Charlie Palmer ’79, Executive Chef/Restaurateur
One of the most highly regarded chefs and boutique hoteliers in America today, Charlie Palmer has received critical acclaim for his signature “Progressive American” cuisine, a style which reinterprets classic European cooking using American artisanal products and small farm producers. “I called it Progressive American because every time I stepped into the kitchen, I felt things moving forward,” he says.
Beginning in 1988, with the opening of Aureole in New York City, Charlie has combined his creative cooking style with his flair for business to establish an impressive roster of restaurants across the country. They include Charlie Palmer Steak in Washington, DC; Aureole at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino and Charlie Palmer Steak at The Four Seasons Hotel, both in Las Vegas; Charlie Palmer Steak and Briscola at the Grand Sierra Resort in Reno, NV; Dry Creek Kitchen and Spirit Bar, both located in the Palmer-owned boutique Hotel Healdsburg in Sonoma, CA; and Burritt Room and Tavern in the Palmer-owned Mystic Hotel in San Francisco. He also owns and operates the Harvest Inn in St. Helena, CA, which features Harvest Table, a 110-seat restaurant with an open kitchen, indoor fireplace, two outdoor terraces, and a menu that focuses on all things Napa Valley including a wine list that is Napa-centric.
In 2014, Palmer refocused his attention on New York City. He’s transformed Astra, by enlarging the café and catering space and renaming it Upper Story; and launched both Charlie Palmer Steak on Madison Avenue and Crimson & Rye located in the Lipstick Building. He’s now the curator of all the dining and beverage venues at the Knickerbocker Hotel including the espresso bar Jake’s @ The Knick, the full service Charlie Palmer at the Knick, and a rooftop bar called St. Cloud. “We didn’t want just a celebrity chef,” says Knickerbocker managing director Jeff David. “Charlie is a hotelier as well. He knows our business and this is a passion project for him as well as for us.”
Charlie is the author of six cookbooks: Charlie Palmer’s Casual Cooking (2001), The Art of Aureole (2002), Great American Food (2004), Charlie Palmer’s Practical Guide to the New American Kitchen (2006), Remington Camp Cooking (2013), and Charlie Palmer’s American Fare: Everyday Recipes from My Kitchen to Yours (2015). The recipient of numerous awards, Palmer was named Best Chef New York City in 1997 and inducted into the James Beard Foundation’s Who’s Who of Food & Beverage in America in 1998. Auerole has held one Michelin star 2007.
It was at Aureole that his signature style began to emerge. Food & Wine magazine has said of Charlie, “Palmer is widely regarded by food lovers as a pioneer who realized decades ago that there was a strong demand for great food in America, not necessarily French.” Commenting on his culinary philosophy, Charlie says, “I realized that American cuisine was just in its infancy and I spent a lot of time thinking about what the idea of American cooking really meant to me as a chef.”
Born and raised in Smyrna, NY, Charlie’s first job was washing pots at the Colgate Inn owned by Colgate University in Hamilton, NY. “Somebody quit so I started doing the vegetable prep, then I became the brunch guy,” he says. Classically trained at The Culinary Institute of America, Charlie first burst onto the New York dining scene in 1983 when, at the age of 23, he was named executive chef at The River Café. He soon earned a prestigious three stars from The New York Times. It was also at The River Café that Palmer hired, trained, and inspired a legion of young cooks who have gone on to become some of America’s leading chefs, including George Morrone, executive chef at Gusto in San Carlos, CA; Diane Forley of Flourish Baking Company in Scarsdale, NY; and Michael Mina of Michael Mina Restaurant Group in San Francisco, CA.
Charlie was highly influenced by his childhood on a farm and his time spent at Georges Blanc in France, where he says, “One artisanal producer would bring all of his perfectly made goat cheese to the doorstep of our kitchen—that had a strong impact on me.” He began to research his own small American producers and support them in an effort to use the best raw products available at Aureole. He credits them with inspiring his creativity and helping to define his style.
Today, Charlie’s creativity is sparked by working with a selective team of chefs at all of his locations. “My juices really get flowing when I talk to one of our chefs about new products or a trip one of us took. We play at coming up with pages and pages of new dishes. And right now, I cook more than ever—there’s nothing like jumping behind the line and cooking with the new guy on the fish station for three hours, establishing a good rapport, and having him learn to cook to the standards of my palate.”
A generous supporter of his alma mater, the Charlie Palmer Restaurant Group offers externship opportunities for current students and employs more than 70 CIA graduates. Charlie has been a long time member of The Culinary Institute of America’s board of trustees and currently serves as chairman.