Jun 11, 2018

Flatiron Faces: Frank Roberts, Regional Director of Culture & Entertainment, The New York EDITION

Meet Frank Roberts, Regional Director of Culture & Entertainment at The New York EDITION, a five-star boutique hotel with 273 unique guest rooms and suites located at 5 Madison Avenue, between 23rd and 24th Streets. “I like to think of The New York EDITION as an extension of my living room,” says Roberts, “and I think our guests get that feeling as well.” 

1. Tell us about The New York EDITION and your role there as the hotel's Regional Director of Culture & Entertainment.

The New York EDITION is a hotel pioneering a new space in the industry that we’ve coined ‘modern luxury.’ Staying at the EDITION is meant to be an immersion into the local culture coupled with unpretentious, yet sophisticated, service.

As Regional Director of Culture & Entertainment, I ensure that our guests and locals alike walk into the hotel and are immediately immersed in the happenings of the neighborhood and city at large. We do this through programming in the arts, fashion, and entertainment spaces such as artist-in-residence programs, live music, and seasonal food and beverage concepts.

2. A billiards table with a felt top the color of grape jelly is one of the featured forms of entertainment at The New York EDITION. What else does the hotel offer to its visitors to the neighborhood?

It is a place to lounge, relax, have a great cocktail, gather with friends, even have a Michelin-starred meal. The versatility of the space allows for casual gatherings to the most special celebrations, and really everything in between.

3. What types of questions are you most commonly asked by guests? And, can you share questions that have surprised you?

The most common question I receive from guests is ‘what’s that smell?’ When you walk into the EDITION, you are greeted by the most amazing scent, a special collaboration between Ian Schrager [pioneer of the boutique hotel concept and a founder of the iconic Studio 54] and [luxury fragrance brand] Le Labo, a Black Tea theme that makes guests feel welcomed and it’s inviting.

4 . Briefly describe the hotel’s partnership with Mr. Schrager.

The EDITION’s concept is a labor of love from our fearless leader, Ian Schrager. Perhaps the most innovative and influential person in hospitality, nightlife, and culture, he has set the bar in our pursuit of a modern luxury experience. Every piece of furniture, every photograph in The Clocktower restaurant, the smell, the sounds, are all handpicked by Ian.

5. Prior to coming to the Flatiron neighborhood, you managed the Rose Bar at the Gramercy Park Hotel. What do you find appealing about your line of work?

I am passionate about community, building relationships, and connecting people who might not otherwise meet. Throughout my career, I have been able to foster so many amazing relationships that have led to personal and professional collaborations and partnerships all made possible by the experiences we’ve created at places like Rose Bar and the EDITION.

6. What do you see now trending in the hospitality industry, and where is that leading into the future?

The next best thing will be the growth of the sophisticated nightlife culture in more hotels that tastefully stand out, and places that are as much for the local community as they are for travelers.

7. The New York EDITION features the Michelin-starred Clocktower restaurant. What's your favorite dish there? Where else do you like to grab a bite in the Flatiron District?

Definitely the Dover sole at the Clocktower. I’ve probably eaten it 100 times! We are so lucky to have the incomparable Eleven Madison Park right across the street from the EDITION. A dinner there is by far one of the most special food and beverage experiences in the city, if not the world.

8. What do you consider a “must-see” or “must-do” here in the neighborhood?

A must-do in the neighborhood is picking up your favorite book, a latte, and finding a bench in Madison Square Park to read from for the afternoon. 

9. What’s your favorite building or architectural element in the area?

The New York EDITION is in the converted [Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Clock Tower] building built in 1909. You can access the very top of the building where you can see the mechanics of the century-old clock and get a very unique view of the neighborhood.

10. Finally, choose three words to describe the Flatiron District.

Floral. (For the) Foodie. Inspired.

May 25, 2018

Flatiron Faces: Janine Nina Trevens, Producing Artistic Director & Co-founder of TADA!

Flatiron Faces: Janine Nina Trevens, Producing Artistic Director and Co-founder of TADA!

Meet Janine Nina Trevens, Producing Artistic Director and Co-founder of TADA!, the award-winning nonprofit youth theater located at 15 West 28th Street, between Broadway and Fifth Avenue. Since 1984, TADA! has produced a number of famous alumni, including Oscar-winning Get Out screenwriter and director, Jordan Peele. “I had no idea,” says Trevens, “that inside his head, scary, dark thoughts for movies were brewing.”

