There’s always some new hot-shot chef. Young, maybe rock-star good-looking, creative with food, bold enough to open a restaurant, and lucky enough to have diners come nonstop — and return. We’d love to find something we could criticize about Eric Gabrynowicz, 30, who helped open the highly acclaimed Restaurant North in Armonk in 2010 with partner Stephen Mancini. Aren’t top chefs supposed to toil first for years, barely eke out a living, and wait for stellar reviews? Yup, but Gabrynowicz has defied the odds.
In fact, he’s spent more than half his life in the industry. At the age of 14, he started washing dishes for a family friend for Montgomery Day, his town’s annual fall celebration. From there, it was on to the CIA, then to Danny Meyer’s Union Square Café in Manhattan for an internship where he worked his way up to sous chef. Next, he headed north to be the chef at Tavern at Highlands Country Club in Garrison. (At this point, we recognized the chef’s rising star power: Gabrynowicz was featured on the cover of our May 2008 issue along with four other “hot new chefs.”) Then, he and former Union Square colleague Mancini opened in Westchester after not being able to afford a lease in New York.
“No landlords would give two 30-year-olds a break; they’d rather have another Duane Reade,” he says. They also decided they didn’t want to do the same-old, same-old. On any given night, they might serve flatbread appetizers with wild mushrooms, truffle whipped ricotta, and house-cured lardo; or a Maine lobster dish with farotto and parsley foam. But Gabrynowiz’s greatest excitement right now is reserved for a forthcoming addition: his wife Laura is due to give birth to their first child at the end of this month.
Age 30 Hometown Montgomery Now lives In Beacon with Laura, who he met at now-shuttered Tabla in New York, another Danny Meyer restaurant.
Why the food industry? “After being dragged kicking and screaming to Montgomery Day to help while all my friends hung out, I had a great time. I started working weekends on the line, then went to the CIA to earn an associate’s degree.”
What you loved “The fast-paced environment with the industry’s ‘older pirates’ who could drink like sailors, curse, and have great fun in a high-energy environment. I think getting into the business was a way for me to connect with my grandfather, who was from Italy and worked as a waiter in New York for more than 40 years.”
Why the name? “Oh, it’s just north of the city or north of here or there. We said that so much we decided we should use it.”
Interest in sustainability “Eight months ago, we started an animal butchery program. We’ll take one animal that we find in Pine Plains and butcher it — maybe an entire side of beef or whole pig — and work with every part, which shows a respect for the ingredient and land. We’re not just calling up purveyors and getting great pork chops. This is what my grandparents understood and did, and we now respect the same process.”
How you and Mancini divide tasks “I handle the kitchen, he’s in charge of the front of the house and wine and spirits.”
When you knew you had made it “When Hudson Valley asked me to be in this article, along with Laura Pensiero and Peter Kelly. I don’t think we’ve gotten even a quarter of the way to success. That’s way too premature.”
But you were nominated for a James Beard award last year “I attribute it to my passion and hard work, my partner’s, and staff’s. We also treat people well.”
Any burnout? “No, I know we need time off, so we try not to push ourselves too hard. I make sure my cooks get days off to stay healthy.”
Career highlights Cooking ribs with Al Roker on the Today Show, being named one of the area’s hot new chefs when I was at Tavern by Hudson Valley and by Westchester magazine last year for Restaurant North.”
Cooking idols “My grandfather, who was the most amazing person in the world; Peter Kelly, who trained himself and has earned so much respect in the restaurant industry; Michael Romano, Meyer’s USHG partner.”
Cooking dreams “To be on Iron Chef America.”
Hottest Valley trend “Farm-fresh ingredients and the Slow Food movement.”
Pet peeves with diners “Nothing, it’s a great climate base in Armonk, which appreciates us.”
Competitiveness of the area “We’re working to create a restaurant community that’s tight-knit and friendly; this year we did our holiday party at Cookery in Dobbs Ferry where we cooked for their staff, and they cooked for us a week later.”
What you might cook at home tonight “Rigatoni with broccoli rabe and sausage.”