Hotel St. Germain's Norman Grimm on Sneaking F-bombs and Pork into His Kitchen
Chef Norman Grimm's work was highly praised at Kitchen LTO, but all good things must come to an end, and at LTO it happens fast. After a four-month stint at the newly-opened pop-up spot in Trinity Groves, the 23-year restaurant industry veteran accepted the executive chef position at Hotel St. Germain in Oak Lawn just a few weeks ago.
After stints at a number of Dallas restaurants and cooking in some of San Francisco's best, including working under famous chef Traci des Jardins, Grimm has the chops. Few chefs in Dallas have the cooking credentials that he brings to the storied but struggling Hotel St. Germain.
The menu at his Kitchen LTO-stint was thoroughly French-influenced, but now Grimm is ready to go full-scale French. I talked to him about his experience at Kitchen LTO, what he expects to do at Hotel St. Germain, and what he thinks about Dallas diners.
What did you learn in your time at Kitchen LTO?
I don't know, thats kind of a hard one to put my finger on. I've been thinking about that a lot, what did I learn from Kitchen LTO. Not how to open up a restaurant, I've opened up 9, 10, maybe 11. Maybe one of the most valuable lessons was to choose your partners wisely in business.
Openings are always a great tool to learn what not to do. By now, I could write a book on things you don't do when opening a restaurant. I also met a lot of really awesome young restauranteurs -- Daniel at Luck, DJ at Resto Gastro Bistro, Omar at Casa Rubia is an awesome young chef that's doing some really great food right now. The owners and investors have taken an area that's kind of barren and dead and spun it into this huge success.
Do you think that growth is sustainable over the long term?
I think that area will turn Dallas into something in something that it's ever been. Have you been and seen the plans for the bigger picture? That can only benefit Dallas. It'll be a beautiful thing over there.
Shifting away from LTO, last year St. Germain got a terrible 1-star review from Leslie Brenner. She called it Fawlty Towers, even. Harsh. How does it feel to go into a new restaurant knowing that's the situation?
Well, I would say that Fawlty Towers isn't at all the situation at Hotel St. Germain. If it was, the same chef would be there, they wouldn't be shaking things up. I haven't read the review, and I personally don't care about the review. I don't care what happened at the restaurant before I got there. Sharon Hage, who I'd worked with at York Street, was chef at Hotel St. Germain 13 years ago, and reached out to me after the last chef departed. She said she didn't know how many chefs in the city that could do, or even wanted to do, this position.
Why do you think she asked you?
I've got a lot of years in cooking in a lot of very high-end establishment. The owner of Hotel St. Germain has a very specific vision for the hotel. She's from New Orleans, and wants you to feel like you're stepping into a French Quarter or Garden District Hotel. The food I make works well with that. I don't know the full history of Hotel St. Germain, but I do know that it's the only Relais Chateaux property in Dallas, and one of only two in Texas. That means a standard of service that is beyond the traditional dining experience. It means attention to detail.
I don't know the history of the St. Germain either, but I have dined there before. It's such a tiny little --
How was the dining experience? I wonder because now I'm putting out the food but I haven't dined it. I like what I see, everything is cool -- little white gloves, guys in the tuxedo. I walk out into the dining room and think "wow." I had dinner at Alain Ducasse in Paris and I feel that what we have at Hotel St. Germain is very similar. The feel is much the same.
I loved it because I'm a Francophile, and I felt like it was very unapologetic about the decadent, jacket-and-tie environment. I don't think the food was necessarily great, but it was okay. I did like that they were oh-so-French.
When I came in and handing out new menus, I thought, What century am I in? I want to create a renaissance there. I want to maintain that, what did you call it? Unapologetic standard of service. I wanna buff it up and make it shiny again.
I think that this will be a great time of growth for me. I want to work through a bunch of different dishes. I'd like to update the food. It's fun to think about because I've lately been looking at dishes at Providence (in Los Angeles) and Casa Rubia here, and they're really groovy, with lots of handmade funky elements. But at St. Germain, I'm presenting food on 100-year old Limoges china. The owner isn't really into the molecular gastronomy thing, so everything that we'll be doing is very classically prepared.
Do you think St. Germain is a place you'll be for a while, or is it a place to do some learning and then move on?
I don't know. We'll see where it goes. The owner's been there for 22 years or so, and it's all about where she wants to take it. It would be cool down the line, if I stay there, to kind of take on the Hotel St. Germain.
You have an interest in that?
I always have an interest in the bigger picture. I have five children, I always have to be thinking about the bigger picture. It's kind of limitless as to what I could do. I'm having a blast. I really enjoy it, everything from the beginning to the end of a meal. But we'll see what happens.
Of course, now we have to talk about the food. What comes to my mind with the white gloves and very traditional presentation at St. Germain is that people will assume that the food is stuffy. And it kind of has been. It's classic French food, but people in Dallas maybe don't give a shit about French food?
No. They don't. Not at all.