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5 questions with Drew Nieporent

Restaurant Hospitality editor Mike Sanson attended the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, June 18-21. The event attracts more than 5,000 attendees, celebrated chefs, wine makers and spirits experts. A component of the festival is several trade panels designed specifically for restaurant operators. Sanson’s focus was on covering those trade panels and interviews with top chefs and industry experts attending the event. • See more Owner Interviews

RH: Drew, you’ve been coming to the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen for a long time. Why?

Nieporent: I believe it’s been more than 25 years. In 1989, Debra Ponsek, the chef of my first restaurant, Montrachet, was named a Food & Wine Best New Chef. Since then I’ve been coming back because Aspen is one of the most beautiful places in America and I love to meet all the young, new chefs who are presented here.

RH: You’ve come to Aspen fresh off your James Beard win for Batard, named Best New Restaurant. That must be satisfying.

Nieporent: It’s funny how my career has come full circle. Montrachet was the first restaurant in that location, so it’s fulfilling to see Batard being anointed a best new restaurant in the same spot.

RH: Your name came up more than a few times during trade panel discussions about how you had the balls to pioneer an untested, some may say dangerous, neighborhood (Tribeca) in New York. You must be proud.

Nieporent: I am, but I’ve never looked at the food community selfishly. If I was going to benefit from a move like that, I wanted others to join me in that success. It’s amazing what Tribeca has become all these years later.

RH: There’s been a lot of talk about how the casual segment is on the rise while upscale restaurants are fading. What’s your take?

Nieporent: I’ve been saying that for years. In fact, I’ve lived it. When I opened Montrachet in 1985, I redefined the fine dining segment by doing away with dress codes, offering California wines alongside French wines—in general, making things more relaxed. It’s all about making dining out easier for customers, stripping away the façade, while keeping the elevated level of food. 

RH: This Aspen event always falls on Father’s Day weekend. Was your father a good cook?

Nieporent: I had the greatest father in the world. He was loving and caring, but I don’t remember him ever cooking a thing. He passed away one year after Montrachet opened, and he was so proud of my success. Unfortunately, he missed the length of my career.

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