1.  Congratulations on recently celebrating your 34th anniversary as co-founder of TADA!, the first-ever youth theater to win a Drama Desk Award. What is TADA!, and how was the theater created?

TADA! is a youth theater and arts education nonprofit organization. TADA! produces original musicals written, directed, and designed by theater professionals and performed by members of the Resident Youth Ensemble, New York City kids ages 8 to 17, for family audiences. TADA! offers a free year-round youth development program and exciting musical theater classes and camp at our theater on West 28th Street. Classes and camps are also offered at other locations around New York City, and arts education residencies are held in public and private schools. Through TADA!'s high-quality work, young people gain confidence and learn commitment, responsibility, communication, and teamwork.

TADA! began in 1984. I was stage managing a comedy in a theater festival. The producer of the festival wanted to include all types of theater. He didn’t have a show for children. My mom, Francine Trevens, was directing a different show for him and suggested he talk to me since I had a children’s theater. The only thing was that I didn’t have a company, but I didn’t tell him that. He asked me for a proposal of what my company would do as part of the festival. A choreographer friend, Linda Reiff, and I went away for the weekend and came up with two shows–a dance/theater piece and a musical. The producer said yes to our proposal, so all we had to do at that point was create the company and the shows, including finding a musical director and composer, cast them, rehearse, hire designers, and actually create the sets, costumes, and lighting for the shows. The producer gave us the space, lighting equipment, and did the marketing. That was how TADA! started. We filed for nonprofit status after the festival and started raising money to continue to produce new musicals and provide arts education to New York City youth and teens.

2. A number of former TADA! students include Scandal actress Kerry Washington, Hairspray star Ricki Lake, and Jordan Peele of the Comedy Central TV team Key & Peele. What were they like as young performers?

They were all nice kids, full of energy, talent, and dedication. They were prepared and worked hard and also had a great deal of charisma and a love for performing. Out of those three, Jordan did the most with TADA! He was very friendly, nice, super creative, and funny and a great stage performer. Ricki was also so sweet. She was with TADA! before she started her film career. I remember that she wanted to be in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade so badly.

Other performers you may know are Amar Ramasar (a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet and currently a lead in Broadway's Carousel); Adam and Jack Metzger of AJR, an indie pop band; Rah and Amiri Taylor of Blac Rabbit, who went viral with one of their Beatles covers; Broadway performers including Ricardo Zayas (Hamilton and upcoming Head Over Heels), Sheldon Henry (upcoming The Prom), and Sasha Allen (Hair, The Voice,and also tours with the Rolling Stones); Mizuo Peck (Sacajawea in the Night at The Museum movies) and Josh Peck (Nickelodeon TV's Drake & Josh) among others.

3. Earlier this year, Jordan received a Best Original Screenplay Oscar for his directorial debut film Get Out. What was your reaction? 

I was watching in my living room and I teared up. My phone also started exploding with texts from other alumni because they were so happy. 

4. What career advice have you offered students over the years?

Our actors are members of TADA!'s free Resident Youth Ensemble Program who are accepted based on auditions and TADA! students are the youth in TADA!’s education classes and camps. It is not our goal that everyone has a career in theater. We want the youth and teens that work with TADA! to feel confident to do whatever they want to do and realize that they have a voice.

When I give theatrical career advice, it is to say that if they want to continue to perform, they have to want to do it more than anything else. It’s a hard business. If you can think of other jobs you want to do, then you may want to explore those options. Some stay in theater or dance as performers, as writers, directors, stage managers, or designers. Other Ensemble Members are school teachers, doctors, nurses, curators, engineers, teaching artists, barbers, marketers, graphic designers, parents, and more. 

5. In your own pursuit of a performing arts career, you were inspired by your mother, a theater critic, and sister, an actress. What makes you love live theater?

My sister was an actress when she was a child, but as an adult she has been a teacher and is currently a special education teacher. My mom was a theater critic in Massachusetts, but once we moved to New York, she was a theatrical press agent, director, and producer. 

I love watching theater because it excites me and makes me feel and makes me think in a room full of other people sharing the experience. It gives me joy. 

I love creating theater because I have a lot to say, but I’m shy. I never wanted to be on the stage. I love doing youth theater because I love kids and always wanted to help make growing up easier. Some kids need to perform–it’s just in them–TADA! gives them a second home, a place to do it now and not wait until they grow up, a place to be with like-minded people who support them and a place to be successful.

