NEW YORK — One of the only things that Julie Taras and Tasha Garcia bemoan about being chefs is the outfits they have to wear.
“It’s pathetic,” says Taras, sipping a cappuccino one morning at their recently opened (and The New York Times-starred) restaurant, Little Giant, on Orchard Street. “Chefs are supposed to wear these horrible checked pants. You end up using Saran Wrap belts because the pants are made for men and you can’t get belts that fit.” Not to mention the clunky industry-standard clogs.
“We wear jeans and Uggs,” adds Garcia. “Always designer jeans. Thank God for stretch.”
The pair met when they worked together at Alice’s Tea Cup on the Upper West Side. They decided to open their own restaurant thanks to Taras’ rocky history with checked pants. When she worked at Blue Hill in the West Village, her pants got caught on a hook. She fell, broke her elbow and had to take time off to recuperate.
“I’m unemployed, I’m turning 30 and I broke my elbow,” Taras remembers telling Garcia over brunch in April 2003. They hatched a plan to open a restaurant together, combining favorite elements of places they’d frequented: the intimacy of Ino, the way the scene at Bread spills out onto the street, how the tabletop is presented at Jewel Bako.
With a budget of $200,000, Taras’ brother, who is currently studying architecture at Columbia, designed the place, which was originally a shoe store. The look is homey and simple, and the proprietors have thought of nearly everything, from the bag hooks underneath the bar to a small counter by the kitchen where friends can eat, to pillows by the windows so passersby don’t get a revealing glimpse of women’s thongs.
“My brother got an ‘A’ at school because of us,” she says. “He eats free for life.”
“No,” counters Garcia, as she tends to do. “Just for a little while.”
The food is hearty American, with whimsical names: A patron they now realize was Times critic Frank Bruni gave them the name for a parsnip and pear napoleon, “Parsnip in a Pear Tree.” A bass entrée is called “Baby’s Got Bass” and duck is referred to as “Duck, Duck Goose.”
This story first appeared in the January 20, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“I just love the idea of someone ordering ‘Duck, Duck Goose,’ ” says Taras of the joke.
The restaurant has one oven and five burners, and the duo compare cooking in the kitchen with preparing a dinner party in an apartment every night for 30 people.
“It’s like an Easy-Bake Oven kitchen,” says Garcia.
Fashion also applies to the partners’ outlook on the restaurant business, from what they wear to work to simplifying dishes. “In a professional kitchen, you’re not allowed to have a manicure or wear any jewelry, but I own the place, so I can wear a necklace,” says Taras. Garcia approaches dressing a plate as she would getting ready for a party. “Whatever you do, when you look in the mirror, take off one accessory,” she says. The same goes for an entrée.
Little Giant will eventually serve as a retail space, too, selling the Danish modern tabletop pieces that are already behind the bar.
“We both are housewares-obsessed,” says Taras.
“You never have a fat day when you’re shopping for the home,” quips Garcia.
For the vibe at Little Giant, Julie Taras and Tasha Garcia think music is essential. An iPod is on whenever they’re in their restaurant. “We can’t even start cooking without it. It’s a fight to the cradle.” Some necessary tunes on the playlist:
Hot Hot Heat, “Bandages”
Bran Van 3000, “Love Cliche”
Finley Quay, “Your Love Gets Sweeter”
The Killers, “All These Things That I’ve Done”
Basement Jaxx, “Do Your Thing”
Petula Clark, “Downtown”
Blur, “Girls and Boys”
Ben Folds, “Annie Waits”
Prince, “Cinnamon Girl”
David Bowie, “China Girl”
Hall and Oates, “Private Eyes”
Frou Frou, “Let Go” (“You can’t go wrong with the ‘Garden State’ soundtrack,” Taras says.)