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Enrique Olvera’s Culinary Evolution

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One key to Cosme’s success is that many of the staff came with Chef Enrique Olvera from his restaurant in Mexico City.

By Ellen Koteff September 2015 Chef Profiles

Located in New York City’s trendy Flatiron District, Cosme is earning raves for celebrated chef Enrique Olvera’s creative dishes rooted in Mexican flavors that also showcase local and seasonal ingredients from the Hudson Valley.

Opened in September of 2014, Cosme was a finalist for James Beard: Best New Restaurant this year and follows Chef Olvera’s first venture—Pujol—his highly acclaimed restaurant in Mexico City, which opened 15 years ago.

“The cooking at Cosme shows my personal evolution as a cook,” says Chef Olvera, a 1999 graduate of The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. “My roots are in Mexican cuisine, and those are the flavors I am comfortable with. However, I was trained in New York, which gave me the opportunity to explore different food cultures, and that has been a huge influencer.”

In a joint venture with partners Santiago Gomez, Alonso De Garay, and Santiago Perez, Chef Olvera decided to take on the challenges and competition of opening an outpost in one of the world’s most high-risk restaurant environments.

“I met Enrique in 2012 and we started talking about doing a high-end restaurant in New York City,” Gomez says. “Alonso and Santiago wanted to do something similar, so we all decided to join forces.”

Cosme was two years in development and now employs about 60 people, many of whom relocated from Mexico City, where they worked at Pujol. “A lot of the staff that works with us came from Pujol,” Gomez says. “That has been one of our key successes. They take a lot of ownership in this project. They feel like Cosme is their baby and everyone is really engaged to help make this restaurant a big hit. When you see them coming to work every day—they show up very happy.”

Cosme touts a modern décor but at the same time evokes a warm, cozy, and inviting atmosphere.

Gomez estimates 30 percent of clientele are repeat customers with most coming from the surrounding neighborhood. The restaurant also attracts a large contingent of chefs.

“We have received a huge welcome from the neighborhood and my fellow chefs,” Olvera says. “I got to know a lot of chefs in New York, and they have become frequent guests, which is so flattering.”

Cosme is open for dinner seven days a week and recently added a Sunday “kill your hangover” brunch. “We are testing the waters first with brunch, but we would consider doing lunch eventually,” Gomez says.

Dinner tickets average $85 and brunch checks average $45. The restaurant has 140 seats and often serves 300 covers nightly.

Beverage sales account for 35 percent of sales, and the program focuses on artisanal spirits that mirror the cuisine and are based on Mexican classics.

“Most of our beers come from small, local breweries, and we make an in-house beer out of corn,” Gomez says. “We bring our own corn from Mexico and then it is brewed—a glass goes for $10.” The restaurant also features an in-house Mexican wine that sells for $65 a bottle.

Best-selling menu items include Duck Carnitas with onions, radishes, and salsa verde to share for $59, Uni Tostada with avocado, bone marrow salsa, and cucumber for $18, Arctic Char Tostada with trout roe and avocado for $16, and the wildly popular dessert—Husk Meringue with Corn Mousse.

Moving forward, Olvera says the restaurant won’t fix what isn’t broken. “We are not going to change what we are doing in the near future, although we are constantly looking for new inspiration,” he says. “It is important to keep a well-balanced and seasonal menu—not only tasty foods but foods that are good for you.”

In an ongoing effort to improve service levels during the first year of operation, Cosme’s management worked closely with servers. “We pay a lot of attention to details about the menu and try to relay that information,” Gomez adds. “We try to project an image so that the guests can feel the story behind everything.”

The restaurant’s name was chosen in a nod to a Mexican food market that Olvera’s grandfather used to take him to when he was young. “Enrique wanted to name his son Cosme, but his wife didn’t allow that,” Gomez says.

Gomez and Chef Olvera agree the most surprising thing about the opening of Cosme has been its overwhelming positive reception. “Obviously when you open a restaurant you hope for the best,” Olvera notes. “But we have been very pleasantly surprised how smooth the ride has been.”

That smooth ride is reflected in revenues. “We are right now at two times the revenue where we thought we would be at this time,” Gomez says. “We are also aware that this might not last. But we sure hope we will be that classic place that will still be here in 15 years.”