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Anthony Boudain's new market is an exciting addition to NYC!
By Florence Fabricant via NYT
It was a far cry from the bustling, kaleidoscopic street scenes that Anthony Bourdain routinely plunges into during his television travelogues: an empty, dimly lit pier building on the Hudson River at the edge of the meatpacking district.
But Mr. Bourdain, the uncensored chef, author and peripatetic culinary traveler, strode through the echoing space the other day at full throttle, talking nonstop and flinging his rangy arms to point out this or that planned attraction: a steaming noodle stall, a vibrant farmers’ market, a mezzanine cluttered with food stations and bars.
“Think of an Asian night market,” he said. “Eating and drinking at midnight.”
For more than a year, New York’s culinary grapevine has been buzzing over Mr. Bourdain’s broadly stated intention of opening a major food market somewhere in the city, but details have been scant. Now he has confirmed that he and his partners have subleased the main concourse and mezzanine of Pier 57, at 15th Street, one of the largest shipping piers on the Hudson.
There, in about two years, they plan to open Bourdain Market, a vast collection of about 100 retail and wholesale food vendors from New York, the nation and overseas, including fishmongers, butchers, bakers and other artisans, and eventually at least one full-service restaurant. April Bloomfield and Ken Friedman, who own the Spotted Pig, the Breslin and other restaurants, have already agreed to operate two prepared-food stalls.
But “the beating heart and soul” of the project, Mr. Bourdain said, will be a Singapore-style hawker market, with communal eating spaces surrounded by small stands selling street foods from around the world — many of them mom-and-pop operations that Mr. Bourdain and his team plan to bring here.
If his vision pans out, visitors will be able to savor Geylang Claypot Rice simmered with meats over a fire, as dished up in Singapore, or tostadas slathered with uni by Sabina Bandera, whose cart, La Guerrerense, in Ensenada, Mexico, Mr. Bourdain contends is “the best in the world.” He has struck deals with both vendors.
“If you want some fine Spanish ham and a glass of cava, you can get that,” he said. “But there will also be China Straits noodles.”
This is the food that Mr. Bourdain, 59, has given star treatment for 10 years on television series like “No Reservations,” “The Layover” and the current“Parts Unknown.” His metamorphosis from chef to writer to entertainer to entrepreneur, he said, has been driven by his determination to bring people closer to the kind of kinetic experiences he shows on TV, and to share the food he is passionate about.
“The way people eat has changed,” he said. “They want to be at counters and communal tables. They want heat and funk and chicken wings that set their hair on fire. They’re as quick to brag about the greatest $3 bowl of laksa as a dinner at Ducasse. That’s what I want to create for New York, some place where I would want to eat. Right now, there is nothing like that.”
Stephen Werther, the retail entrepreneur who is one of Mr. Bourdain’s partners in the venture, was more succinct: “People want Tony’s shows to come to life.”
New York has had an explosion of megamarkets and food halls over the last five years, but this one promises to be different for several reasons, starting with its epic size: 155,000 square feet, dwarfing the city’s other food markets. The project’s ambition and risks are formidable, most notably the task of securing visas for scores of small overseas vendors, then transporting and housing them here.
“It’s going to involve a lot of visas, a big challenge,” Mr. Werther said.
Still, some question whether the city, with its wealth of recent immigrants, and their foods, needs to import new options.
“What about the tiny storefronts here, little places with delicious hand-cut noodles in Chinatown?” said Clark Wolf, a restaurant consultant. “It will be interesting to see how the cultures connect: hawkers from the Far East and workers from Queens. Is the endgame to help immigrant hawkers everywhere, or is it just an entertainment for wealthy New Yorkers?”
The project is envisioned as a public market, patterned after models like Pike Place Marketin Seattle. Such markets are economic engines for their communities, drawing locals as well as tourists and serving as incubators for small businesses that may move on to bigger stages. They do not allow chain or franchise operations.
Madelyn Wils, the president of the Hudson River Park Trust, which oversees use of the pier, said she had expected the property to be put to commercial use. “But there would be no mall, no food court,” she said. “It has to be democratic and serve the community; what they’re doing fits perfectly with our vision. We don’t really have a true public market in New York anymore.”
Pier 57, a shipping terminal built in 1952 and vacant since 2003, is owned by the city and the state, which have leased it to Youngwoo & Associates, a real estate developer, and RXR Realty. The Bourdain market has a binding agreement with the two.
Youngwoo looks for creative ways to approach development, said Young S. Woo, its founder and principal partner. “The Bourdain market is that kind of thing,” said Mr. Woo, who would not disclose how much his firm is spending to renovate the pier. “And it’s something that Wall Street and the money people don’t understand.”
A public park is planned for the roof of the pier, which will also be home to the Tribeca Film Festival for two to three weeks each year.
While Mr. Bourdain has been mulling the idea of a market for years, it began to take shape about two years ago, when a close friend, the chef Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin, suggested that he contact Mr. Werther. The two partners learned of the pier’s availability last year, after exploring the city’s limited supply of large indoor spaces without success. The pier was a perfect fit, Mr. Bourdain said, “raw and industrial.”
“It’s a place with good old bones,” he said. “I think I sailed on the Queen Mary, the original Queen Mary, from here.”
Mr. Bourdain and Mr. Werther have hired Roman & Williams, the firm that designed the restaurants Lafayette, Upland and the Standard, and the Ace Hotel, to design and oversee the $60 million installation. David Swinghamer, the former chief executive of Shake Shack, recently became a partner.
Eldon Scott, who has created and run outdoor markets like Chelsea Eats and the new UrbanSpace Vanderbilt market, will be the market’s manager. “He’s the only guy in New York who could operate this kind of thing,” Mr. Werther said. They have also signed on K F Seetoh, an expert on Singaporean hawker food.
At the market’s western end, they plan a full-service restaurant, with a mezzanine overlooking the main hall. No operator has been chosen. The Hudson River Park Trust is also planning a restaurant on the roof.
In addition to all the places to eat, the project will have what Mr. Bourdain calls “a wet market” where butchers break down whole animals, and fishmongers scale, cut and fillet. There will be culture and entertainment like karaoke, Asian pop performances and films. “I’d be so bold as to suggest that it will be a destination,” Mr. Werther said.
The developers say they expect 20,000 visitors a day; the market will be open almost around the clock.
That should suit Mr. Bourdain, who says he doesn’t sleep and expects to immerse himself in running the market. “I’m particularly concerned with the atmospherics, the authenticity, the smell and feel and sound of the place,” he said. “Will it be the kind of democratic space open to and used by all? Will wealthy and working class alike find something to love in common?
“These are the things I will be most concerned with. That and maintaining an absolute hammerlock on who is in the market — and, as important, who is not. Many of the relationships with vendors from abroad will be personal. I take those relationships seriously.”
He shared his delight in having enlisted what he called “the world’s most beautiful butcher shop”: Victor Churchill, founded in 1876 in Sydney, Australia. (Imagine, bringing a butcher back to the meatpacking district.)
“It will be all transparent and authentic,” he said, “not sterile, but chaotic in a good way, with hawkers and vendors and places to eat. Where in this city can you have that?”
Correction: September 28, 2015
An earlier version of this article misstated which Hudson River pier is the largest. It is Pier 40, not Pier 57. The article also misstated the duration of the annual Tribeca Film Festival. It runs for two to three weeks each year, not four weeks. After readers complained about fake Chinese characters in an artist’s rendering of the Bourdain Market, the developers provided an updated rendition.