6. Tell us about present and upcoming TADA! productions scheduled for this year.

This summer, from July 7th to August 2nd, is Golly Gee Whiz!, which is an homage to the old Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland ‘let's put on a show’ movie musicals. We also have week-long summer camps all summer that are for different ages. In these camps, kids create their own mini-musical and perform it for family and friends at the end of the week.

7. When you take time out from a production, what’s your go-to place to dine in the District? Favorite dish?

I have two favorites and most of the time there’s a line and a wait at both places, but they are worth it. One is Kazunori just two doors down from TADA! It is the best hand rolled sushi I’ve ever had anywhere. Also, the staff is so nice. I need to eat here at least once a week. I also love the food at Hillstone. When they have the grilled artichokes, I devour those. I also love the special layered spicy tuna sushi. My favorite is the hot fudge sundae because the hot fudge comes in a gravy boat and you pour it on hot throughout eating. I love watching it harden as it gets cold. It’s great to watch, but even better to eat. 

8. What do you consider a “must-see” or “must-do” here in the neighborhood?

I think TADA! is a must-do for families in the neighborhood. This neighborhood is great for us and our Ensemble Members, students, and audiences because there are so many subway lines that come to 28th Street as well as the PATH and Penn Station, which are so close by.

For me, it's mostly about the food. Besides the two restaurants I mentioned above, there’s wagamama, ilili, Eataly, Hill Country Chicken, PN Wood Fired Pizza, &pizza, Le Pain Quotidien, The Smith, Quality Eats, Sarabeth's, and when it's open, Mad. Sq. Eats. Many members also go to the dollar pizza place a block east of TADA! on 28th Street. 

I also like spending time in Madison Square Park when it's warm outside and shopping on Fifth Avenue and going to sample sales or having my nails done at Queen Jane Nail & Spa.

9. What’s your favorite building or architectural element in the area?

The Flatiron Building has been a favorite of mine since I moved to the city because of its unique triangular shape. It's one of those buildings that let's you know where you are once you see it.

10. Finally, choose three words to describe the Flatiron District.

Diverse. Changing. Delicious. 

Apr 16, 2018

Flatiron Faces: Tim Markman, Guest Experience Manager, The NoMad Hotel

Meet Tim Markman, Guest Experience Manager at The NoMad Hotel at 1170 Broadway, between 27th and 28th Streets. "I have to say I have never seen anything like the magic that we create here at The NoMad Hotel...the neighborhood has long been a favorite place of mine to roam around. It’s such a beautiful place that feels very “New York”, just how I imagined it would be when I was growing up in Kansas. To me this area felt like what I saw in all the movies and magazines."

1. Late last year, you became the Guest Experience Manager at The NoMad Hotel. Can you share your path to the hospitality industry?

My move to NYC was originally motivated in pursuit of a career in the theater. Once I got here, I needed to find a survival job, and after scouring Craigslist for work, I came across a new hotel opening up in need of bellmen. Little did I know this new hotel would become the iconic property that The Standard, High Line is today. It was a wild ride there and so amazing to be a part of a property pre-opening. I got the chance to work with an incredible team, most of whom I am still quite close with today. Quickly I fell more in love with the world of hospitality and took an open position on their concierge team. I had to switch gears and focus solely on this job as it was quite time-consuming to get to know this city that literally never sleeps. I slowly became more of a leader of the concierge team, and spent over three years in the role of Head Concierge. After eight and a half years at the same hotel, I got to mix it up a bit. I spent last summer out in Montauk as Hotel Manager at The Surf Lodge, where I got to wear many different hats. The chance to work at a seasonal property, which was much smaller than my previous hotel, gave me a great perspective on what I was capable of, in terms of Guest Experience. Being the small world that it is, the same person who hired me as a bellmen all those years ago reached out about this new role here at The NoMad Hotel.

2. Describe your first few months on the job and around the neighborhood.

It was a little crazy at first diving in around the holiday season, but I had such an incredible support team with my staff. Everyone at this hotel is incredibly service-minded that I knew it was a good fit for me. I had the luxury of a great staff, most of whom have been here since the beginning, and wonderful upper management that are willing to do whatever they have to fulfill the guests' needs. I have to say I have never seen anything like the magic that we create here at The NoMad Hotel. It was a lot of getting to know every inch of this building, but the neighborhood has long been a favorite place of mine to roam around.

