Chef Dan Kluger | Photo by Andre Baranowski
James Beard Award-winning Chef Dan Kluger shares discovering a love of hospitality, along with local, seasonal food.
Acclaimed chef Dan Kluger, owner of Loring Place in Greenwich Village and Penny Bridge in Long Island City, and the author of Chasing Flavor: Techniques and Recipes to Cook Fearlessly, initially planned to study physical therapy.
Fortunately for those who appreciate his distinctive take on seasonal, farm-fresh food — layering textures and flavor, and often combining salty, spicy, sour, bitter, and sweet in one dish — the Briarcliff Manor resident discovered he didn’t much like anatomy or physiology. He did, however, enjoy the food science and hospitality courses he took as a nutrition major at Syracuse University.
“I realized that I liked food,” shares the thoughtful, low-key Kluger. “I didn’t know that being a chef was what I would do for a living, but I thought that maybe something in this hospitality background was interesting… this idea of applying nutrition to restaurants.”
Kluger grew up on the Upper West Side, in a family with parents who always cooked and emphasized sitting down to dinner together. He recalls going to Chinatown to procure vegetables and Asian ingredients, and his advertising executive father butchering fish. His mother, a bookkeeper, attended culinary school simply because she was interested in the topic.
At Syracuse, Kluger met renowned restaurateur Danny Meyer, leading to a pivotal summer externship at Meyer’s Union Square Café and a front-of-the-house job after graduation. He hung around the kitchen on his days off, and after three months was offered a job starting at the bottom, as a prep cook. “Twenty-five, 26 years later, I’m still in the kitchen,” he laughs. After three years of working his way up through different stations, he helped launch Floyd Cardoz’s groundbreaking Indian-American fine-dining restaurant, Tabla, eventually becoming its first chef de cuisine.
Kluger went on to work in top chef positions, for such national and international culinary luminaries as Tom Colicchio (Crafted Hospitality) and Jean-Georges Vongerichten (Jean-Georges, The Inn at Pound Ridge), earning a James Beard Award in 2011 for Best New Restaurant at Vongerichten’s ABC Kitchen, along with securing Food & Wine’s Best New Chef of 2012, and a 2014 James Beard nomination as Best Chef, New York City, while helming both ABC Kitchen and ABC Cocina.
These experiences profoundly influenced Kluger’s cooking philosophy and style. Working at Union Square introduced to him the possibilities of what using local ingredients can do when cooking with the seasons. At Tabla, he developed relationships with and gained a better understanding of farmers. “That’s what really opened me up to this farm-to-table movement,” he says. “The idea of nutrition playing a part and healthy cooking in general came together.”
In 2016, Kluger opened Loring Place, named for the Bronx street on which his father grew up. He says it’s an “extra exploration” of all his years of cooking and the different people with whom he worked. He didn’t feel he had an amazing culture to borrow from, like Jean-George or Floyd Cardoz did. “I’m just some American kid growing up on the Upper West Side,” he says.
While readying Loring Place, in 2015, Kluger and wife Hannah (whom he met at Tabla) realized they and daughters Ella, now 16, and Georgia, 13, had outgrown their Brooklyn apartment. House-hunting all over Westchester, they “lucked out,” he says, finding a place with a fair amount of land and good schools in Briarcliff Manor. Kluger, a self-described homebody, relaxes by woodworking, DIY house projects, and enjoying their spacious dream kitchen — with two dishwashers and a drawer just for spatulas.
When they can, the family walks in Rockefeller Preserve or day-trips to Beacon or Peekskill. Dai Sushi, Pubstreet, ChuChok Thai, and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, including the café, are local favorites. The Klugers patronize the Irvington and Pleasantville farmers’ markets, DeCicco & Sons, H Mart, and international groceries Daido, La Placita, and Bhavik.
Kluger loves “making people happy through food and providing experiences,” acknowledging the important role restaurants can play in people’s lives. This has been especially challenging during the pandemic, and he worries the future of restaurants will be even more difficult.
He’s forged ahead with resilience and fortitude, reopening Loring Place in June of 2020. Chasing Flavors, an International Association of Culinary Professionals 2021 Cookbook Award finalist, debuted that fall, followed in December by Kluger’s launch of Washington Squares, a takeout pan-pizza joint in Greenwich Village, based on Loring Place’s pizza. Penny Bridge, a stylish, reinspired diner concept, opened this past January in Long Island City. Meanwhile, Kluger continues to serve on the board of Cookies for Kids, which raises money for pediatric cancer research.
Kluger appreciates the rich agricultural offerings available in the Hudson Valley, using Tivoli’s Migliorelli Farm and Milton’s Hepworth Farms as suppliers. As someone vested in farming’s future, he’s noticed some interesting and encouraging trends, including younger people getting involved in agriculture, often searching for things like less common heirloom varieties and seeds.
Reflecting on his career, the modest Kluger references the movie Sliding Doors and the different outcomes that result from the film’s main character making it on or off a train. “I think I’ve been very fortunate that every time a door opened or closed, I chose the right way to go. I’ve gotten very lucky in that sense; therefore, I’ve done okay in my career,” he says, pausing for a moment. “But I’m still looking, as I’m just some kid from the Upper West Side.”