Interviewing Adin Langille is like going exploring. Most of the information about him out on the web talks about the incredibly gorgeous, delicious food he made in his years as Chef de Cuisine at Junoon, but doesn’t talk much about his personal history. Now the Executive Chef at the newly opened David Burke fabrick in midtown, the newest restaurant in the David Burke family, he is exploring flavors, techniques, and dishes in a whole new way.
While Langille is a calm speaker, his energy is betrayed by his frequent pen-clicking, as he can’t resist constant movement, banging the pen onto the table right next to the iPhone that’s recording our conversation. It doesn’t matter; I’m still able to capture every word of his fascinating journey from art to food and back again. The way he describes food makes my mouth water, and his story of how he began his career is a funny one: Mom knew best.
Chef’s Connection (CC): So how’s it been going since the restaurant opened?
“Good! We’ve been twice as busy as we projected. So that’s a good sign. We’re way over the amount of money that we assumed we were going to start making in our first week, which is awesome. “
CC: And have the reviewers come yet?
“Uh no, we haven’t had any. We’ve had a bunch of different magazines come, doing blurbs and stuff, but we haven’t had the New York Times in yet. They will be.”
CC: You came here from Junoon. You were there for a couple of years, right?
“Yeah, I was there for about three years. It was a good journey for me, in learning the Indian cuisine and new techniques and new spices and just a different style of cooking. But at the end of the day, I’m not really an Indian chef. So it was refreshing to get back and use somewhat more French and American techniques, and use a wider array of flavors and possibilities on the plate.”
CC: Had you been familiar with Indian cooking before you went to Junoon?
“No. So it was cool to learn that whole aspect of it.”
CC: There are reviews of your cooking there all over the web, people raving about how delicious and beautiful the food was. Was it hard for you to leave?
“Not really, no, to be perfectly honest. It was … I was ready for the next step. I learned a lot from the Executive Chef, but there comes a point in time when you’re ready to run your own space. And that was … it was a great experience, I learned a lot, but I was ready to be Executive Chef. I have all the credentials, I have the experience, I have the management experience, and David [Burke] saw that, and offered me the position. And I saw the place, and I was like, ‘Yes!’
“Essentially, what I get to do is … my background. I worked in Miami for a while so I have very strong roots in Latin cuisine, as far as South American, Ecuadorian cuisine, Mexican cuisine, and also Caribbean and Island cuisine. And then I worked for Alain Ducasse for a long time.
“When David and I did the concept of the menu, what we wanted to do was kind of show a little bit of New York cuisine on a whole, aspect, the fabric of New York cuisine and restaurant business. So we were looking at different boroughs, and different ethnic cuisines, and different parts of the city, and putting it all together on one menu. David felt I was a really good candidate for the job, because I had experience in all these different cuisines, and I also have the fine dining experience in French as well. So that was the kicker. But this has been an amazing experience. We have a beautiful kitchen, I think it’s awesome too, I’m really happy with it.”
CC: The menu here looks really innovative; do you have a favorite, something you especially love to prepare?
“Yeah, there’s a couple [of] things.
“The Avocado Panna Cotta sells like wildfire. It’s insane. The Red Snapper Ceviche, that’s a dish I’ve been working on for a while. That one’s pretty cool.
“Another dish that’s very unique to here is the Lamb Chops & Ribs. I made a vindaloo barbecue sauce. So I learned to make it the traditional way when I was at Junoon, but what I do is I make the paste. So traditionally it’s the paste that’s mixed with pork mostly, because it’s in the Goan region and that was colonized by the Portuguese, in India. So that’s one of the only regions that eats pork in the whole country. So they marinate the pork in jars and let it ferment with this spice mix, with this paste. Vindaloo paste is actually a bunch of different spices and they’re all toasted separately, and then it’s boiled with vinegar, and a ton of the dry rub chilies. And then you puree that. So that’s the base of a curry.
“So what I did was I took that base, and then I just went through the process of making an American barbecue sauce. I caramelized honey and brown sugar, and then I added ketchup and that vindaloo spice blend too. I have another couple of other tricks that I do with it too, some Indian technique that’s cool, it gets this real .. it’s very interesting barbecue sauce.