3. You were an expert panelist at the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership’s recent “Meet the Concierge” event and offered the following advice: “It always come down to one sole thing: the power of a good relationship and finding that connection with a concierge.” What makes this so important to you?

Relationships are everything in New York City. If you don't connect with a guest and form a valid relationship, then you've lost them. I was applying this advice to businesses looking to strengthen their bond with a concierge team. Over my many years as a concierge, I remember those people who came by time and time again, and who truly showed an appreciation for our business. When you just blindly call a front desk or send an email, then it gets lost in the shuffle.

4. The event was produced with local businesses in mind. How can businesses within the Flatiron District get on the radar of local hotel concierges?   

Every business has their own unique thing to offer, so my biggest piece of advice is that they take a look at where they fit in with the clientele of whatever particular hotel you are looking to target. It’s great to come in with an educated opinion and it doesn’t put the pressure on the concierge team to find a reason for them to recommend you. Getting a card made or having something on hand does make it a bit easier for us to pass along at the desk, but I would first try speak with someone at the hotel and get their feedback on if this would be helpful. The best way to get on the radar is to lead with the experience. It’s always beneficial when you can get them into your establishment so they know what they’re recommending.

5. On social media, you’ve posted that you’re a “strong believer of conscious hospitality.” Tell us more.

Hospitality is about tailoring service to each individual guest. Everyone responds differently to things and the most important one is to pick up on what they like. Coming from a background in theater, I learned how to be intuitive and create a guest’s experience based on how I read the guest. I lead with a certain cadence, but I let that shift depending on how the interaction unfolds. I try to always do my best so they are made to feel special. For instance, we all love to walk in to our local drinking hole where the bartender knows what you like without even asking. I think we attempt to go a bit deeper than that in our hotel, because people’s preferences change over time. Someone may be on a new diet or lifestyle change, so you never know if they want that same bottle of rosé we always have waiting chilled in the room for them. The key is having someone in my role who is constantly checking in with them to make sure everyone is happy. 

6. What are some of the questions you are asked most often by guests? And, which questions have surprised you at The NoMad?

You really never know what a guest is going to ask you, and we don't get a ton of repeat questions because most of our guests are pretty savvy. That said, I think travelers are often asking about shopping destinations and what the best clothing stores are nearby. Luckily, we have an incredible boutique right within our walls called WANT Apothecary. They carry an incredible selection of clothes and unique and interesting scents and skincare. WANT Les Essentials has long been one of my favorite brands, and I think they do simple things that feel quite sophisticated.

7.  Switching gears, when you have a free moment, where do you like to eat in the neighborhood? Do you have a go-to dish there?

Black Barn is absolutely one of my favorite places to go back to time and time again. The service is outstanding, and it's a big beautiful space that often has great live music serenading the diners. They have an incredible menu that is always changing throughout the seasons, so it's hard to pick one thing. The grilled baby octopus is certainly one of my favorites, but if I'm being honest, my go-to dish there would have to be the "Bottomless Build Your Own Bloody Mary Bar" at brunch.

8. What do you consider a "must-see” or “must-do" destination in the neighborhood? Do you have any insider tips you offer guests?

I think it all depends on the type of person you are, but for me, as a book lover, my "must-see" place is Rizzoli Bookstore. This store has had a few different locations over the 54 years it's been in business, but each more beautiful than the next. It is so iconic and with independent bookstores being a dying thing across America, it's amazing that a NYC institution like this can be kept alive. As far as insider tips go, we are full of them at our concierge desk. We take pride in not only providing one with places to go for dinner, but always recommending a nearby watering hole for a pre-drink or a digestif. It's important to customize a guest's experience and not just give them what they ask for, but go the extra step and offer up something more. Patent Pending has been one of our new favorites as it's a coffee shop by day, and then at night, you take a hidden door through the back of the coffee shop into a secret bar with drinks inspired by the infamous Nikola Tesla, who once occupied the building. 

9. Other than the Beaux-Arts beauty of The NoMad Hotel, what’s your favorite building or architectural element in the area? 

The Baudouine Building across the street is a favorite of mine. From the windows of our rooms, you see this beautiful temple on top of the building. It has these huge columns and even though the building could use a good power washing, there's something about those layers of soot that gives it its charm. 

10. Finally, choose three words to describe the Flatiron District

Historic. Elegant. Magical.

