Chef Michael White

There’s no denying that the partnership between Chef Michael White and the Altamarea Group left an indelible mark on the New York dining scene. Their impressive restaurant portfolio included a slew of celebrated Italian hot spots including Marea and Ai Fiori. But despite a James Beard award and multiple Michelin stars earned over the decade-plus union, in 2021, White decided to move on from the company he helped to create and start fresh. After taking a quick to detour to Miami to open Lido Restaurant at The Four Seasons, he spent time with family at his Hamptons getaway before revealing his next move: teaming up with Grand Tour Hospitality (the team behind popular restaurants American Bar and Saint Theo’s) and restaurateur David Rabin to relaunch iconic theater district spot The Lambs Club.

During an exclusive interview with Tasting Table, White revealed what was behind his decision to leave the Altamarea Group and how he ended up in the kitchen at The Lambs Club. He also chatted about his friendship with Anthony Bourdain, being an olive oil snob, and some of his exciting future projects.

How Michael White ended up at The Lambs Club

Lambs Club interior

How did you become involved with the Lambs Club and what ultimately convinced you to sign onto the project?

I’m friends with Jeff Kadish [co-founder of financial management group Main Street Restaurant Partners] and David Rabin, so that was the easy part. The restaurant needed to reopen and it was obviously a working kitchen, and it was a perfect time to come on board and have some fun in the kitchen and do something I don’t always do. So being able to have some Italian dishes on the menu, but also being able to use some different ingredients that I wouldn’t typically use. So it’s been fun. It’s been good.

What are some of the ingredients that you’re using now that you haven’t used as much before?

Well, making a crudo and using maybe a little bit of yuzu kosho; something like that, it’s a lot of fun. Obviously, you don’t use that kind of stuff in Italian cooking. It’s been fun like that, yes.

What led up to the decision to leave the Altamarea Group?

Well, I tell you, COVID wasn’t good to anybody.

No.

It’s something that was difficult, but in the end, change was for everybody, I have to say, it’s obviously tough. It’s been a long time. But things are good. I mean, I was in Florida opening the Four Seasons. I’m opening a 9,000-square-foot restaurant in Atlantis, the Cove, this fall as well. So a lot of new projects, and in New York as well. But COVID wasn’t good to anybody, kiddo.

People had some time to figure out what they really wanted to do and pivoted in a lot of different ways.

Oh, most definitely. Most definitely. And it obviously made everybody think about what’s important and such. It has done irreparable damage to our business on so many different fronts, but we still haven’t seen the end of this. Obviously, all the buildings and things like that that are empty, that’s a whole other discussion.

Yeah, it’s horrible.

Yeah, absolutely. Everybody kind of thinks it’s over, but all the repercussions really haven’t been felt yet on a business standpoint of landlords and such like that.

Oh absolutely. There’s a ripple effect that’s going to be going on for quite some time, I’m sure.

Long time coming. Long time coming.

How NYC has changed since Michael White’s return

New York City skyline

Well, my next question is kind of a null point because I was wondering if you were looking forward to focusing on just one restaurant for the time being seeing as you worked with many before, but you’re not. You have a lot of projects up your sleeve.

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, there’s a tremendous amount of opportunities, not just in New York City, but elsewhere. So obviously pivoting, but New York City’s home, that’s for sure.

Has the culinary scene changed a lot over the course of everything that’s happened in the past two years?

I mean, yeah, the culinary scene has changed a lot. Obviously, many of the customers have left the city and are still gone. And a lot of those people are not going to come back. They don’t have to come back anymore because the people that were titans of industry, now they’re 60 … upper in age, let’s just say, and they don’t have to be back in the city. Everybody’s learned how to do Zoom and remote. So we’ll see when it comes back.

Yeah.

And they’re in the Hamptons and they’re in Miami. It’s not just a little flash in the pan … I’m a firm believer in New York City. I love New York City. New York City has given me the opportunity on so many different occasions for everything. But it’s something that they’re… It’s going to take a little time, that’s all, let’s just put it that way, to get everybody back into the city. And travel and stuff is very difficult right now with all the flights being canceled. You just hear these horror stories … It’s one of those things that have a ripple effect.

Michael White explains how he put together the Lambs Club menu

Fluke Crudo at The Lambs Club

So how has your experience been so far at the Lambs Club?

It’s been great. Gearing up was very exciting and people are booking parties in September and October already, so that really feels good. We’re in the doldrums of summer, but the fall is booking up, and that’s really exciting. And with such a great location there with Paramount and all the banks and all the Sixth Avenue and such.

I’m assuming you were a regular patron before the reboot?

Oh, sure. You bet. We had lunches there and holiday luncheons with friends.

Cool. So can you tell me a little bit about your process when you form a menu?

Sure. Sure. At a restaurant that is in a hotel, and has a transient clientele, you have to have a great burger and you have to have things that are typical on a menu, whether it’s a brunch and avocado toast… But I love doing those types of things, it’s like an execution to the max, you know?

The menu has a few crudos and light appetizers that people can come into the bar or mezzanine and have something quickly. The restaurant is very close to the Broadway shows so we open very early. There are always four or five tables of two that come before the Sarah Jessica Parker show across the street and stuff like that. Some people come in for a longer dining menu, and the 5 o’clock customers come in pre-theater. Then we get the actors that come over from various Broadway shows afterwards.

Do you have a favorite dish?

