On the Line: Steve Kling Of Five Crowns And SideDoor

Steve Kling has the weight of two restaurants on his shoulders. On the one side, an institution for 50 years, specializing in classic fare within an intimate setting. Over in the bar, a well-respected gastropub with a stellar cocktail program. He balances the two dining rooms with finesse, drawing inspiration from both of his grandmothers.

There was a noticeable change in the Five Crowns menu last year. Could you please elaborate on some of the updates? How does the establishment’s history and overall atmosphere influence the menu?

Five Crowns is magical. It’s deeply ingrained in the hearts and minds of many people. Last year being the 50th anniversary was an important year, and an ideal opportunity for us to have guests re-experience some of the dishes that made this restaurant important. Some of these dishes are currently featured on the menu. We also wanted to feature something for those who might be dining with us for the first time. Keeping it clean, simple and executed the best way we can.

With kitchen experience in both Japanese (Kado/Ozuma) and modern French (Bouchon) cuisines, how was the transition to English fare?
I don’t think of what we serve as being necessarily English. Although the prime rib and the atmosphere are unmistakably so. It’s more of the classic technique and flavors that we tend to work with that we try to present to the guest. We like to respect tradition while giving it a modern sensibility.

What did you originally study in school? And what was the turning point in your life when you decided you wanted to be in the hospitality industry?
I have been cooking since I was really young, and always saw myself becoming a chef. I studied bio in school, hoping to get in food or health sciences. In my free time, I watched Mario Batali, David Rosengarten and the Too Hot Tamales on TV, and I realized I was wasting my time. . . . I wanted to do what they did. I guess you can say I dropped out to become a chef.

Favorite places to eat.
Ikko, Chongqing Szechuan, La Cascada, Hen House, Shin Sen Gumi.

Guilty pleasure food.
Nacho Cheese Doritos.

How do you explain the difference in SideDoor and Five Crowns concepts to guests?
I’ve always considered SideDoor to be a local hangout, with the bar and charcuterie station being the centerpiece. If you want to have a sandwich, a plate of oysters, a salad and a flight of wine and leave, SideDoor is ideal. Five Crowns, being the institution that it is, is where a guest can have more of the quintessential Lawry’s experience. The classics are to be had here. It is a unique and celebratory place.

When you joined the Lawry’s family of restaurants in 2010, what was your role?
Chef de Partie at Five Crowns and SideDoor. I was responsible for the preparation of all hot line menu items. I was cross-trained in the garde manager, as well as the cheese and charcuterie stations, but worked almost entirely on the hot line. 

Most important quality you look for in a sous chef.
Someone who’s driven to take my job.

What would you like to try if you weren’t in this business?
I’d likely teach classes in French cuisine. Maybe grow wine grapes as well.

Hardest lesson you’ve learned:
No matter how great the idea, the ingredients, the execution . . . there will always be legions of people who think it’s mediocre, at best.

Your earliest food memory:
Mint chip ice cream from Baskin Robbins.
How and where did you grow up eating Southern AND Filipino cuisine? What were some of your favorite meals (from both cuisines)?
My grandmothers were both phenomenal cooks. On my dad’s side, she was from the South. Naturally, she was a great cook and baker. I’m particularly fond of past Thanksgiving meals. She made the best cornbread dressing, and no vegetable was without bacon— string beans, black-eyed peas! On my mother’s side, it was all Filipino. I often spent summers with her, and she taught me technique and how to make something awesome out of a few humble ingredients. Those flavors continue to push me.

You have a whole day to yourself; what would you do?
Write food ideas, as always. And think of ways to make up lost time to my wife, Maryann, and my son, Hayden.

What’s your favorite childhood memory?
Throwing the baseball around with my dad.

Last thing you looked up online:
Akinator . . .the web genie.

You’re making breakfast for yourself; what are you having?
Fried milkfish, over easy eggs and garlic fried rice. But I would eat it at night, after work.

Most recent food find.
Ichiran in Japan. Best ramen I have ever had. You eat in individual booths that make it feel like you are taking an exam or studying in a college library. They want as little social interaction as possible. It’s more of a personal, humbling meal. You know it’s not likely to get better than that. You’re disappointed when it’s over. Even though you’re full, you’re jealous of those who follow you.

One stereotype about your industry, and whether it’s true.
It is widely believed that anyone can be taught to cook, which is generally true. Whether you cook well or not, is a matter of drive and desire. So much of it is innate.

Tell us something most people don’t know about you.
I’m afraid of heights.

What would be your last meal on Earth?
I get asked this often, and as much as I love food and to eat, I’d be very content with a glass or two of some good bourbon. Blanton’s, likely.

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