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Chef Profile: Bill Telepan

Q: Where did you receive your training and your experience?
A: I graduated from CIA in 87. Right after school I went to Gotham for 2 1⁄2 years, then I went to France and worked with Alain Chapel. I came back to New York and worked at Le Bernardin for about a year, then with Daniel at Le Cirque for about 6 months. Alfred Portale asked me to come back as sous chef of Gotham and I worked there for four years, so I put in a significant amount of time with him. That led to my job at Ansonia. These guys were opening a place in 1996 on the Upper West Side, where there were really no high end restaurants. One of the partners was a guy who used to be a manager at Daniel, so they wanted something more upscale, which is what they were used to. They got my name from Daniel, and that was the first time I took over a kitchen by myself. Ansonia led to Judson Grill, which was just an incredible experience for me – huge space, high profile, and the owners were partners at Gotham so I had known them for years. I got a three star review and eventually did a cookbook (Inspired by Ingredients) – everything that I guess you’d want to do as a chef, and it was all in New York City!

Q: What were your goals when you set out to start your own restaurant?
A: I was looking for a while to do something on my own, something a little smaller where I could focus on what I like to do. I really wanted a restaurant that is like this – comfortable, where people can get great food and have a great wine list, and just be happy. It’s not about me, even though the name is Telepan. That was against my wishes – it was mainly because we couldn’t think of a better name, and a couple people close to me told me ‘it’s a great name.’

Q: You’ve had some reviewers in here already. Do you think it’s a little early for that?
A: I don’t know why they come so early, its not real fair assessment of what the restaurant will be. We’ve gotten better in strides in only a month. It’s just like getting a new job, you start the job and you’re not really comfortable in it until three months and you’re not really doing well until 6 months - you need to get warmed up. But that’s the way it is now, our industry has gotten more attention; more magazines, bigger sections in newspapers, and that’s what happens. I’m not going to sit here and complain about it, we knew it coming in, and we’re lucky that we were able to bring people in early and train them so when we opened it wasn’t awkward. I started this process with this place in July of 2004 so it took a year and a half to reach the opening and it’s all going to come down to a few opinions in about six weeks.

Q: Describe the cuisine here at Telepan Restaurant
A: Some things were pulled over from Judson because I thought they were really good! Some things were directly culled from things I did at Judson, some seem like they were pulled from Judson but are new, and some are just completely different. It’s still very seasonal, it’s very American. I’m Hungarian so the food that I grew up with also influences me.

Q: What are the Hungarian ingredients you tend to use?
A: Paprika, lots of cabbage dishes. Pierogis are on the menu, they’re very similar to ravioli, so instead of doing ravioli we do a pierogi. We’re doing a black truffle one now that’s made with potato and white truffle filling, so there’s still that element that’s close to home. I’ve done them in the past with beet greens and farmer’s cheese, and squash. I think of them like ravioli, and how you’re going to stuff them. It doesn’t contain any fat, it’s just the eggs and water and flower. I lean toward the Hungarian side this time of year because it’s colder and the food tends to be a little richer.

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