Oh, wow. They’re all my children, really. It’s like picking my favorite Ramones song. I mean, we’ve had veal chops on for a while now. We’re doing lamb chops. Dover sole in the spring. It’s the fun in having kind of that clubby food. I don’t like to say that. That was weird … "clubby food." But you know, a dark room. It has a fireplace. Now we’re going into fall so we’re working on some new things. Francis [Joven], the pastry chef, is making great Parker House rolls with everything bagel seasonings on top. So listen, I’m having fun there. That’s what’s great about it.

So you’re known for your pasta dishes, but there are only a few on the menu at the Lambs Club. Will you be building that out at all?

Yeah. I mean, obviously when truffles come into season … Although, it’s not going to be a great truffle season this year. It’s so damn hot in Europe right now, but let’s hope so. A hundred plus degrees in Italy right now, with very little rain. But at any rate, we’ll definitely do a risotto, a couple pastas, but specials are fun too. Using products of the moment. But everything will always be handmade. A typical restaurant wouldn’t have handmade orecchiette and things like that, if that makes sense.

When forming a menu, do you work with the beverage director, Christopher Miller to ensure that the two menus align?

For sure. Exactly. In spring, for example, artichokes and wine are tough, those kinds of things. So we definitely talk about those things when we’re implementing something on a tasting menu. But certain kinds of dishes are tough on wine. We have a very extensive wine list there, and people there are definitely Lambs Club devotees, if you will, that come in and know that it’s a great list, and deep wine list.

What it was like traveling with Anthony Bourdain

Michael White and Anthony Bourdain

So we’re approaching the 10th anniversary of your episode of "No Reservations."

Wow. Really?

What were some of your highlights of that trip to Emilia Romagna with Anthony Bourdain?

Listen, Anthony is fantastic and thoroughly missed. But we had this amazing time. Obviously memories that I’ll hold for a long time. I’m so happy that I got to see all those things and do that. Then, everybody else got to see those things too. So it was good times, for sure.

It must have been an incredible experience.

Oh, it was nine days of just pandemonium with all the cameras and having a hotel room just for the cameras. Nobody really knows what goes into that. I didn’t either, what goes into such a big program like that, you know?

So a hotel room just for the cameras, no person is staying in the room?

No person in there. That’s how much stuff they bring. Yeah, that was just fond memories. And it’s like, schlepping all that stuff. It’s crazy. I mean, it’s a lot of work and there’s a lot of people behind the scenes doing this.

Do you have a favorite Bourdain memory?

Oh, wow. On the way back from dinner one time, we were all in the back of a pickup truck at nighttime holding onto the roll bar going back to the hotel. Staying up, things like that. For sure. Many, many, many memories.

Michael White on his thirst for Michelin stars and Coca-Cola

Michael White at Michelin Awards

You’ve earned a lot of Michelin stars over the years. Is that recognition something that’s still important to you?

Oh, very much so. The Michelin Guide really, for me, is the barometer. We don’t know when they’re in the restaurant and they’re famously anonymous. The reason why it’s very important to me is the fact that I grew up working in Italy in my formal years, and that’s the barometer of everything. So that’s why I love the Michelin guide and I’m so happy that they’re here in New York. I earned my first Michelin star in 2006 at Fiamma, and now they’re in Florida which is fun and they’re going to Vancouver now next.

Nice. Do you have an ingredient that you cannot work without?

Wow. Right now, let me tell you … I would definitely say olive oil. It’s such a big deal when you cook. Whether it’s for crudos or drizzling on simple greens with sea salt.

Do you have a favorite olive oil?

Eh. I’m really kind of an oil snob, but I shouldn’t be. But if I’m eating a bowl of borlotti beans or a soup or something, you definitely want to have a Tuscan brand, a very fragrant olive oil. When I’m dressing crudos, maybe I’ll use something a little bit lighter so I can taste the fish.

Do you have a guilty pleasure food or a food you would defend despite it not being well-received?

Like Doritos or something like that?

Yeah. For me, it’s Kraft Parmesan cheese. I know it’s fake, I know it’s disgusting, but I for some reason like it.

Sure, sure, sure. Wow. Really, I love a good chocolate. I got to tell you, though … I love a great Coca-Cola. That’s good, right?

Totally. That’s the perfect hangover beverage.

Yeah. A great Coca-Cola where you just had this amazing dinner in Paris or something like that, and after dinner, you need to have a Coca-Cola, right? I mean, I know there’s a lot of people that can relate to that.

And the Coca-Cola is better there, too.

Oh, absolutely.

You talked a little bit about other projects you have up your sleeve, could you expand on that at all?

White: Yeah, as I already told you about, I’m opening Paranza, an Italian seafood restaurant at the Cove in Atlantis. After that, I really can’t tell you. But it’s going to be announced soon, I promise. Yeah. So a restaurant in Miami, and a new restaurant in New York City, I guess.

Oh, wow. Amazing.

In ’24, let’s just say. A Midtown Italian eatery in ’24 … I’m looking forward to everybody coming back to New York City. That’s what I’m looking forward to. I’m a firm believer in New York City and I’m just waiting patiently, as all my counterparts and colleagues are, for everybody to get back to New York City and for the Broadway shows to open back up. And let’s get cranking again. Looking forward to it.

The Lambs Club, featuring a new menu courtesy of James Beard award-winning chef Michael White, is now open in New York’s Theater District for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

This article has been edited for clarity.