When you first opened La Sirena, it didn’t get the love you immediately envisioned. How did you react?
“It’s crucial to realize that, at any level, you might need to change some portion of what you’re doing—whether it’s a tweak or an overhaul. To be or to think that you have become everything… is either a symptom of blindness, foolishness or laziness. We’re still in the middle of developing La Sirena. It started out as a 500 seat restaurant, which we’re not really good at running, and has taken us a year to evaluate what we want—how we can make personalized, artistic statements that’s commensurate with our smaller restaurants like Babbo. We have made a lot of changes at La Sirena, including making the bar into a real tapas bar with chef Anthony Sasso from our Casa Mono; we changed the main resto into a delicious, simple, creative Italian restaurant with a fantastic 900 degree grill/broiler… [it’s] a little more risk taking, ingredient forward and philosophically in line with our other truly original spots.”
Do you think that message of enduring work is more important now than before?
“At this point, anybody who’s been on Top Chef for 10 minutes considers his or herself a celebrity chef. And I think the problem with that genre of player is that they think that they’re done working once they’ve won the prize, but what they don’t realize is that they’ve been given, suddenly, a platform to play on—one they should utilize to continue becoming a chef.”
As you’re growing and changing, do you ever worry about what people think of you?
“The beauty of New York City is that even if 4 million people hate me, there’s 6 million left. So, I don’t have to worry so much about being liked by everybody. That doesn’t mean I go out to insult or anger anybody. It just gives me a little more freedom.”