Collaborations at the Four Seasons
(Pictured above: Gerard Craft and Four Seasons Hotel St. Louis General Manager Alper Oztok)
Written By Johnny Fugitt
Photography By Carmen Troesser
Collaborations at the Four Seasons: Gerard Craft, Michael Fricker and Aleksandr Malinich
From Jackson Pollack and Lee Krasner to the variety of musical performances at the next awards show, collaboration typically stays within the bounds of a particular form of art. Occasionally collaborators bridge related fields, such as Steven Spielberg (film) and John Williams (scores) or Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (modern architecture) and Lilly Reigh (modern furniture). Rarer yet, collaborators sometimes stretch between less obviously-connected fields, such as design and food.
Such is the relationship between St. Louis’ most celebrated chef, Gerard Craft, and Aleksandr Malinich of R5 Design Agency. The pair’s first project was NICHE, the highly-regarded restaurant that would eventually make Craft St. Louis’ first James Beard Award winner. As Craft’s family of restaurants has grown over the years, so has his collaborative relationship with Malinich. “We get along really well,” says Craft, “and we understand each other’s style.”
“We have a special friendship and bond that allows us to partner, trust the vision and develop the design together,” says Malinich. “Chef typically has a particular vision which we use as a leap-off point. From there we initiate a conceptual verbal and visual dialogue, then begin to create the design brief together. I think we have a mutual respect for each other’s talents and that’s why this is so special.”
Working with the Four Seasons Hotel St. Louis for the first time, the pair see the service-focused, aesthetically-pleasing brand as a natural partner for their newest project. Craft holds fond memories of grand brunches at the striking Istanbul Four Seasons on the Bosporus and he’s hoping to create similar memories for others at the Four Seasons on the banks of the Mississippi. “As an outsider coming into St. Louis, I’ve wondered why the St. Louis riverfront isn’t the hottest property in St. Louis,” he states.
It’s certainly true that the rooftop view overlooking Downtown, the Arch and the river is one of the city’s best. The new concept will occupy the rooftop indoor/outdoor space that previously housed Cielo Restaurant & Bar and, as Craft states, is the kind of setting that “lends itself to a big barbecue.”
“The coolest part about working with the Four Seasons,” says Craft, “is that they were really intent on making this feel like one of our restaurants and not just another one of their restaurants with my name on it.” Unlike some restaurants in Las Vegas or Dubai where a celebrity name may be more ornament than involvement, Craft has thrown himself into the details of the new project and will be able to maintain a close eye on operations as the restaurant matures.
Cinder House, the newest concept set to open in August, is focused on wood-fired fare with Latin flavors and techniques. The South American-inspired textures and materials of the design reflect the nature and spirit of the cuisine. The radiant Amazonite countertops are intended to catch the eye, reflecting light from the custom blackened brass chandeliers above.
This symbiosis between the design and menu begins at the restaurant’s entrance with “a handcrafted credenza of American Black Walnut, bleached then ebonized and oiled,” says Malinich. “The painstaking finish technique was selected as a reference to Chef’s commitment to culinary excellence referring to charred wood from the grill.”
While this is just the latest design collaboration for Craft, his collaboration in Cinder House’s kitchen is a first. Craft is working with the Four Season’s Chef de Cuisine, Michael Fricker, who has a particular passion for Latin foods.
“From fire comes life,” says Fricker. Citing clay ovens in Mexico and the grilling traditions in Brazil, he continues, “no matter where you are in the world, fire’s kind of that main theme.” Cinder House’s fire will be housed in a custom, indoor, vented ten-foot grill from the Nashville company Grills by Demant. Missouri Oak is the fuel of choice as the locally-abundant wood produces a medium-bodied smoke that can be used for cooking a variety of meats.
“I was raised on a ton of Brazilian food,” says Craft. “So that really just started flooding out in everything we were doing, so the focus started going toward Brazil and Argentina.” While Craft may have grown up with many of these flavors, he credits Fricker’s depth of knowledge, gleaned from training in Mexico, as the force behind many of the dishes. The two chefs have enjoyed multi-day grilling sessions as they tweak each item on Cinder House’s menu.
Craft is particularly excited about the Moqueca – a Brazilian fish stew. Expect the ingredients to change with the seasons, but don’t be surprised to see grilled octopus and prawns in the spicy, coconut and chili flavored fish broth. “It’s light, it’s bright, but it’s still like total comfort food,” says Craft. “To me it’s like the all-star dish. I’m sure there’s going to be more popular dishes, like the duck feijoada, but to me that one really represents what we’re doing.”
The duck feijoada “is almost like a Brazilian cassoulet” explains Fricker, who is especially excited about the lime, soy and jalapeno-marinated lamb ribs brushed with a mango nectar and honey glaze. The piri-piri chicken, popular across much of the former Portuguese empire, is also one of Fricker’s favorites.
Partnerships and collaborations are not the same. Partnerships typically have defined roles and, in a good partnership, the fulfillment of these roles produces positive, enriching outcomes. The delineation of roles in a collaboration isn’t as strict, spurring a volley of creativity. Collaborations, done right, create something better than could ever be formed by the individual. This has both designers and diners expectantly awaiting Cinder House – the collaboration between three powerful, skilled creators.
Johnny Fugitt is author of The 100 Best Barbecue Restaurants in America
Carne De Onca
Pumpernickle baquette | Grilled Tenderloin | Chive | Aioli | Egg Yolk | Parmesan
Filet | Hollandaise | Chimmichurri
Piri Piri Chicken
Half Chicken | Piri Piri Sauce | Thai Chili Peppers
Oak Wood Roasted Leeks | Creme Fraiche | Chive Oil
Architectural renderings by Aleksandr Malinich of R5 Design Agency