chef-name: Charlie Palmer

It was a home economics class in his hometown of Smyrna, New York, that introduced Charles Palmer to the joys of cooking. By the age of sixteen, he was already a pro, becoming head of the kitchen of the Colgate inn after the Swiss chef abruptly left. Now Palmer is owner and chef of Aureole in New York, which has consistently been ranked one of the top twenty-five restaurants in America since its opening in 1988. Aureole soon earned three stars from the New York Times, but the busy schedule following such success did not deter Palmer from fulfilling another dream: opening the Chefs Cuisiniers Club in 1990, now named Alva. The Club is his personal culinary statement, a result, he says, of years of late nights in the kitchens with few options for his own dining late at night. Palmer and his fellow chefs keep the kitchen open until 2 a.m. and have decorated the dining room with framed menus from their favorite restaurants around the world, as well as a huge mural of famous chefs behind the bar. Palmer trained at the Culinary Institute of America and then was chosen for a six-month fellowship in the school’s classic French Escoffier Room In 1983 he became executive chef at the River Café in Brooklyn, which became famous for innovative American food when Larry Forgione was the chef in the early ‘80s. There, Palmer built a smokehouse, became a partner in a duck farm, and set up a network of small farmers who provided 70 percent of the produce and staples needed by the restaurant. Palmer cites his team of cooks as critical to his restaurants’ success. He looks for young chefs with three traits: a strong character, a powerful desire to cook, and an ability to maintain their interest for sixty hours a week. His food, like Sauteed Soft Shell Crabs with Polenta, maintains an essential balance and purity while being dramatic in presentation. Palmer is unimpressed by “tricks, gimmickry, or culinary hijinks.” He holds fast to his insistence on “find dining in a relaxed atmosphere, great service, and highly creative food.