Photo Credit: Nadia Quinn

Mar 20, 2018

Flatiron Faces: Nolan Walsh & Connor Wilson of Thursday Boot Company

Flatiron Faces: Nolan Walsh & Connor Wilson, Co-Founders, Thursday Boot Company

Meet Nolan Walsh (left in photo) and Connor Wilson (right in photo), Co-Founders of the Thursday Boot Company, located at 48 West 21st Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. Walsh, a native of Las Vegas, and Wilson, who hails from Lone Tree, Colorado, were Columbia Business School classmates checking out the waves in Central America when they were inspired to start the Thursday Boot Company.

1. The idea for Thursday Boot Company was sparked while you were on a surfing trip in Nicaragua. Describe that initial idea, as well as the inspiration behind the brand name.

We were watching the waves come in, talking about what we wanted to do with our lives. That was the moment when everything came together, where we realized that we shared a lot of the same values and wanted to work together. Thursday is the unofficial start of the weekend and when we thought about our daily lives in NYC, we needed footwear that was versatile enough to handle everything from business meetings, to drinks with friends, to nights out on the town. That of idea of Thursday just fit for exactly the kind of products we wanted to build.

2. You raised $275,000 on Kickstarter to fund the launch of Thursday Boot Company. That was nine times your $30,000 goal. What made your fundraising so successful?

On a very basic level, it was an idea whose time had come. The legacy brands are just rehashing the same models from a hundred years ago and all offer some bad combination of footwear that is either uncomfortable, fragile, ugly, expensive, or bulky. We knew that if we could build footwear that was comfortable, durable, and versatile at a great value to our customers, we'd be fixing a big problem. Another part of it was that we were just so persistently passionate about making this dream work, that I think a lot of people got as excited as we did and wanted to see us succeed. That community enthusiasm has been critical to our mission of bringing quality back to footwear.

3. The company has been an online retailer since 2014. What prompted you to open a showroom in the Flatiron District last fall?

Before we arrived in Flatiron, we had customers coming up to our office all the time, asking to try on pairs that we didn't have in stock. It reached the point where we decided we needed a space where people can try on pairs to experience the comfort and see the quality of the leather and construction in person. We found this amazing sixth floor loft on 21st Street with a view of the Empire State Building and floor-to-ceiling windows that was perfect for us. The response has been amazing. We wanted to create an engaging space that showcases the quality of our products, while still creating a comfortable working environment for our team. It's a very relaxed, authentic place where we can grab a coffee, work on new designs, and chat up customers all in the same place. 

4. Thursday boots are worn in all 50 states and nearly 60 countries. Why do you think boots are such a popular style choice, and what your bestsellers? 

Done right, boots should be a staple of anyone's wardrobe. They are comfortable enough to wear all day long, tough enough to stand up to whatever the weather throws at you, and classic enough that you can pair them with everything from jeans to a suit. For the men, you really can't go wrong with the Captain, which is a classic cap-toe boot. On the women's side, our Duchess has been a sleeper hit among the style mavens.

5. You only partner with manufacturers and suppliers who are consistent with the core values of your company. What are they?

We want to only work with the highest quality partners, which means not only that they consistently craft the best quality products, but also that they are committed to ethical business practices—environmental stewardship, workplace safety, and fair treatment of employees. We specifically like to point to our tanneries, Horween Leather Company in Chicago, where their water filtration system actually produces cleaner water than they draw from the city, and LE FARC in Léon, Guanajuato, Mexico, which is gold-rated for sustainability by the Leather Working Group. We try to bring that same level of craft, care, and deliberateness to everything we do.

6. Nolan, you’ve also been a Flatiron District resident for nearly a decade. What do you like about living and working here?

When I originally moved here, I immediately felt at home. The area has been rapidly evolving and there is a spirit of freshness and history entwined throughout every block. The energy and hopefulness of the Flatiron District is palpable and a great source of inspiration for me. Its convenience and liveliness make it a great hub for all resident New Yorkers. Hopefully rents stay manageable, as I'm not sure I will ever be able to live anywhere else!

7. Since you both spend a lot of time here, where do you go for food? Do you have a go-to dish there?

Nolan: We are big fans of variety. La Pecora Bianca NoMad is my morning meeting go-to. by CHLOE, Dos Toros Taqueria, Inday, Shake Shack, and Mad. Sq. Eats in warmer months are some of our many lunch favorites. For dinner, we often find ourselves at Eataly, wagamama, or The Smith.

