Geography is so often synonymous with something or someone well known to all of us. Buckingham Palace and the Queen of England, for example, or 221B Baker Street and Sherlock Holmes. Even P. Sherman and 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney.
Jeremiah Stone, 33, and Fabián von Hauske Valtierra, 28, are hopeful that one day, Orchard Street in Manhattan’s Lower East Side becomes synonymous with them, their restaurants, and their food.
“The newest place [Una Pizza Napoletana] is a block away from our first two restaurant [Contra and Wildair]. We’re proud of being on the Lower East Side and are proud of being on Orchard Street specifically. It’s become a very big part of who we are gives an identity to the restaurants,” von Hauske says.
Von Hauske, born in Mexico City, and Jeremiah Stone, who hails from Maryland, have been friends since they met at the French Culinary Institute in New York which, though it may seem otherwise given their successful rise to culinary fame, was not too long ago.
They both came to New York to pursue cooking, something they developed an interest in while growing up—in very different parts of the world. “We’re two people with very different backgrounds that decided to settle down in New York and that is what we want to evoke,” von Hauske notes when speaking about what makes their connection special.
Having completed culinary school with a shared vision of one day being business partners, the duo cut their culinary teeth in kitchens across New York and Europe (von Hauske also made a stop in Australia). While Stone gained valuable experience in Paris, von Hauske made a stop at Noma in Copenhagen, cooking for René Redzepi. And what did he learn while cooking at what was then the #1 restaurant in the world?
“I will never forget how hard the work was,” von Hauske recalls. Of Redzepi, he adds, “he is an inspiration to everything we do and a ghost mentor. … It was amazing to see someone have a clear vision about what they want, communicate that to other people, and make them passionate about that vision as well.”
“We’re two people with very different backgrounds that decided to settle down in New York and that is what we want to evoke” – von Hauske
Though Redzepi was an inspiration (one of many the duo are not shy when asked to mention peers and friends they look to for inspiration, advice, and insight), at the end of the day, Stone and von Hauske are the straw that stirs their own proverbial drink.
After bouncing around Europe they returned to New York with full bellies and a clear vision, taking much away from their time as chefs and diners across the continent. After consultant work, gigs in the back of house, and the precise orchestration of a series of popups, they opened their first restaurant—Contra—in 2013. Contra is a fixed price tasting menu restaurant that represents the pair’s past experiences around th globe. “We had worked all over the place and while those places had concepts and regionality, it felt like something was missing … we wanted to make it inherently New York,” Stone says proudly.
“When we opened we were worried about people not understanding the vision … we were trying to be ahead of the curve and trends … from an all natural wine list to a menu driven solely from our ideas and not a classical menu,” Stone notes in reflection.
A few years after the fact, Contra’s success is no secret. In March 2014, famed New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells said the duo had achieved “a personal, understated, modern approach to deeply seasonal cooking.”
Beyond Wells very important seal of approval, they would receive much critical acclaim in the coming years. In 2016, von Hauske was a member of the Forbes 30 Under 30 while the duo were named Food and Wine Best New Chefs New York (gracing the cover of the magazine of which Stone says with a laugh, “I doubted I would ever be on the cover of a magazine.”). In 2017 and again this year they are Semi-Finalists for James Beard awards (the 2018 winners are announced in Chicago in May) and—most importantly—Contra received 1 Michelin Star in 2016 and again in 2017.
Upon further reflection, Stone adds, “it has validated a lot of what we are doing and has made us feel like we are doing the right thing.” Adds von Hauske, “Each time we win an award or get recognition it validates what we are doing and gives us confidence … but every year we know the Michelin Guide is coming back and we have to keep up with standards, be better, and do better.”
While they have pushed forward (von Hauske defines success as a never ending series of goals you set for yourself) in an effort to improve, they also do more. So happy were they where on Orchard Street that when a neighboring restaurant shuttered in 2015, they huddled up with their wine director and decided it was time again to bring a vision to life—just two doors down from Contra.
Enter Wildair (named after a prize winning race horse living in the area before the Civil War), a neighborhood eatery with a wicked wine list featuring more of those natural (and orange) wines of which Stone is so enamored.
When we spoke this March, Stone and von Hauske were preparing to open their third restaurant with partner Anthony Mangieri who, according to some, makes the best Neapolitan style pizza you’ll ever eat. Mangieri opened Una Pizza Napoletana in New Jersey in 1996, moving to the East Village in 2004, San Francisco in 2009, and now back to New York thanks to Stone and von Hauske. Where in New York? On Orchard Street, shouting distance from Contra and Wildair.
Una Pizza Napoletana is opening soon, giving Stone and von Hauske a trio of can’t miss, dynamic, eateries rich with the success that Redzepi, Dan Barber, or any chef for that matter would kill to have. Are they done growing? Not likely. Their original dream was an ice cream shop, so who knows.
Until then, they have plenty of reasons (Lower East Side residents) and a troika of restaurants that present exciting opportunities rather than challenges. Speaking of the success they have attained, von Hauske states, “I don’t know if it’s excitement but I definitely consider it motivation … knowing we can always improve on what we’re doing.”
On that same note, Stone adds of success that he wants to be able to “step back and see the people around us are happy to be working for and with us … I don’t think I see success until I see a system where everyone involved feels like they are giving something and gaining something in return.”