pushing towards something positive.”’
Wise, who also goes by the nickname, ‘Diamond D’, inexplicably conferred by celebrity chef, Marco Canora, needed to make major changes to menu and brigade early into his tenure. ‘I don’t ever want to do that again!’ he shudders. ‘Three days-in, the night-time crew left because I told them they couldn’t drink on the job anymore. So it was just me and two others left in the kitchen. But we went ahead anyway.’
A student of psychology, Wise planned to enter that profession. ‘But I found it hard to figure myself out as a young man, which I still do as an older man!’ he says. ‘Nonetheless, psychology applies to the kitchen where you deal with so many attitudes and personalities day-to-day. Understanding people makes them more realistic.’
Wise also considered becoming a doctor after undergoing surgery. ‘There are lots of similarities between operating theatre and kitchen’ he says, and I look confused. ‘When I had a knee operation I refused general anaesthetic because I wanted to watch what was going on. Seeing interaction between doctors was almost a déjà vu. There’s fowl language, jokes and knives.... It’s the same thing as butchering an animal in the kitchen! I’d never do it again, but I did enjoy it at the time.’
Despite fantasising about other careers, Wise insists he remains a cook at heart. ‘Unlike most restaurants in New York City, which don’t ordinarily have their own butcher, our cooks do it themselves, which keeps us interested. The meats and fish I’m getting are just pristine. A gentleman who delivered a crossbreed of three different ducks saw me butchering a red snapper. “Oh my God” he said, “it’s the best fish I’ve seen - so fresh!” That makes me proud.’
Not long ago, Wise dreamt of running a fine dining restaurant. ‘But people haven’t got time to sit down like that anymore. They want wholesome food in a comfortable environment like ours. Who doesn’t want to share dishes when eating with friends? It’s memorable.’ Unlike the dense previous menu, Wise’s dishes, which draw on America’s regions with Asian influences, are crisp and simple. These include: braised pork belly, crispy oyster and kimchee; Colorado lamb with matsutake, Swiss chard and horseradish; and cinnamon pannacotta with roast pumpkin and rosemary. 
For Vertu