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Maison Sun

Cover Image for Maison Sun
By Sophie Brochu
Posted
Categories:Interviews

When Venezuela-born Carlos Gasperi earned his Ph.D. in German Literature in 2019, he had dreams of becoming a professor. Then Covid hit and Gasperi found himself utilizing his research skills in a whole new way. Rather than pursuing academia, Gasperi founded Maison Sun, a New York City-based fine dining speakeasy with rotating locations and chefs. We caught up with Gasperi to learn about the philosophy behind this dining experience.

Tock: What inspired a fine dining speakeasy and what can you tell us about the philosophy behind Maison Sun?

Gasperi: Prior to COVID, my aspiration was to become a professor of German literature & philosophy. The pandemic beset my academic trajectory, such that I was forced to explore alternative career paths. I suppose a combination of financial necessity and a spark of entrepreneurial ingenuity initially fostered the idea.

As an entrepreneur, I must admit I benefited from a perfect storm of two extraordinarily unusual circumstances. First, several hundred furnished luxury residences throughout New York City were simultaneously unoccupied for months. Real estate agents and property owners alike welcomed the opportunity of free marketing and cost-effective revenue with few strings attached.

In the early days of the project, the whole of New York City’s food & beverage industry was simultaneously unemployed. I quickly learned of world-class chefs otherwise busy cooking grilled-cheese sandwiches on their tiny stoves in Brooklyn.

The philosophy behind Maison Sun is one of humble origins. It began with teaching myself how to cook for friends and family, befriending farmers at the Williamsburg & Union Square Farmers Markets, welcoming strangers into my home, washing their dishes. The day I was able to offer chefs, as well the service staff, quality living wages, like Charles Lindbergh on his way to Paris, I knew there was no return.

Maison Sun is not a restaurant, nor will it ever become one. It is rather a fateful encounter among fellows and coequals, a gregarious experience that celebrates the culinary arts in the midst of the magnificence that is and always will be New York City.

 

Tock: You note that the service industry is made up of primarily a group of strangers and that a sense of belonging is what makes it so special. Was there a highlight in your career where you experienced this? And how do you foster a sense of belonging?

Gasperi: To quote E.B. White’s classic memoirs in his 1949 masterpiece of travel writing “Here is New York ” this city can utterly destroy an individual, or be entirely fulfilling, depending on a good deal on luck. According to White’s initial and most gallant summation of living in New York, “on any person who desires such queer prizes, New York bestows the gift of loneliness and the gift of privacy.”

The workforce of the service industry is largely made up of a gallimaufry group of strangers, mostly persons born outside the city, or better, as White aptly puts it, “persons who have pulled up stakes somewhere and come to town, seeking sanctuary or fulfillment, or some greater or lesser grail.”

The capacity to offer such a dubious gift is a peculiar quality and perhaps that is the wonder of working in New York City. We discover that our longings are universal, that our solitude is not forlorn.

Having been born and raised in a bilingual, bicultural, and biracial household in Venezuela was invaluable to my success in hiring a diverse, first-rate staff. I communicate in Spanish with our porter, William Gonzalez, who for 25 years served as music director of the college radio station at the University of Las Averianas in Bogota, Colombia. William is a unicorn worth his weight in gold. Not only is he a spectacular porter, which our chefs above everyone else appreciate, but he also has exquisite taste in music.

Listening to our playlists, you might take pleasure in tunes such as Moondog’s 1969 “Lament I (Bird’s Lament)” early in the afternoon, Shirley Horn’s “Forget Me” from her masterful 1988 album Softly during mid-service, followed by Miles Davis’ “Générique” from his 1957 album Elevator to the Gallows around closing-time.

I communicate in German with Jan Hartwig of Atelier – Bayerischer Hof, our upcoming international guest chef, largely as a means of exacting his needs and concerns. We anticipate welcoming his team sometime in October once the travel ban on Europe is lifted.

 

“We discover that our longings are universal, that our solitude is not forlorn.”

Tock: Your website mentions that dining locations are chosen in the interest of “architectural distinction, commodious seating arrangements, and interior design.” What type of locations in NYC can a guest expect to dine in?

