Zak the Knife: Braising brat breaking in 5 Ninth; renegade chef rouses the rebel alliance.
When renegade chef Zakary Pelaccio opens at 5 Ninth in the meatpacking district in January, he’ll be rubbing up against the shoulders of Jean-Georges Vongerichten (Terre) and Keith McNally (Pastis)-but that doesn’t mean he’s joining some cooking clique or anything. “When you’re cooking, you spend all day with chefs,” said Mr. Pelaccio, 30, late of Brooklyn. “Do you want to hang out with them at night? All they do is talk about the kitchen. It fucking bores me. You know, you gotta stop at some point. I don’t need to have a 16-hour day and then rehash it. I don’t need to go talk about the crazy number of covers and the shit that came back to the kitchen or that somebody turned green and had a vomiting fit.”
The jowly, tousle-haired cook was standing in the front door of his multimillion-dollar new place, a 19th-century townhouse that is currently a tangled mess of electrical wires and dust clouds. Saws were buzzing from construction of the towering Gansevoort Hotel nearby. Mr. Pelaccio was eyeing the vintage façade of Pastis. “They’ll get the spillover from us when we’re sold out,” he said. Bluster, but earned.
He was wearing a black North Face pullover, dirty jeans and a royal blue trucker hat-the hat a souvenir from his previous gig at the Chickenbone Café in South Williamsburg, where dishes such as braised goat served over Shanghai-style egg noodles and garlic soup with razor clams drew scores of trust-funded local hipsters and adventuresome Manhattanites. The food mafia applauded Mr. Pelaccio for scouring the wilds of the suddenly gourmet outer borough for local ingredients, like one of those special pigs who forage for truffles in the Umbrian countryside. “It’s a mystery to me why more people don’t shop at the green-market in this city,” he said.
Born in Scarsdale, Mr. Pelaccio studied at the French Culinary Institute, traveled through Asia and Europe, and nonchalantly apprenticed in such august kitchens as Daniel Boulud’s Daniel, Rocco DiSpirito’s Union Pacific and Thomas Keller’s French Laundry. “Zak was driven-and intellectual,” said the himself quite driven and intellectual Mr. Keller on the phone.
“Rocco was intense,” Mr. Pelaccio said of his friskier mentor. “I think he’s ambitious, and I respect what he’s doing. I respect ambition-I think ambition is healthy.”
In 1999, the bristling young buck quit the kitchen at Daniel and drummed up over $2 million in capital to start up Wiredkitchen.com, an online business connecting food suppliers directly to chefs. “I just felt like I was hungry for something else in my life,” he said. “With the potential to make a hell of a lot more money than being a cook.”
Like so many of its dot-com brethren, the venture tanked in 2001. With the downtown Manhattan restaurant scene in shambles after the terrorist attacks, Mr. Pelacciomoved from a Tribeca apartment to a Williamsburg loft and sweet-talked his landlord, who wasopeningthe Chickenbone, into hiring him as a consultant. “It was like, ‘I’m back to cooking,'”hesaid. “Throwninthe midst of a place.” He stayedtheresix months,earning raves, before the owner of Rhône, the popular meatpacking-district wine lounge, summoned him to take the stove at 5 Ninth.
There, Mr. Pelaccio is planning a menu with entrées priced around $25, including braised oxtail with farro in a red wine reduction and roasted striped bass with black-eyed peas and bacon vinaigrette. In this neighborhood, however, it’s never going to just be about the food, and so 5 Ninth will have three stories: a ground floor with a bar and French doors leading to a garden, wood-burning fireplaces on each floor, and a V.I.P. lounge up top that investors can only hope will draw the kind of Condé Nast flotsam and jetsam still trickling into Pastis. “Manhattan is far different than Brooklyn,” Mr. Pelaccio said. “In Brooklyn, you can be a little more casual. Manhattan-there’s certainly going to be no messing around.”
He is setting his critical sights high. “You always think, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to run one of those four-star kitchens?'” he said. Mr. Pelaccio doesn’t want a Food Network contract or his face plastered on a spice jar at Williams-Sonoma. Rather, he fancies himself part of the anti-celebrity “rebel alliance” led by that rogue Han Solo of the Lower East Side, WD-50’s Wylie Dufresne: chefs who are fanatical about the purest ingredients and cooking in small, unique settings.
Yet Mr. Pelaccio is reluctant to brand himself “just a chef.” “I’m always doing something, always coming up with some idea,” he said. “Probably 90 percent of the time they’re harebrained ideas, maybe 10 percent are good-no, probably less than 1 percent are good ideas. But as long as I have the ability to execute some of them and find people who are interested in some of the things I’m interested in, I’ll continue to do them. There’s a serial entrepreneur in me.”