Clark, Patrick 1955–
Patrick Clark 1955–
When he was hired as executive chef of New York City’s Tavern on the Green, Patrick Clark added yet another item to an already remarkable list of achievements. A Brooklyn-born, European-trained chef, Clark is one of the culinary world’s most accomplished stars, having been recognized for his style of cooking as well as for the prestige of the restaurants in which he’s worked. “He’s a first-rate chef who’s capable of doing anything well, “Tim Zagat, publisher of the popular Zagat restaurant guides, told Caroline E. Mayer of the Wash ington Post Clark has also been lauded as a role-model for African American chefs, a part he plays with pride. However, to place him in a specific group only serves to minimize his contributions. “I just consider myself a chef,” he told Mayer in 1993. “The press has considered me a prominent black chef.” Another important role for Clark is that of husband and father to his five children.
Born March 17, 1955 in Brooklyn, New York, Clark’s interest in cooking began almost as early as the first aromas reached his cradle. From his mother’s kitchen emanated the scents of seasoned fried chicken, pork chops, and other down-home delicacies and when he was old enough, the young Clark could visit his father’s kitchens. Melvin Clark was a chef with Restaurant Associates in Manhattan and worked in the kitchens of Charley O’s, the Forum of the Twelve Caesars, and the Four Seasons. With this combination of influences it’s little wonder Clark was experimenting with cheesecake recipes by the age of ten. Despite warnings from his father about the hardships of being a chef-he said it was too hard on family life-Clark’s independent nature led him down that path. And though cooking may be in Clark’s blood, exotic training and the more sophisticated tastes of contemporary diners promotes a culinary distance between Clark and his father. “When I start putting together a menu, I can’t help thinking how different what I cook is from what my father cooked,” Clark told Molly O’Neill of the New York Times Magazine.
After receiving an associate’s degree in hotel and restaurant technology from his father’s alma mater, New York City Technical College in Brooklyn, Clark heeded the advice of a culinary professor who noticed his special talents, to seek apprenticeships in Europe. First, he pursued a more formal food education at the Bournemouth Technical College of Great Britain in Bournemouth, England. He then travelled to Eugenieles-Bains in France where he apprenticed with the father of nouvelle cuisine, three-star Michelin chef Michel Guerard. “It was mind blowing for an African American kid from Brooklyn to go to France,” he told Food& Wine’s Ellen Stern and Melanie Acevedo. “The respect for food in its raw state and the intensity of the preparation-that’s what stuck with me.”
When he returned to the U.S., Clark, as a guest speaker in a wine class at his old school, New York Tech, met a pretty student named Lynette. Like complementing spices, Clark
At a Glance…
Born March 17, 1955 In Brooklyn, NY; son of Melvin, a chef; married Lynette, 1979; children: Preston, Alela, Ashley, Brooke, and Cameron, Education: Associate degree in hotel and restaurant technology, New York City Technical College, Brooklyn, NY; Bournemouth Technical College of Great Britain, Bournemouth, England; apprenticed with Michel Guer-ard, at Eugenieles-Bains, France.
Chef. Assistant chef at Braganza, London c. 1978; assistant chef, La Boîte and Regîne’s, both New York, c 1978-1981; executive chef, the Odeon, New York, 1981-1988; executive chef, Cafe Luxembourg, New York, 1984-1988; owner/executive chef, the Metro, New York, 1988-1990; executive chef, Bice, Beverly Hills, CA, 1990-1992; executive chef, Hay-Adams Hotel, Washington DC, 1992-1995; executive chef, Tavern on the Green, New York, 1995–
Awards: James Beard/Perrier-Jouet Restaurant Award, best chef in Mid-Atlantic Region, 1994; African American Heritage Award, 1995.
Addresses: Home-Piainsboro, NJ. Office-Tavern on the Green, Central Park West & 67th St, New York, NY 10023.
knew he found his soulmate when their first argument revolved around the preparation of a steak. The two married in 1979 and it was Lynette who talked her husband into taking the position of executive chef at a new restaurant called the Odeon in the Tribeca section of Manhattan. In 1981 Tribeca had not yet evolved into the trendy, loft-filled enclave its since become, and Clark-then working as an assistant chef at the upscale Regine’s-wondered if people would travel down to a warehouse district to eat on mismatched furniture. Lynette, however, was right; the Odeon was a smash and three years later the owners opened a second restaurant, Cafe Luxembourg on the Upper West Side, and Clark had another kitchen to run.
In 1988 the Clarks realized the dream of owning their own restaurant, a French eatery called the Metro. “I always wanted my own place,” Clark told Caroline V. Clarke of Black Enterprise, “with all the risk, all the headaches, and all the control. “Although the Metro won wide critical acclaim, tough financial times in the late eighties weren’t friendly to new businesses and ultimately, the volume couldn’t support the overhead. The Metro closed after two years. “I wish I could have had some insight into what was happening in the 90s, “Clark conceded to Pamela Parseghian of Nation’s Restaurant News. “Financially, it just didn’t work for us. I did what I truly wanted to do, an upscale restaurant that was the talk of the Upper East Side. I didn’t see what was happening. My eyes were pretty much closed.”