Connor: Agreed on all the above. Appropriately enough, the Flatiron Steak at Cote is also delicious.

8. What do you consider a “must-see” or “must-do” here in the neighborhood?

Nolan: SPiN is a favorite staple for team events. Bonding over ping pong and drinks is always a good time. There is also no better place to watch a game than the Bounce Sporting Club and Slate. The best part about Flatiron is that there is ample variety, so it is easy to experience a lot without cumbersome travel time on busy NYC streets.

Connor: On a warm summer night, grab a beer and a burger outside of Shake Shack in Madison Square Park while you catch up with friends. This works best after a run along the Hudson or East River.

9. What’s your favorite building or architectural element in the area?

Can we be obvious? Daniel Burnham is an inspiration, as is one of his most famous buildings. The way the sun hits the Flatiron Building just before sunset never fails to impress.

10. Finally, choose three words to describe the Flatiron District.

 New York Nice.

Photo Credit: Nick Urteaga

Feb 12, 2018

Flatiron Faces: Peter Manning, Menswear Designer

Flatiron Faces: Peter Manning, Menswear Designer 

Meet Peter Manning, menswear designer and founder of Peter Manning NYC. Located at 933 Broadway, between 21st and 22nd Streets, Manning creates classic fashions for men 5 feet 8 inches and under. “We believe,” says the New York City native Manning, “that well-fitting, well-proportioned clothes that fit properly never go out of style.”

1. You design clothing for the “not so tall” guy. Prior, you were a Tony Award-winning producer and real estate developer. What was your motivation to start the company that bears your name?

It was pretty simple. I just wanted clothes that fit and was tired of taking everything to the tailor and paying the "tailor tax." It seemed crazy that no one was making clothes for "not-so-tall" guys. There are a lot of us! 

2. Describe the style of Peter Manning NYC.

We make classic American sportswear that fits. We are stylish but we don't try to impose a certain style on our guy. The range of our customer is so broad, from 19 to 92, and we want them all to make the clothes their own. 

3. You created a fit guide for your brand. How did that come about?

The sizing and grading was based on instinct and using height, weight, and proportions as a guide. Other men’s sizing, for example, small, medium, large, etc., meant something in menswear and so would have been confusing for us to use. We have refined the sizing over the years and added sizes, based on customer feedback, but the core sizing concept has remained the same. We also offer five inseams of 26, 27, 28, 29, and 30 inches.  Anything below 30 is almost never offered in menswear.   

4. What are your best selling items?

Really, everything we offer sells. Our guy needs everything. However, pants are our biggest seller, followed by outerwear, tailored clothing, and shirting.  

5. What do you consider essential clothing items every guy should own?

A great pair of well-fitting dark indigo jeans, a good chino, a perfect white shirt, a navy blazer (no brass buttons!), a well-cut dress pant, a good suit, a top-notch shoe, and a great topcoat.  Of course, there are more, but with those things you can pretty much get by in any situation. 

6. You began the business as an online venture in 2012 before opening your NYC Fit Shop in the Flatiron District last year. What prompted the move to brick and mortar, and why Flatiron?

We had previously been in a sixth floor office/studio and warehouse in a loft building in Brooklyn’s DUMBO, and we carved out a dressing room and fitting area there. People would come to us from all over the country, and the world! We knew that we needed a more accessible Fit Shop and focused on the Flatiron District because of its central location and vibrancy. We found the most extraordinary space at 933 Broadway and have loved being here. The Fit Shop is a place where customers can come and work with us and figure out their sizing and shop, but we ship everything from our warehouse. So, we are not a traditional brick and mortar store.

7. Do you have a go-to place for food here in the Flatiron District? Favorite dish?

There are so many great options, but we are busy, so I am usually picking something up and eating at my desk. I love soups from Pret A Manger, salads from Dig Inn, and delicious bowls from INDAY

8. What do you consider a “must-see” or “must-do” here in the neighborhood?

I love what has happened with Madison Square Park and a stroll there is always refreshing. At some point, you have to stand on line at Shake Shack. I love their burgers and fries and standing on line has become an iconic neighborhood activity.  

9. What’s your favorite building or architectural element in the area?

The architecture along Broadway is sublime, and we can see the Clock Tower at the MetLife Building out our window and I love that. Of course, being near the Flatiron Building is really special. I never tire of it. 

