Memorable moments with passionate professionals –
#2: John’s passion for service is hotter than his Hell’s Kitchen plancha!
John Greco is one of those rare people you come across that lives and breathes both passion and professionalism. He built his career the old-fashioned way. He started in a simple kitchen. Next, he went on to an excellent culinary academy, weaselling his way into summer jobs in kitchens where he was often the only American. Upon completing his education, he travelled. Not for the sightseeing, but to learn more. He worked in kitchens around Europe before returning to the US. Then he got married and went on his honeymoon. That was over 20 years ago.
As soon as John and his wife returned from their honeymoon, they took an even bigger step and opened their own place in Greenwich Village, using their middle names, Philip and Marie, as inspiration for what they would call their restaurant. 20+ years later, it’s still there. They still own it and that’s where I was lucky enough to meet this incredible man.
It was our second to last night in New York when we stumbled upon the Philip Marie. A late September heatwave had filled the few tables on the sidewalk outside the restaurant with hungry diners when we arrived at 7:30. When we went in, the place was almost empty, but the servers were attentive and friendly. Just after our dinner arrived, the place started to fill up. New Yorkers obviously don’t eat as early as other Americans tend to… and before we left it was packed.
John came to our table, said welcome to “his place” and that he hoped we were enjoying ourselves. That’s a common routine in restaurants, but in many places, it’s almost as if the person asking is leaving again before you answer. Not John. He was genuinely interested to hear about our visit to New York. Before he left, he gave us his card and said if we wanted to try his other restaurant, the K*Rico, he would give us a bottle of wine on the house. “Don’t just do it for the free wine or for me, check out Tripadvisor, read the reviews and then decide.” We said that tomorrow would be our last day in the city. “If you come tomorrow, I will be there.” he said.
We had decided that visiting a good steakhouse before we left was something we wanted to do. K*Rico was a steakhouse. We were enticed by the offer of free wine, but we followed John’s orders and checked the reviews. They were excellent. We checked the location. It was near our hotel. We went online and booked.
Our experience from the time we arrived until Chef John walked us to the door two and a half hours later can only be described with a never-ending string of superlatives.
He was genuinely pleased to see us and introduced us to his brother who manages the front of house. He said he hands out cards all the time, but hardly anyone takes him up on the offer. They have no idea what they are missing. He personally showed us the steaks they had on offer and passionately described the differences between the cuts.
We were given an extremely tasty “amuse bouche” with succulent slices of steak on thin, toasted bread. Having seen the sizes of the steaks we decided to skip the starter in the hope of saving room for dessert.
Not so fast! A seafood and shrimp cocktail (“Ceviche Mixto”) and a chopped salad landed on our table. Thinking it was a mistake I said we hadn’t ordered them. At K*Rico they don’t make mistakes. The server just smiled and said Chef wanted us to try them.
The same thing happened when the main course arrived. We were given a couple of extra side orders, including Brussels sprouts that no doubt were a tasty tribute to our current hometown.
K*Rico is a South American style steakhouse, so how were the steaks, you ask? Indescribably wonderful. Chef John had some extra aged, bourbon rib-eye. We’re rib-eye fans. These were just so good that we had to invent a new superlative: they were absolutely, undeniably AWESOMELICIOUS! Chef personally also brought us a shot of bourbon to sip and make the best steak we had ever tasted even more memorable.
When the bill came, they charged us for what we ordered, not for what we received. That was on the house. We were two tourists from Brussels. The restaurant was packed with happy diners. The entire team of servers were truly professional. Chef John and his brother (another genuine gentleman) visited every table during the evening, but why they treated us like VIPs is still a mystery to us.
How does a guy that runs two restaurants in one of the world’s busiest, most competitive markets keep his passion going? I’m sure satisfying the appetites of many people every day helps, as do all the great reviews on Tripadvisor, OpenTable and elsewhere. Maybe he also keeps it going when he travels to seek new inspiration and ideas. Or maybe relaxing on the deck of a Hudson River harbour cruise, taking in the Manhattan skyline with a glass of wine in hand and the knowledge that he is looking at his city, with his restaurants and knowing that the millions of people there will potentially become his guests is key.
Whatever his secret his, Chef John Greco is one of a kind. Anyone that ever has the opportunity to visit New York, will be most fortunate if they happen by one of his restaurants when he is there. They will be even more fortunate when some of his passion rubs off on them, because I can guarantee that it will!