Disappointed, Clark led his family to the West Coast where he was hired to turn around the troubled Bice, an Italian restaurant in Beverly Hills. The irony of an African American chef running the kitchen of an Italian restaurant, notwithstanding, Clark did turn it around, as well as opening the kitchen of a second Bice in San Diego. Though Clark had success in the West, it was clear he was an East Coast son. “Going out for [L.A. diners) is not about the food or for the dining experience,” Clark admitted to Parseghian. “They go to a restaurant because it’s the ’in’ place or because it’s frequented by many celebrities. On the East Coast, especially New York, the diners are serious about food.”
As his contract at Bice was expiring, Clark was considering opening his own restaurant in the Los Angeles area when he received an offer to be the executive chef at the Hay-Adams Hotel in Washington D.C. Unsure whether a new restaurant could succeed in L. A. and with Lynette eager to move the family back East, Clark considered the hotel job, although with much trepidation. “I had always heard horror stories about hotels, “he explained to Clarke. “They’re big, they have room service, multiple restaurants, the food’s not good and you can’t make it good….” But the new managing director of the Hay-Adams, Wolf Lehmkuhl, wanted Clark and with his assurances and an attractive package that featured a salary of more than ․100,000 a year, Lehmkuhl was able to secure a three-year commitment from Clark, beginning in 1992.
Shortly after arriving in the capital, Clark’s independent streak again rose to the fore. He didn’t care for the way the cobb salad was served at the Hay-Adams--all chopped up and thrown together-so he changed it, initiating many complaints from customers who preferred the old version. Clark’s response was to remove it from the menu prompting a boycott and a petition drive. “I really feel if you don’t take the risk and take certain things off the menu that people are used to, people will never be ready for a change,” he told Mayer of the Washington Post, shortly after the controversy, adding, “[Washington’s] an old city with some very distinct dining habits. I would like to break some of them.”
In January of 1993 the Hay-Adams got some new neighbors in the form of the Clinton family who, following the inauguration, had moved into the White House which sits directly across the street from the hotel. Over the next year the President and First Lady enjoyed a number of meals from Chef Clark’s kitchen and when it was time to replace exiting White House chef, Pierre Chambrin, in the spring of 1994, Clark was on the short list. One of four possibles, Clark and the other chefs each had an interview and were then supposed to cook a lunch for Hillary Clinton and a group of White House women. Clark, however, removed himself from consideration after the interview. “My main reason was my commitment to the hotel, “he told the Washington Post’s Candy Sagon. I have a contract and they have made a lot of changes for me.” Clark added that while the White House job has prestige, there’s a notoriety that’s lost and opportunities that would be missed. “I wouldn’t be able to…go to charity functions and things of that nature if I was at the White House.”
At the beginning of 1995, Clark resigned from the Hay-Adams Hotel to, again, launch his own restaurant. “1 think it’s time to move on,” he told Milfred Prewitt of Nation’s Restaurant News. “After two and a half years, we achieved many of the goals we set out to achieve and now I think I’m going to take a little time off before I do something on my own again.” However, Clark’s plans to take some time off were effectively shelved when he was lured by Warner LeRoy to head the kitchen in America’s top-grossing restaurant, Tavern on the Green. In hiring Clark, LeRoy hoped to revamp the image of the restaurant which, although it had always done good business and was a popular tourist attraction, had lost some of its luster in the eyes and tastes of restaurant reviewers. “The food was good,” LeRoy admitted to Food and Wine’s Stern and Acevedo, “but not great.”
Clark, no doubt, was intrigued by the volume: 600 people for lunch, close to 1,000 for dinner, a staff of some 60 cooks, plus a revolving menu. “We change the menu itself about four times a year seasonally, and then we have specials that we run every day,” Clark told Ebony Man. “And all these are planned by myself.” Clark is also responsible for implementing other changes which changed the scope and patron-ship of the Central Park restaurant. In the summer of 1996 Clark introduced Tavern on the Green’s first ever outdoor barbecue grill. Later that year, the father of five created a diverse and adventurous children’s menu. “Children often determine where people go to eat nowadays,” Clark told Florence Fabricant of the New York Times. “Why not let them eat like Mommy and Daddy, with a regular three-course menu instead of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or some other slap in the face?”
In a field as demanding as his, Clark still finds time to inspire young African Americans to pursue the culinary arts. “I think it’s a shame that there are not more African American chefs,” he told Mayer. He also told Parseg-hian: “After the civil rights bill, being a chef was the last thing on everybody’s mind. They went for the so called glamour jobs. It wasn’t until the 80s that chefs started to receive notoriety and celebrity status.” To that end, Clark and other prominent black chefs are active in the Taste of Heritage Foundation, a gourmet dinner program designed to raise scholarship money for African American students of the culinary arts and foodservice. “It’s tough,” he told Ebony Man. “But I feel that your destiny in this field depends on how hard you work at it. Nobody can ever tell you how far you can go.” At least, nobody ever told Clark.
Amsterdam News, February 25, 1995, p. 5.
Black Enterprise, February 1995, p. 105.
Ebony Man, October 1995, p. 28.
Food & Wine, December, 1995, p. 84.
Los Angeles Times Calendar, December 16, 1990, p. 114.
Nation’s Restaurant News, March 14, 1994, p. 41; January 23, 1995, p. 7; February 6, 1995, p. 2; July 15, 1996, p. 74.
New York Times, January 28, 1981, p. CI; November 13, 1996, p. C4.
New York Times Magazine, July 2, 1995, p. 41.
Southern Living, August 1994, p. 30.
Newsday (New York), March 15, 1995.
Washington Post, January 20, 1993, p. El; April 20, 1994, p. El.
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