When I teach, I show lots of examples of how food is related to restaurant design. I bring students to places where I have contacts, and I take them straight to the kitchen. Great design in restaurants is always matched with the food. At Le Cirque, the plating and garnishes are really elaborate, and that’s why Adam Tihany—one of the world’s leading restaurant designers—picked a circus theme for the décor. Contrast that with his design for Jean-Georges, where the approach is minimal in décor and color, matching the nouvelle cuisine.
As a professor, I emphasize design as a philosophy, not a practice. Minimalism is one of the ideas I introduce, eliminating everything to leave the very soul, the very essence—what chefs do with nouvelle cuisine. I bring books to class that help expand the students’ thinking. A favorite of mine is Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers. Wabi-sabi is the Japanese aesthetic of imperfection. At a certain level of expertise, you can play at imperfection, intentionally making something imperfect to achieve a kind of perfection. If you see a real master, whether a chef or a baseball player, once they reach the very top of their craft, sometimes they do a little different thing that bends the rules, and that gives them the edge. This is an idea I hope will inspire my students to reach higher.