10. Finally, choose three words to describe the Flatiron District.

Vibrant. Urban. Eclectic.  

Jan 16, 2018

Flatiron Faces: Ann Ogden Gaffney, Author & Founder, Cook for Your Life

Meet Flatiron-based Ann Ogden Gaffney, author and founder of Cook for Your Life, a nutritional program that offers free in-person and online cooking classes for cancer survivors. “Cook for Your Life was created,” says the UK native, former fashion designer/consultant, and two-time cancer survivor, “to help those in how to use healthy cooking to alleviate side effects, eat well through treatment, and enjoy a healthy, tasty survivorship.”

1. You were inspired to create the non-profit organization Cook for Your Life (CFYL) as a two-time cancer survivor. Describe your role and explain how CFYL helps cancer survivors with the use of food and nutrition. 

When I was first diagnosed with kidney cancer, I had surgery to remove the offending organ. I didn’t have to follow-up with chemotherapy or any other brutal treatment beyond CAT scans. It was easy to feel I’d dodged a bullet and go back to my life in the fashion world. The second time around it was very different. I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer, which demanded aggressive treatment and meant more surgery, chemo, and radiation. I realized early on that I wouldn’t be able to keep working as much, since so much of what I did involved travel, and decided to take a hiatus to concentrate on my treatment and taking care of myself. Taking this break changed my life.

Food is very important to me. As I got into the rhythm of my chemotherapy, I would cook on my best days to prepare for my worst. Chemo had changed my sense of taste, so I started to experiment with new flavors to combat it. Long story short, I learned to beat most of my side effects through food. I started to share this new knowledge with my support group and chemo buddies, and quickly realized that there was a huge gap between getting dietary advice from the nutritionist and its application in the home kitchen.

Most oncology nutritionists only have the time to deal with the sickest patients, and giving patients advice on how to cook healthy food is a very different skill set from clinical nutrition, especially since these days so many people lack basic cooking skills. Working with my hospital, I started free classes to teach patients and survivors the basics–knife skills, what healthy foods are, and easy ways to cook them.

 2. You’re also the author Cook for Your Life, an award-winning cookbook, which categorizes recipes based on patient needs. Tell us more. 

When I was going through my own treatment, I found that most cookbooks written for cancer patients were, in fact, written by folks who had never experienced cancer treatment themselves. The content was either promising too much in the realm of food as medicine, or dully academic in style. All were classic in layout and overly complicated. You’d have to really search to find anything to suit how you might be feeling. The authors didn’t take into account the effects of the enormous fatigue, nausea and taste changes that most chemo patients experience. One book I was given had a soup with over 17 ingredients to prep, nutritious without a doubt, but someone who feels tired merely getting from the couch to the fridge is not going to attempt making it, nor is a caregiver strapped for time.

I wanted my book to use my own experience to address how people actually feel during cancer treatment and what they may need as they go through it. And because cancer can be isolating, I also wanted to make the food family-friendly so that patients and loved ones could eat the same meal at the same table together. To this end, I created different chapters to address food by feeling and needs, as in Simple–easy, tasty, dishes that are quick to put together if you either are tired, or a caregiver with little time; Soothing–the chicken soup chapter with real comfort foods that soothe the insides while tasting really good; Safe–for those with neutropenia and who can only eat cooked foods; Spicy–dishes to combat taste changes–many cancer patients crave spicy foods; Sweet–to provide some healthy(ier) solutions for the sweet tooth that often comes with chemo; Staples - for pantry basics; Scrumptious–to move into survivorship. When it was nominated for a James Beard Award, I actually thought someone was pulling my leg, but they weren’t, and I was over the moon when the book won the 2016 Books For A Better Life Award.

3. What are some of your favorite featured dishes?

There are a ton of good recipes in the book, whether you are sick or not. I have to say among my favorites dishes are the Fish Tacos and the Beet Risotto, but my absolute favorite is the Poached Chicken Pot Au Feu aka Miracle Chicken, which is a recipe passed down from my Italian grandma, to my mom, and on to me. It can cure anything–almost!

4. You’ve been cooking since the age of 12. How did that start, and what do you enjoy about the kitchen?

I come from a foodie family. My mother was Italian, her father was a chef, of my uncles, one was also a chef and the other owned the Italian grocery in our town, and my dad was a Master Baker. Food was everywhere and I was always interested in it. I wasn’t a picky child and enjoyed eating and trying different things from an early age. I was the kind of eight-year-old who chose the cheese board. I started cooking when I was around 12 and never really looked back.

