Chef-Parent Interview: Dan Kluger

Chef Dan Kluger Opens Up About What it Took to Open Loring Place

NYC chef Dan Kluger is getting ready to celebrate the one-year anniversary of Loring Place, his acclaimed Greenwich Village restaurant.  It’s the first restaurant he’s designed and owned but not the first time that his cooking has drawn raves from both critics and guests.

When Dan isn’t in the kitchen, he spends time with his wife and two daughters, Ella, 11, and Georgia, 8.  He kindly hosted a wonderful nibble+squeak event at Loring Place earlier this fall.

By Liza Hamm

Congrats on Loring Place’s success! Tell me a little bit about the experience of building a restaurant from scratch.

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It was quite a project. It was a lot of fun to choose everything, and design something I wanted, and to see it come to fruition. At the same time it was incredibly tough. It was a trying time, managing construction, and managing budgets, and managing the timeline, all of which did not necessarily go as planned.

Well, the result was worth the headache. Do you feel like it accomplished all your goals?

I am very pleased with the food and the reactions to the food. It’s fun, flavorful twists on simple food.  I am happy with our space and staff. We are quite busy and it’s still a hard ticket to get into but I always feel like we can be busier. I certainly spent some of the summertime worrying about how to build the business.

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Did your daughters give you any particular input or suggestions for Loring Place?

They would like to think they did! I’ll make something for them at home and they’ll like it and say, “you should put that on the menu.” It’s more wishful thinking than anything else… But I made a spinach pizza one day, and they loved it and said that should go on the menu.

Do they visit the restaurant often?

They probably come every six weeks or so. My oldest likes to spend some time in the kitchen with me. She likes to see what’s going on. They’re simple eaters. They love the pizzas and basic pastas. I always do a bunch of vegetables for them.

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Do they like helping you with the cooking at home? 

Yes.  Georgia is into baking. She’ll get it into her head to make cupcakes, and the next thing you know she has everything out and she’ll whip them up and decorate them on her own. Ella is more interested in making pasta together. We made gnocchi the other day. She likes to cut vegetables.

Was getting them interested in cooking very important to you?

It wasn’t necessarily important but they did start early — when Ella was about 5, I bought her a knife. She started doing a little prep work here and there.

Clearly opening a restaurant is very time-consuming. How do you balance that work with being a parent?

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That was definitely a hard time because I didn’t see [my daughters] at all. Now, I take one to two days off a week and try to make the most of those days!  They’ve gotten the short end of the stick because [being at the restaurant] is really important right now. I think they understand and respect that.

At some point, I’m sure [the restaurant] will be on auto-pilot and I won’t have to change my schedule around and I’ll get to spend more time with them.

“If anything, I put . . . the family life on hold. I took just one day off for the first four or five months  I worked straight through.

They must think it’s very cool that you’re created your own restaurant.

I don’t know if they get the magnitude of it, but I think they’re very excited about the fact that I own the restaurant. They saw it come to fruition and I think they appreciate it.

Do you have a favorite activity to do with the kids on your days off?

We typically go out for a meal. I’ll take them to our local diner. That’s our tradition. They can have whatever they want, but we have to talk about real things, which is always a good time.

Sounds like they’re pretty adventurous eaters. Is that something you tried to make happen? 

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No, I think they’re picky eaters! They know they have to try things. They have no problem going to a sushi restaurant and finding something to eat but they’re certainly not having eel like I am. We’ve become friends with the owner. He’s certainly opened Ella’s eyes to Kobe beef and things like that. He sends stuff over as a nice treat for them.

Any tips about making kids a little less picky at mealtime?

I wish I did. The one thing is they have to try it, at least take one bite of something new. That’s a big challenge and it’s hard to commit to that but recently…Ella doesn’t like shrimp and always whines about it when I try to get her to taste it. Somehow she tried tempura shrimp and now she loves it. So now I try to convince her she would never have figured that out if she hadn’t tried something new.

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I make everything simple for the most part when I cook for them. I’ll put hot sauce on my food but leave things simply prepared. As a result, they have to eat some of everything—from Brussels sprouts to asparagus to steak. They get plenty of vegetables and the meat we buy is local and naturally raised.

Nibble + squeak is all about the joy of taking your kids out to dine at restaurants….what’s your policy about having kids at your restaurant?

We welcome kids — [our] menu is constantly changing but there are always one or two winners with kids every season. We had butternut squash fries that kids ate because they thought they were french fries. The pizzas have vegetables on them…there’s a Brussels sprouts pizza, spinach pizza.

Why is important for families to get the chance to go out and dine together? What do kids learn from that experience?

“[Children] should get to go out and see what it’s like to have wonderful service.

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In general, families need to eat together. In terms of dining out, we need to expose kids to it more!  Learning how to behave at dinner is very important to me when my kids go out. That they’re constantly saying please and thank you and looking the server in the eye. They’re forced to speak to “a stranger.” All of that is important when it comes to basic manners. Also, they can’t just be going out for Chinese food and pizza.

What do you remember most from your times dining at a restaurant as a kid? Is that how you got interested in a culinary career?

That’s why it’s ironic to be talking about it. As a kid, I don’t really remember going out at all. We went to the local Chinese restaurant for Sunday night meal every once in a while.

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So how did you get interested in cooking?

I went to Syracuse and ended up becoming a nutrition major and took some food science and food safety classes.

I really fell in love with everything about food service and ended up doing an internship at Union Square Cafe with Danny Meyer. After graduating, I’d still go and hang out and after a couple of months, they offered me a job in the kitchen. The rest is history.