“And we just braised lamb ribs in that, served it with lamp chops, and served it with shoestring fries. It comes out really nice.”
CC: So in terms of getting the flavors of the boroughs, did you go around New York to experience everything for yourself?
“I do that on my own, all the time, so it’s pretty easy to put the menu together. I’ve explored all over Flushing, and I live in Queens, so I’ve been all over Roosevelt, and Jackson Heights, and the Indian areas, and the Mexican areas as well. My fiancée, she’s from the Dominican Republic, but she moved to the Bronx, so I’ve been in Dominican neighborhoods in the Bronx, eating chimichurri on the side of the street, and going to lechon restaurants with all the pork and everything. So it was kinda cool to take influence from all that street food-type stuff and then do fine dining versions of it.
“An example: we have a skirt steak or a churrasco, but instead of doing it with … we do it with buñuelos, Colombian donuts. But instead of doing them sweet, normally they’re dipped in chocolate sauce, we do it savory, and we stuff them with cheddar cheese. So they’re these cheesy yucca donuts, and we fry ‘em to order, and we serve it with this awesome Mexican chorizio with roasted mushrooms and caramelized onions. And the way I do the chimichurri is I use an Indian technique, a tadka, of frying spices in oil. We do garlic, and red chili flake. And we cool it off, and just add blanched cilantro and parsley, finely chopped. It’s pretty cool. With a bunch of lime zest. So it’s fusion of technique, not fusion of flavors, if you will. And that’s a lot of the stuff that I was doing at Junoon, we’ll use. Plug in fine dining, modern, French, and Spanish technique with the Indian flavors.
“So it’s an interesting way to look at cooking, to make fusion of technique. Not too many people are doing stuff like that.”
CC: They’re doing flavors, but not so much the technique.
“Yeah. Keeping it traditional, keeping it along the same wavelength of the cuisine that you’re representing, but messing with the technique to try to kick it up a little bit or make it a little more interesting.”
CC: So where did you grow up?
“I grew up in Southern New Hampshire near Manchester, in a small town called Temple. It was pretty cool, growing up there. I’ve always been cooking, since I was younger, I was always in the kitchen with my mom, helping out.
“My mom was an artist, so I did mostly art stuff in high school. A lot of sculpture. I wasn’t so into painting, but it was more like pottery and stuff, sculpture with different media, paper mache, and stuff like that.”
CC: It makes sense with plating, like it’s all connected, right?
“Exactly. And so, I was … I started dishwashing when I was 14. And I got moved up to fry cook. Just at a little local cheeseburger spot, like a sports bar type thing. I got moved up to fry cook, and then I started working at this other place called Kimball Farm, and they’re busy. They’ll do 500 covers and the grill guy quit, which is like a sous chef spot, and they put me on that. I was 17, and I was doing 500 covers and a grill.”
CC: Were you still in school at the time?
“I was still in high school. And so I was cranking. I just saw it as a job. I never really saw it as a career, because I’d never seen what cooking could be. I’d only seen it from a cheeseburger-send-it-out type thing. And then my mom made me go to Johnson & Wales to do this three-day thing, check it out. I didn’t even want to go. And it was frustrating, because my family was going down to Cape Cod to go on vacation. And she dropped me off, and I was standing there in Rhode Island with a bag, pissed off, in front of this Johnson & Wales place. And she’s like, ‘Have fun!’ and drives away.”
CC: And you were 17?
“I was 17 or 18, yeah. And she just dropped me off for three days. And she was like, ‘You’re gonna do this.’ And I’m like, ‘Okay.’ ‘Cause I was thinking about going to art school, and I didn’t know what I wanted to do. And I saw a chef plate a dish. And I was like, ‘Oh my god. Food is a medium for sculpture.’ And that’s when I got hooked. That’s when I was like, ‘This is what I want to do.’
“And so I did two years and Johnson & Wales. And then I talked about going back for four, but we decided it wasn’t worth the money. Because when you get out of school you’re in the same spot that you were when you got after two years; you’re still starting at the bottom of the kitchen. So why are you going to do four years? I’m still so happy I didn’t do four years, because my friends that did? I’m two years ahead of them.”
