Matt Buchanan conjures an interview with New York's hottest chef...of the year 2081.
On a warm, very yellow November morning, I met the chef Paul Nova in front of his new restaurant, Farm & Table, which is finally set to open next week after two years of intensely secret research and development. 2081’s most anticipated new opening occupies the first flood-safe floor of a six-story trapezoid of condos, but it's a remarkable contrast to the checkerboard of glass and steel that wraps around the top five stories—bright, heavy wood doors open into a room of fifty seats that's lit by scavenged orange incandescent bulbs, littered with the occasional hunk of heirloom cast-iron industrial equipment. Otherwise, the space is a collection of all-wood everything, from wall to wall to wall—festooned with the occasional animal trophy, half of the species extinct—that looks and feels sturdy and knotted, not like re-composited bamboo or synthetics, but old, lived-in wood from trees that once grew tall and strong.
Nova’s new project is both of a piece and pointedly different from his first megahit restaurant. Toro! Toro! Toro! was a revival of the clubby, twentieth-century fin de siècle sushi restaurants where Nova’s exquisitely perfect reproductions of extinct fish—in terms of fidelity of texture and clarity of flavor, years beyond practically any other plant-based replication of seafood in the last decade—revealed him as a trailblazer in the medium of engineered protein. Predictably, it spawned wave after wave of imitators, and while no one has come close to his craftsmanship or success, the rumors are that with his second revivalist restaurant, Nova is pushing beyond optimized protein to a new horizon, one that has been uncharted for years: real meat.
I often ask people what common practice of today will be regarded by subsequent generations as horrific, because it's inevitable, isn't it? As much as I'd like to say retweeting praise, I'm more confident that we'll look back on our raising of animals in horrific conditions for our consumption to be abhorrent.
That's not the only thing Buchanan imagines will be an opportunity for nostalgia in 2081.
The biggest aspect of it, besides the real food, will be real service. We're going a step further than Toro! Toro! Toro!, and you won't even interact with any software when you come in: We're going to have human hosts in these wonderful knit hats and chambray shirts and classic selvedge jeans who take you to your seat, another human who takes your order, and another who brings the food to you, and yet another who clears the table. I don't know any other restaurant that will have as many bodies as ours will, certainly not as carefully adorned in period dress.
You'll even get the bill written down on paper—we found a lot of these GREAT vintage Moleskine pads, very period—and you'll pay a separate small fee, like twenty percent, to the servers if they do a good job. (It sounds weird, but people used to do this routinely! We're including a keepsake booklet for every guest that explains how to figure out the amount.) We're even chucking dynamic pricing for this restaurant. The only things that'll be different than how it used to be back then is that you can't pay with paper like people used to, because of the blockchain, though if we could figure out a way to make that work, we totally would.