In the heart of NYC’s West Village is a miraculous candle-lit restaurant called Bespoke Kitchen. Run by Executive Chef and Co-Owner Franco Barrio, General Manager Michael Rabasco, Chef de Cuisine Kyle Beechum and Co-owner Nicholas Bustamante, this New American eatery prides itself on being one of New York City’s most creative high-end restaurants.
With his avant-garde approach to fine dining, Chef Franco offers a savory experience that stays true to his concept of customizable cuisine and to Bespoke’s original meaning: made to order.
We went behind the Chef’s Counter with Chef Franco Barrio and Haute videographer Rodrigo Tasca and here is what happened:
HL: When did your passion for cooking begin?
CFB: When I was twelve or thirteen I started watching all the cooking channels, I used to record them at 10:00 am and when I got back from school I would write down all the recipes and start cooking for my family. In a large family like mine you either cook or wash dishes, and I hate washing dishes, so I began cooking.
HL: Did you grow up in a food-centric family?
CFB: Yes, my family was big in the cooking world. One of my uncles is Gaston Acurio, the best chef of the moment in Peru and well-known in South America. My dad used to be a chef also, so we are all foodies. I cannot make a dish for them that is not going to get 100% criticized.
HL: Where are you from originally and why did you come to New York?
CFB: I am from Lima, Peru and I came to New York City about 14 years ago. My family won the lottery Visa and they all moved here before I did. When I was about to turn 21 I was told that I was going to lose my residency so my mom bought me a one-way ticket here to NYC. I arrived on the day of my birthday, September 6th, 2002 and I’ve been here ever since.
HL: How is Peruvian Cuisine different from New York Cuisine?
CFB: Peruvian cuisine has an entire history behind it but in New York it is different; it’s a mix of many cuisines. I don’t want to say that there’s no food culture here, but it’s definitely more modern, more varied.
HL: What was the first thing you learned how to cook?
CFB: The first dish I made that I fell in love with was a French dish. It was just a regular stew with a Sauce Espagnole but I was so impressed with how easy it was to make, I thought “I could make this for myself every day!” I was blown away.
HL: What is your favorite dish to make?
CFB: The Caramelized Diver Scallops we have here at Bespoke are my favorite. It’s my signature dish. I’ve been cooking it for about ten years and haven’t changed a thing; it always follows me.
HL: Are there any dishes that you don’t know how to cook but would like to?
CFB: I wish I could’ve gotten more training on pastry-making and baking. I usually rely on my three sweet dishes; I can make a killer Crema Catalana, a killer Flan and a killer Churro, some hot chocolate too but that’s really it. I would love to learn more. I would love to bake some bread.
HL: What is the best part of your job?
CFB: The best part of my job is getting to do what I love and receiving the immediate satisfaction of seeing someone taste it. Bespoke is the first open kitchen I’ve worked at so it was scary at first to have the costumers so close to me. Watching them taste the food but trying not to feel emotional about their reaction was hard. Even now, if they hate it, I feel it yet if they love it, I feel it too, so it’s tricky but I love it. It’s always interesting, always fun.
HL: What do you think of Bespoke’s approach to modern dining? How did you come up with this made-to-order concept?
CFB: I realized – after many years of cooking – that the most fun I have in the kitchen is when my friends and family come eat at one of my restaurants and say “cook whatever you want, bring us food until we say stop”. That’s how this concept was born. It’s a lot of pressure because every dish has to come out differently but it’s fun for us, it’s very creative and no ingredients get wasted. People seem to respond well to it too, so it’s fun both ways, for the chefs and for the customers.
HL: What other food trends have you seen in NYC recently that excite you?
CFB: I believe that as chefs we are trying to fix the mistakes we’ve made in the past. We’re going back to not using GMOs and moving forward and eating well. It’s about using the ugly vegetables and the produce that is in season at the moment. Yes, you can use a tomato in January and it’s beautiful but it does’t compare to using it in November when it’s at its best. We at Bespoke do this and all the chefs I know are doing it too; it’s a trend that’s only getting stronger.
HL: Other than Bespoke, what other restaurants have you worked in?
CFB: I’ve worked at Picholine, Momofuku, 11 Madison Park, Casa Mono, Bloquerai and in Spain I worked at one of my favorite restaurants, Cal Pep. I later opened my restaurants Caliu, Barrio 47 and now Bespoke Kitchen.
HL: What is your favorite cuisine from around the world?
CFB: I would say New York cuisine is my favorite. I love all sorts of cuisines but the fact that I can go to the market here and make a dish with all the influences from cuisines around the world, that is the best feeling.
HL: What do you eat when you’re off duty?
CFB: Honestly when I’m home I like to eat ramen noodles and hot dogs. I don’t go out my way to cook something nice for myself; anything that can be microwaved, I’m for it.
HL: What one thing would you eat every day for the rest of your life?
CFB: I would love to eat some bacon, every day, bacon on everything.
Try Chef Franco’s delightful creations and Bespoke’s signature V-Day cocktail, Apple of My Eye, this February 14th with Bespoke Kitchen’s Valentine’s Day Menu.