The Michelin-starred chef has a story to tell you through his cooking
We create the narrative and the story first and cook to that expression. If I put a dish on the menu, I can have that communicate a story in real time.
John Fraser believes in stories. The executive chef of the Michelin-starred vegetarian spot Nix, the Loyal, and formerly Dovetail—where he famously instituted a Meatless Mondays menu as well as a family of restaurants housed within the Times Square and West Hollywood EDITIONs, has pioneered an approach to food that weaves together flavor and experience to produce something indelibly more than the sum of its parts. “I think it’s not just about a great dish, it’s about a great story,” says Fraser, who spent the better part of a month living in the Times Square EDITION while creating a culinary program that encompasses four different dining experiences, including a reimagined Lobby Bar, the elevated Terrace Restaurant, the fine dining of 701West’s prix-fixe menu (which was recently awarded three stars by the New York Times), and the multi-sensory theatrics of the Paradise Club.
“We create the narrative and the story first and cook to that expression,” Fraser says of his creative process. “When you enter a restaurant in the EDITION, you want to have the feeling that it’s from the same author, you’ve got this insane pathway to creativity.
If I put a dish on the menu, I can have that communicate a story in real time.” Even though all his restaurants tell different stories, they all stem from the principles that have guided Fraser’s career. “I can’t deny I was French trained and that I trained in Italy and that I love vegetables,” he explains. Fraser cut his teeth bartending and cooking in bars and bistros in college between his home state of California and Montauk, in Long Island.
A visceral connection to fresh produce and local ingredients infused his work as a sous-chef in Los Angeles at both Pino Luongo’s Coco Pazzo and the former Raffles L’Ermitage Beverly Hills. Fraser’s penchant for self-improvement and new techniques led him to spend two years at Thomas Keller’s French Laundry in Napa Valley and then to positions at Paris’ esteemed Taillevent and Maison Blanche. More recently, Fraser has been at the forefront of the vegetable-first movement, which has thrust vegan, vegetarian, and vegetable-forward dishes into the spotlight for reasons ranging from ethics to health concerns to environmentalism. His carrot-based bolognese, for example, found on the mercurial menu of the Terrace Restaurant, is as fun to contemplate as it is to eat.
Much of this drive has to do with changing standards around sustainability and Fraser’s unwavering commitment to upholding them. “The informed guest has an expectation of sourcing, where things go and where they come from,” Fraser says. “There is no alternative.”
His inventive approach to vegetables has driven the success of Nix and inspired the menus at each of his EDITION concepts. You’ll find entrees like sweet potato baked in seaweed bread at 701West or a light-as-air, umami-packed mushroom carpaccio at Terrace.
Fraser’s philosophy extends to more traditional proteins as well. Terrace’s initial menu offers filet mignon with miso spinach and wagyu tartare with smoked sour cream, but also a marinated skirt steak with broccoli rabe and chimichurri. “We’re finding ways to serve end cuts rather than throwing them away,” Fraser says, “but we’re finding a delicious way to serve it to you.”
Another part of that shift has been a renewed focus on tableside service, which Fraser sees as an opportunity for his staff to shine. “It allows all these talented people to express themselves,” he says, while also elevating the consumer’s experience.
But even as the figurehead of a growing empire of restaurants, cooperation is a crucial part of each of Fraser’s restaurants: “I know that if something hasn’t been tasted, found, or tested by me, it will feel apart, but there’s so much collaboration at every stage.”
The latest chapter in John Fraser’s story is about commitment and creativity, borne from a delirious opportunity in the electric heart of the craziest city in the world. “You’re in this insane place called Times Square, you’re in this insane place called New York City,” Fraser says, “and then you have a moment to drink champagne, staring at the madness of it all.”