Gasperi: Our guests can certainly expect a spectrum of eccentric spaces at present and in the future. Ideally, we seek locations whose architectural features and refined interior design reflect the style of cuisine we serve. Our original location in Bedford-Stuyvesant, for example, my own former private residence, was designed by two of the city’s leading architects. It featured a state-of-art, fully computerized 2,500-gallon koi pond. Our second location, a 5,500 square foot loft in the Financial District, featured an impressive collection of authentic Chinese lacquered cabinets of the mid-19th century. After that, we operated in a mansion in the East Village which served as the former tea room of the Yakuza mafia in the ’90s. I showed Fritz Lang’s 1947 “Metropolis” there during service. Our next location was a former shoe factory turned into an off-the-grid catering facility located in the heart of the Meatpacking District. Our most recent location is a former dentist’s office converted into a high-end private dining room hidden within a residential building in SoHo. Our next location will likely be a four-story SoHo penthouse.

Tock: Tell us more about the Maison Sun tasting menus. How are they evolving?

Gasperi: On the back-cover notes to the original “Long Play” release of Miles Davis’s 1959 Kind of Blue, the late great Bill Evans reflects on the Japanese visual art of single-stroke painting. On a thin, stretched parchment, the artist paints complex images with a simple brush and black watercolor. A single unnatural or interrupted stroke either destroys the linear progression of the image or outright breaks the parchment. Erasures or changes are impossible. The discipline is such that the artist must learn to express the confluence of an image and idea without prior deliberation. The conviction that “direct performance” is the most meaningful artistic act prompts the evolution of jazz composition according to Evans.

At Maison Sun, we champion controlled improvisation. Contrary to the conventional wisdom of many fine-dining establishments, we wish to celebrate the differences that make each and every one of our menus unique. Every week, we offer a new tasting menu. Every dish we serve represents a revitalized source of local and sustainable ingredients. Every ingredient relates to a newly chosen anecdote of our purveyors. Every style of French and Asian cuisine we feature explores a new geographical region of the world. Like jazz composition, our every creation represents an extempore re-interpretation of the previous one.

It was Thomas Keller who first articulated the law of diminishing returns as a culinary principle: no second bite is ever quite as delicious as the first. By the same token, the essential nature of any proper dish is easily distinguished from its matter. To our minds, no two dishes are ever truly one and the same.

In a similar vein, German philosopher Friedrich Schiller once described beauty as the pursuit of form under the influence of freedom. Each and every service at Maison Sun renews our sense of purpose, namely the pursuit of form and an unconstrained desire for excellence.

 

“At Maison Sun, we champion controlled improvisation.”

Tock: You recently hosted chef Ian Jones of Chicago’s acclaimed Elizabeth Restaurant. Are you able to tease any more exciting upcoming chef collaborations?

Gasperi: Our collaboration with chefs Ian Jones and George Kovach of Elizabeth Restaurant was a major success. It introduced a new chapter in the entrepreneurial history of Maison Sun.

Hence, consolidating our proof of concept, our central aim is to invite high-profile chefs from around the world. We invite them to cook for our guests, up-close and personal, in the comfort of private residential spaces.

Chef Jan Hartwig of Atelier at Germany’s Hotel Bayerischer Hof has graciously accepted our invitation to cook for a limited number of 60 guests once the travel ban is lifted. He will proudly serve as our first international guest chef.

Chef Jordan Bailey of Aimsir has similarly agreed to visit later in the year once travel restrictions are lifted in Ireland.

We are in conversations with numerous other high-profile guests chefs and restaurants, including the eponymous Hiša Franko in Slovenia and the Sühring twins in Thailand.

For our regular NYC services, we are proud to welcome chef Conner Updegrave to the family as our full-time in-house chef. Chef Conner joins us as the former head chef of a 2-Michelin starred restaurant that closed during the pandemic.

I have immense respect and appreciation for Conner’s culinary skills. His technique is flawless, his passion for sustainable, farm-to-table ingredients true, and his food is just utterly delicious.

I feel humbled and privileged he has joined us, as well as become an integral member of our team.

Finally, I should at least mention that in addition to our select roster of chefs, we invite high-profile sommeliers to curate our complimentary beverage pairings. Our sommeliers are all wine professionals with considerable experience at Michelin-starred restaurants.

Tock: Now that the world is re-opening, what’s next for hospitality? And what excites you most about the future of dining?

Gasperi: I predict fine-dining will either become more cosmopolitan or return to its old ways in due time. In my brief experience with this project, I have come to quickly understand the myriad of logistical, financial, and legal challenges that preclude international collaborations and chef residencies from happening.

We definitively intend to persist and succeed in the former category. We do not perceive ourselves as a trend or a set of lofty ideals. We intend to establish Maison Sun as a quintessentially New York culinary avant-garde in the post-pandemic world.

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