CC: And they have more debt, right?
“They’re in debt for almost $50k more, and they’re sous chefs.
CC: Do you have ideas about what you’d like to do in the future, where you see yourself?
“There’s a lot of opportunity in the David Burke Group right now. It’s an expanding company, and the chefs have a lot of creative freedom, and that’s refreshing. And it’s cool, like we’re doing an interview right now, that I’m getting a lot of publicity myself; with other restaurant groups, they don’t push their chefs that forward. They tend to give the restaurant publicity and not the chefs publicity. So it’s a real chef-run operation. They’re giving me awesome tools to work with, and I’ve got an excellent staff, but in the future, long term, it’s always been my dream to get three Michelin stars.
“I know that it’s kind of losing its meaning a little bit, the Michelin star, in New York, and in America in general because of the type of restaurants that are receiving one stars now aren’t on par with the restaurants in Europe that are receiving one star. I feel like it’s a lot more lax. I’m not sure [of] the reason for it. I mean, you see restaurants without tablecloths getting Michelin stars, you see gastropubs getting Michelin stars. And I won’t mention any names, but … I mean, the food is awesome. Don’t get me wrong, the food is excellent, but the way it’s presented, and the way the service is, and the dining room? It’s like, ‘Really?’ For some of these spots. But I think it’s going to kind of come back.
“But three stars, three stars are on point, and the two stars are as well. I think there’s too many one stars being handed out. And I think that makes it kind of lose its feeling. You know what I mean? You look at Bernard Loiseau, the chef who shot himself for losing a Michelin star; that’s the type of feeling that this has. And I just hope it doesn’t just get tossed aside, the Michelin rating in the States. But I would love to have a 3-star Michelin, 4 star New York Times, like a Brooklyn Fare type thing. Like it’s small, you only do a certain amount of people. I want something small enough that I can cook. You know? Because I get to cook once a while in here, but mostly I’m just running around. And a lot of chefs do that. You get to a certain level, and you call the shots, and you do the menu items and stuff and it’s great, but you spend so much time doing a million other things in running a restaurant than actually focus on cooking. So I’d like to eventually just really get back to focusing on my technique, and my flavors.
“I got to do a lot of that, developing the menu with David, which was awesome. I had a great time with that.”
CC: What was that process like?
“It was intense. We did 90 dishes, and we picked 30. And we were doing 15-hour days, 15-16 hour days, and he would just find … he’s busy, so he never has time to just sit down and go over [things] for an hour, or work with us in the kitchen. He would just be like, ‘I want this, this, this, this, this tomorrow. This without this, this with this..’ and we’d just be scribbling in our notepads. And then he’d come in the next day, and he would remember down to a small detail, like, ‘Why didn’t you do the crostini on the side with the soup? We talked about this.’ And you’re like, ‘We just did 20 dishes for you, and we just did another 20 different dishes today.’ We’d break down, we’d destroy the whole kitchen at David Burke Kitchen, and go back and clean it all down and then start prepping for four more hours for the next day. We’d show up at like six in the morning, and just push.
“But it was awesome, because what we did is, we got all the recipes down to the gram. And I costed everything out for the restaurant, down to the ounce. So my food cost is incredibly accurate, and my recipes are incredibly accurate. So opening here has been actually fairly smooth, because I went through the rocky part already, because we had another restaurant that we could practice in.
“David has an incredible palate and attention to detail. The biggest thing is, ‘cause I was doing twists on David Burke classics, and he was helping me tweak my stuff. So I learned all this stuff, and then we elevated my style as well, which is an excellent experience.”
CC: How long did that whole process take?
“Between February and May. We spent a lot of time on menu development.”
CC: Well you have to!”
“Exactly. To open a restaurant of this caliber, absolutely, you have to.”
CC: In your career, has there been any great piece of advice that has stuck in your head, that you always remember?
“Yeah. I’ve got a couple. I had a couple of quotes at Junoon that I used to say.