Living in France and traveling and working throughout Italy and the Far East were wonderful living, eating, and cooking experiences, too. I find cooking relaxing, especially baking. During my fashion career, which could be stressful, I’d often bake on Sundays to get relaxed for the coming week. Now it’s more about cooking savory vegetable based items, though this year I did test several sweet tooth items over the Christmas break. I’m really doing something I love.

5. You’ve worked in the Flatiron District for many years. When did you first come to the neighborhood and what has life been like as an employee?

I first came into the Flatiron District in 1985 and have worked here on and off ever since. It’s been the geographic equivalent of my work-husband. Whenever I go away, fate always seems to bring me back here. I love it. It’s so central for one. It’s close to every part of the city. It has always felt intimate to me, too. Maybe it’s because it was built on a human scale and doesn’t have a lot of extreme high-rises, ironic since the Flatiron Building was the first skyscraper built. It has always had an edgy quality, too, with a lot of variety in the people you see around. I guess it feels like home to me.

6. How does today’s Flatiron compare with the neighborhood versus when you first worked here?

It’s changed so much over this time. When I first came it was mainly an area for photographers’ studios and photo labs, and designers. My own design studio was over on on West 21st Street, and to the north yoga studios, small factories, and offices. Now it has a more varied entrepreneurial makeup. It’s more user-friendly, too. I always shopped at the nearby Union Square greenmarket, but with the advent of Eataly, the area’s food shopping is now stellar and easy. The area always had good restaurants and cafes, but now we have Bouley Test Kitchen, not to mention Eleven Madison Park among many others. I feel the area is mellower in some ways, too. Madison Square Park is now beautiful and safe, which wasn’t the case when I first arrived here. Fifth Avenue has kept its feel–the stores may change but somehow the atmosphere doesn’t. Although some favorites have gone, it’s never become a street of banks and pharmacies. The smoke shop on the corner with the wooden statue of a Native American chief may be gone, but Eisenberg’s is still there!

7.  When you’re not cooking, where is your go-to place for food in the Flatiron District? Do you have a favorite dish?

There are so many that I’ve loved over the years. Right now I love Le Verdure restaurant at Eataly. I can get the kind of simple yet delicious food I like to eat and cook for myself. I adore their roasted cabbage with ricotta and walnut sauce, the grilled scarola salad, and of course, gnudi when they have them. And when I feel like Asian, wagamama has relatively newly arrived on the scene, but the pho noodle soups at The Pho, a hole-in-the-wall on East 23rd Street across from my office are just perfection when it’s cold outside. And sometimes only a grilled cheese or bowl of matzoh ball soup from Eisenberg’s Sandwich Shop will do.

8. What do you consider a “must-see” or “must-do” here in the neighborhood?

Eataly. I like to go for a late lunch when it’s a little less crowded or just have an espresso and perhaps a little ‘dolce’ and people watch. Have a drink in one of the bars in The Clocktower. Go to Eisenberg’s for an irony-free eating experience of yesteryear. If you can take the lines, the original Shake Shack in Madison Square Park, or actually just sit in the park and enjoy a quiet, leafy moment in your day. It’s a real treat. Try exploring the side streets, too. They are full of surprises, like the N.Y. Cake & Baking Supply–not really a surprise for me as I love baking and know it well, but it’s rare to find so much great baking stuff all under one roof.

9. What’s your favorite building or architectural element in the area?

I love the eponymous Flatiron Building, especially how its now set up with pedestrian areas on the opposite triangle to the north and to the east side, too. It makes it truly open. You can linger in these places and get a sense of space and sky that is rare in the city. You used to have to dodge the traffic to get this view. I also love catching glimpses of the spires of the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings as I wander through the area. New York, New York. I also like that you can dive into the comparative darkness of the side streets. It’s a wonderful contrast. But as I said earlier, I love the human scale of the Flatiron. The buildings have a graceful grandeur that stems from other eras, be it the 19th century Appellate Courthouse or the silvery stone and deco lines of the MetLife Building on Madison Avenue on the east side of the park. Gorgeous.

10. Finally, choose three words to describe the Flatiron District.

Central. Human. Home.

Photo Credit: Joe Gaffney