Chef Andrey and I had numerous chances to wax poetic on so many random topics, and I embraced every one eager to peel back layers of the onion on his bombastically crazy, wickedly talented, and deeply philosophical mind. It was often an interplay of questions on questions, a bit of a jousting, as both of us worked hard to prove to the other that a deeper culinary purpose was worthwhile pursuing, and that somehow there could be found a strand of it in the nuthouse we had created.
I’m pretty sure that the entire time we worked together Andrey and I never really got each other, but it wasn’t from a lack of trying. We called each other on our shit, and probably listened to each other most over any of the other noises. Andrey was eager to have a hit, show the city he had some street in his cooking, and teach the cocktails and silicon crowd a thing or two about food. I was pushing hard to earn some real critical cred, prove the chops were there, and represent a new way at looking at fine dining. Despite our differences, we both understood deep down that we needed the other.
We fought (passionately agreed to disagree) more than either of us would have liked, over the stupidest shit. Placement of the water station was a three day debate. The aforementioned coffee battle became our Korea, as neither of us budged, and thus neither of us won, or lost, and to this day, the mere mention of if might renew full scale hostilities. The result was that we carried illy, one of the top coffee brands out of Italy, and horribly expensive to boot. In the end, the guests were the real winners in that debate.
Andrey had a signature shrug, as emphatic as a shrug could ever aspire to be. It meant many things, depending on the concern at hand, and you could often find yourself disarmed by it. At first, it seems humbling, as if to say ‘hey it’s a fucked up world we live in’, but once you get to know Andrey you start to realize it’s more often ‘I could tell you to go fuck yourself but you wouldn’t listen now, would you’. Those that know Andrey know this shrug well, it’s his signature spinorama, and it’s gold. Being on the receiving end of ‘the shrug’ enough times, it eventually evolved to a mutual, unspoken agreement that we’re all just rats in a maze, being rewarded with cheese for getting through the shit. In Andrey’s view, it made sense to just ensure it was really tasty, artisinal cheese.
I learned a tremendous amount from Andrey, and made a point of listening when he spoke. When we first spoke on food, he explained his philosophy simply, and as the words stuck with me to this day, I can recall it verbatim.
“Duck and lentils are a perfect pairing. They’ve been a perfect pairing for hundreds of years, so why would you try and change that? Go and find the best duck on the planet, and pair it with the best lentil’s on the planet, and you’ll have a fantastic dish.” – Andrey Durbach
Simplicity. Excellence. Integrity.
I could distill him down to those three words. Although, while his lack of compromise was philosophically endearing, it sometimes stopped business in its tracks. He said no more than yes, swore more than Ramsay, and had befuddled servers running, crying, out of the kitchen. He made our lives hell at times, and had ridiculous demands, and pushed his staff as hard as I’ve ever seen. He was on a crusade, waving a flag of culinary righteousness, hoisting infidels on his petard, and spit roasting them to perfection.
His unique brand of crazy was rooted in a pursuit of perfection that isn’t tangible, and exists only in the mind. This is the kind of crazy that makes people exceptional, to ignore the masses, go against the grain, and reach for something beautiful and dangerous.
Every true artist is tormented by their art. They aren’t crazy because they’re eating the paint, or high on mescaline (both very good excuses for being crazy), but because they have a vision in their mind that wont subside until they’ve seen it realized before them, by their hand.
I know this crazy well enough to recognize it in someone else. Andrey was my kind of crazy.
Speaking of crazy, did I mention my partners? Yeah, let me tell you about crazy…but before i do, you should check out one of Andrey’s outstanding restaurants.