Since April, downtown diners have been transported to Paris—that is, Chef Sota Atsumi’s vision of Paris—at Chefs Club in Nolita. While originally from Japan, Atsumi began his cooking career in France, training in the empires of Troisgros and Robuchon before opening Clown Bar, a modern bistro that Eater called “the most thrilling restaurant in Paris.” It was a moniker that few could debate—until Atsumi left Clown Bar to develop his own venture, Maison, opening in 2019.
Many will describe Atsumi’s style as Franco-Japanese, but those who have recently dined in the “city of light” will recognize his cuisine reflects the capital’s current dining climate. Falling in stride with his compatriots at Septime and Saturne, Atsumi belongs to a post-bistronomie movement that focuses on the integrity of ingredients and the discovery of new flavors, moreso than any national culinary traditions. Simply presented and thoughtfully prepared, his dishes look casual—until you realize that his roasted miso mysteriously tastes like mole or that yuzu adds a brilliant acidity to the heaviness of foie gras, flaky pastry and duck.
With a menu that changes nightly, guests are invited to witness Atsumi’s real-time creativity. One evening, Maison pastry chef Rikako Kobayashi might be seen crafting a chocolate tuile to adorn a chocolate chiffon cake with marjoram ice cream and caramelized hazelnuts. On another—during Atsumi’s two-week collaboration with chef Carlo Mirarchi of Roberta’s and Blanca fame—a 70-day aged côte de boeuf might be found sizzling on the grill, to be plated with new potatoes and bottarga butter.
As for why Atsumi has temporarily set up shop in New York, we have Chefs Club curator Aaron Arizpe to thank. “When selecting guest chefs, we’re more interested in looking forward at where food is headed than looking back,” notes Arizpe. “Presenting international chefs and cuisines that have yet to find a foothold in New York is a key part of that.” For Atsumi, the opportunity to cook in New York is also a meaningful cultural exchange. The chef noted that the more relaxed approach of the city’s native chefs—as well as the warmer hospitality style—has influenced his career and vision for Maison.
When Chefs Club first opened its New York City outpost in November 2014, many serious diners didn’t know what to think. With an encyclopedic menu featuring signature dishes from dozens of the world’s most famous restaurateurs, a meal was more similar to visiting the Rock n’ Roll hall of fame than seeing Stevie Wonder or The Rolling Stones in concert. And when the headliners themselves did roll into town, guests had only a handful of nights to snag an elusive table.
In 2017, Chefs Club finally found its stride—and its soul—with a truly game-changing chef-in-residency program. Beginning in with chef JJ Johnson (The Cecil), followed by Jeremiah Langhorne (The Dabney), Chefs Club’s residency has already proved novel in New York, presenting immersive three-to-six month takeovers by some of the industry’s most promising young chefs.
Rather than simply “popping up” in the restaurant’s space, Arizpe invites chefs to truly take the helm, from the menu and the wine list to the overall decor. “There is no one way we work with chefs,” he explains. “It’s my job to help realize their vision, rather than have them adapt to what we have previously done. In the process, we’re offering diners an experience that would normally require buying a plane ticket.”
For the front- and back-of-house at Chefs Club, the experience is equally invaluable, with each guest chef’s team training and working alongside the onsite staff. As General Manager Keri Levens puts it, “Opening a restaurant is something most culinary professionals will do once or twice in a lifetime. At Chefs Club, we do it four times a year.”
Francophiles should run, not walk, to Chefs Club, as Atsumi’s residency ends July 21st. But further intriguing and novel cuisines are on the horizon: the next takeover will feature the James Beard Award-winning Macanese cuisine of Fat Rice chef Abe Conlon, beginning August 13th.