Posted On: 02/01/2007
Restaurateur Christopher Kramer had three short-term goals. First was to buy back Two Nice Guys, the restaurant his father started in 1974. Mission accomplished. Second, to restore Two Nice Guys’ reputation. In progress. Third, to open another Two Nice Guys. Keep reading.
Why did your father leave the restaurant business?
[After running Two Nice Guys for 30 years,] Dad had some health problems and had to give it up. Although I grew up working in that restaurant, I wasn’t ready to own it. It was the first place I cooked and, God willing, it will be the last. But I had to finish college and learn the trade. However, I’m glad to say that he is healthy [and] dabbling in real estate, with an emphasis in restaurants.
What happened after he sold it?
I don’t want to bad-mouth anyone, but the quality and the service suffered. I wanted to restore what Dad built. … It was important to me that the name Two Nice Guys always be synonymous as a family restaurant with excellent food and service.
What is your definition of a family restaurant?
“Family” doesn’t mean, to me, just a place you can take the kids. In Italian dining, the basic essence is the family dining room table. It’s where families and friends come together, a place to relax, to feel welcome, a place where the food is simple and good. The more I study Italian cooking, the more I realize that it’s all about the experience at the table.
Where did you study cooking?
I got a degree in restaurant business management from Mizzou. I put myself through college by working in the University Club in Columbia. I studied under Daniel Pliska and learned more than [I] ever dreamed possible. After college, I focused on cooking and trained from the ground up in the traditional European style.
Did you go to culinary school?
No. What I did do was take the ProChef Certification Program at [the Culinary Institute of America] in New York. It’s a program for industry people who want to get certified [with the CIA and the American Culinary Federation]. I studied for two years before I took the exam, which was four consecutive 12-hour days that consisted of four practical exams and six written exams. It was exhausting.
What’s the difference between Trattoria Two and Two Nice Guys?
The most significant difference … is that the trattoria is my playground; it’s where I practice my trade. It’s where I can try new things and experiment. The trattoria is upstairs and Two Nice Guys is downstairs. There are about 20 items on the [downstairs] menu that never change, like the cavatelli, toasted ravioli, pizza or lasagna. But upstairs, in the trattoria, you’ll find more seasonal foods.
Where do you get new ideas?
I am constantly buying cookbooks. Not the new ones that come out every month, but the old masters. Recently, I picked up “Ma Gastronomie” by the French master Fernand Point. I’ve learned, as a chef, that everything’s already been done. It’s time to look back and bring back the best of the past.
You keep referring to cooking as a trade. Can you explain what you mean?
It is a trade; many people forget that. You have to learn the basics before you can do anything else. Cooking is like building a house: You have to have a solid foundation before you can build the walls. Then the walls have to be carefully constructed and strong before you can put on the roof. In cooking, you have to know how to make a stock before you can learn to flute a mushroom. I take a great deal of pride in the fundamentals.
By the time readers see this, the second Two Nice Guys should be open, right?
Yes. … And we have a special surprise: The last of the Dohack family sold me their 100-year-old secret fried chicken recipe. Combine that with my Dad’s recipes, and some new ones from me … well, I’m excited about this venture.
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