July 29, 2013 | Short Order

With the prodigal chef’s departure, Drew Nieporent weighs Corton’s Future.



Drew Nieporent and Paul Liebrandt at opening week of Corton. Photo by Steven Richter.  


          Drew Nieportant has decided to go with deliciousness and fun at the new Corton, maybe even a new name.  He’s finalizing negotiations with a new chef. It’s not a woman. He wishes it were, he said. “I guess you could say he’s American,” Nieporent responded when I asked.  That suggests he might be Asian or Latino or…anything.


          “I want to get back to delicious food,” he said. ”I’m not going to play around with prima donnas. I don’t want reinvention.”  That means it won’t be Laurent Gras, the displaced brilliant auteur of L2o in Chicago.  But how about Paul Bartolotta, chef of the world class fish restaurant at Wynn’s in Las Vegas?  He’s been looking at local real estate with his architect for two or three years. “Interesting,” says Nieporent. Mum’s his final word.


Lamb at Corton. Photo by Steven Richter.  


          The minute it was clear that Paul Liebrandt was out of Corton, doing his esoteric plates at The Elm in Williamsburg, and the divorce hit Twitter, Nieporent’s phone has been ringing, he says, with chefs offering themselves. “One call came from Hong Kong.” He says he even heard from Michelin three star chef Sophie Pic (although that may just have been a condolence call.)  


          Liebrandt had been still speaking of The Elm as his second restaurant but Nieporent -- stung that his partner had done the deal in secret -- already saw a nasty ending, perhaps even before he watched most of his kitchen crew moving across the water into the basement kitchen at the King & Grove Hotel. 


          "Your partner cannot be your competitor," Nieporent noted, taking a cue from Danny Meyer. That’s what Meyer said when he sold his Eleven Madison Park to the chef and manager after they announced there were opening a second restaurant, NoMad.


Liebrandt looks up with anticipation in The Elm kitchen.   


          Nieporent offered to sell Corton to Liebrandt and his backers -- Joe Chetrit, who surprised other bidders by taking the Sony Building for $1.1 billion, is also the hotelier. Once it was clear the chef’s new Daddy Warbucks was not serious about buying Corton, Nieporent broke the news to his staff. Corton’s July vacation might be extended while he weighed his options.


          “Corton really was wonderful at the beginning,” he said. “We had a lot of good will. People loved it. We got the two stars from Michelin and three stars from the Times. But it got more and more esoteric.”  Tension built. Often the room was less than half full.


The lamb and charred eggplant at The Elm.  


          “My whole thing has always been about accessibility and making it easier on the guest,” Nieporent told the Times reporter Jeff Gordiner. “This has been a challenge. Because his food is anything but accessible. It takes submission.”

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 Photographs may not be used without permission of Gael Greene. Copyright 2013. All rights reserved. 

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