Haute Eating: 10 Questions for 10 Downing’s Chef Jonnatan Leiva

Since arriving at downtown hot spot 10 Downing Food & Wine in September 2009, Chef Jonnatan Leiva has been impressing diners with his farm-to-table cuisine. Recognized as a Rising Star Chef in 2008 by the San Francisco Chronicle, Leiva has crafted a menu of fresh, pure, down-to-earth food that New Yorkers appreciate, as evidenced by the full house each night. The menu reads like a guide to local farms and producers: grilled Hudson Valley Quail with farro salad, Satur Farms asparagus salad, fire roasted Bluehill Bay Bouchot mussels with lemon butter, slow cooked Atlantic cod and Painted Hill Farms ribeye steak. While every menu item is comprised of local ingredients, each dish also contains Leiva’s signature soulful twists: he grew up inspired by his grandmother’s flavorful Spanish cooking in San Francisco’s Mission District and later attended San Francisco’s California Culinary Academy.

Visit 10 Downing on one of their special evenings:

Sundays & Mondays: Oysters & Lobster night
Tuesdays & Wednesdays: Hot Summer Fried Chicken
Thursdays: Offalicious
Fridays & Saturdays: Beast for Two

Diners can also enjoy the bar menu with one of several signature cocktails, such as the 10 Downing Grog or the Queen’s Park Sizzle that’s made with rum, lime juice, mint and coconut water.

Haute Living: What’s new and/or exciting at your restaurant right now?
Chef Jonnatan Leiva: Well I’m excited about the featured nghts that we are doing, for example: oysters & lobster fried chicken, offalicious-beast for two. It gives the kitchen a chance to get creative and to highlight something different with our perspective twist to it.

HL: What are some of your favorite dishes at your restaurant?
JL: It’s all about simplicity, so I really enjoy our lobster & crab salad, hand-rolled gnocchi with maitakes and our confit suckling pig dish.

HL: Where do you like to dine when you’re not working?
JL: I would say I really enjoy cooking at home—there’s nothing better than a home cooked meal. But if I’m out I enjoy a great bowl of ramen at Rockmeisha (West Village) & pizza at Motorino’s.

HL: What’s your ideal meal?
JL: Well again it has to be simple and done well. I’ll eat just about anything and depends what mood I’m in. Food is a very emotional thing that we just don’t think about it, but at home I’ll have simple salad with arugula, lemon and tomatoes, brown rice and an herb roasted lemon chicken—with a glass of rosé.

HL: Where do you like to dine for a special occasion?
JL: Degustation is great—they do a fine good job and its always so interesting. I also like Soto, which is run by the main sushi chef. He is fantastic about what he does—everything is super fresh and vibrant.

HL: What’s your favorite NYC neighborhood?
JL: The West Village. of course. It’s where 10 Downing is and where I live.

HL: What do you like to do in the city on your days off?
JL: Mostly I like to go on long runs along the Hudson and just try to get some peace and quite. I like to read a lot and constantly thinking about tomorrow.

HL: Your favorite vacation destination?
JL: Haha, good one—not now of course. But if I had my choice I would say anywhere with a beach, bottles of Corona and lots of warm sun.

HL: What’s your most memorable meal?
JL: A tiny little restaurant in Gallipoli, Italy. I forgot the name and it’s not Michelin starred but it served the most unbelievable seafood I have ever had—everything is caught right off the restaurant, and the food is super clean, unique with bright flavors.

HL: What are your five favorite ingredients?
JL: Lemons, sea salt, sherry vinegar and guanciale.

10 Downing Food & Wine is located at 10 Downing (at Sixth Avenue); 646.524.8067

To reach Tracey Ceurvels, visit her blog, The Busy Hedonist, or email her.