‘A chef is only as strong as his team.’ And another one I think is, ‘I don’t train cooks, I train chefs.’ So I only hire cooks that I’m looking to train into a sous chef position. And I only hire sous chefs that I’m looking to move into a chef de cuisine position or something like that. I always want to bring in someone who’s really … who’s … this is their career, and train them from that. I’m very hands-on, and I really like to show people exactly what I’m looking for.
“I do kind of more of a disappointed father management style than the aggressive French kitchens that I come from. Instead of just yelling at somebody and calling them an idiot, I’ll go up and show them and be like, ‘Look, this is wrong, we’re going to make it again. You did this, and then this happened. You needed to do THIS to get THIS. So this is your error. Don’t put it in the pan for this long, put it like this.’ Or ‘Don’t add oil here, add it HERE. That’s why you ended up with this. You get a different result if you do THIS.’ I think it works pretty well.”
CC: Did you work in a lot of kitchens with the screaming and berating?
“Yeah. Ducasse was like that, the French chef in Miami was like that, throwing pots and pans and stuff. You know. And I learned a lot, and it does work, but I think you can run a successful kitchen, and I think if you’re yelling, you’ve done something wrong. Personally as a chef and as a manager. You shouldn’t have to raise your voice that much. You should have to be firm, and stern, but you shouldn’t have to scream and flip out.”
CC: So conversely, have you gotten really bad advice that taught you to do the opposite, or seen really bad behavior that you’ve learned not to emulate?
“I think just … when someone makes a mistake in the kitchen, and you come at them … when it becomes personal, and not about the work, it goes to their head. And then you spit in your cook’s house, so then they’re just rolling on fear; they’re afraid to get yelled at, they’re afraid to make a mistake, and then all their mistakes start happening because they get nervous and afraid. So I try to be stern and firm, but not be intimidating and run with fear.
“I’ve noticed if you keep a cool head, then even when … just try to stay as calm and as Zen as possible. It’s very important in being a chef, especially in a city, because the stress level is incredible.
“I had an anxiety attack before. And I looked at it, and realized how I triggered it, and I just don’t do that anymore. I just take a deep breath, and I close my eyes, and I say, ‘We’re making food, and we’re putting it on a plate, and somebody’s gonna eat it.’”
CC: Like a mantra.
“Yeah. And I’ll say that to my cooks, and they’re freaking out, and they say, ‘This person just said this,’ and I’ll just grab one of their shoulders and I’ll look at them and I’m like, ‘We’re making food, it goes on a plate, and that guy’s gonna eat it. He’s gonna be happy. And then he’s gonna go home. So all this that you’re freaking out about right now, it doesn’t really matter. Can you make another burger for me? And just make sure it looks better than the first one?’ ‘Yes, Chef!’ ‘Thank you.’
“You want people to be calm and focused. As soon as they get nervous, plates get dropped, stuff goes missing, things get overcooked.”
CC: You’ve explored a lot of international cuisine, but is there anything you haven’t yet, that you’d be interested in?
“I know how to do Japanese technique, as far as sashimi and stuff like that, but I would like to work under a Michelin-starred Japanese sushi chef for like, a month. As a commis. Just go and work, and just learn not the rolls so much, but the fish butchering. And how to slice it, and how to make the rice, and make the pieces in sushi. I would love to do that.”
CC: It’s that artist in you, it seems to all go back to that. The visual. And sculpture work, that’s so tangible also.
“Yeah, absolutely. And there’s something about fish butchering and stuff like that that’s very calming; it’s a process, and it’s a craft. You know what I mean? It’s very exact, too. If you’re not focused and really going through your steps, then it’s not going to come out right. And I love … I worked with many of the Japanese guys in my career, and they’re all very, very exact.”
CC: Well even your description of your own recipes, you’re very focused on precision.
“Exactly. Yeah. And you know, you have to be.”
CC: So when you were a little little kid, what was your fantasy of what you wanted to be?
“A little kid? I think I always wanted to be a surfer. I remember saying this, that I wanted to have a food truck, and be a surfer and a fisherman In California. I was like, six.”
CC: That sounds like a good life.
Interview and photos by Laurie Ulster