Kim Floresca and Daniel Ryan, both 31, have worked in some of the world’s best kitchens, including Per Se in New York and Napa Valley’s The French Laundry and The Restaurant at Meadowood. A year ago, the couple came to Meadowmont to relaunch [ONE], which is under the same ownership as Durham’s G2B.
They’ve received much fanfare since, including being named the Southeast winners of Food & Wine’s “People’s Best New Chefs.” And the News & Observer’s Greg Cox named [ONE] the 2013 restaurant of the year. “Their experience shows in a level of cooking not previously seen in the Triangle,” Cox wrote of the pair.
We asked Kim and Daniel about their first impressions of the local food scene, how they’re working with farmers to offer something different, and how they juggle being a couple and being colleagues.
WHY NORTH CAROLINA? WHY NOW?
KF The agriculture is the one thing that really drew us to the area. We’ve always talked about how there’s eight different growing seasons, which is fun for us to be able to play with at [ONE].
DR Our first and foremost inspiration is from quality products, highlighted in a certain way, which is one of the things North Carolina offers: these amazing growing seasons, the farmers, the foragers, the growers, the purveyors – all are very top-notch. And – I’m from Baltimore and she’s from the Tahoe area in California – but both of us have done a good amount of traveling.
KF We’ve been traveling 11 years together as a couple.
DR We’ve always moved into opportunities that afforded us both individual situations. Moving out here was the first chance for us to look at things from four hands, but doing it together. It’s always been our goal to have a restaurant together.
SO YOU’RE INTENTIONALLY A PACKAGE DEAL?
DR Even though she has her talents and I have mine, it’s always a very singular approach to everything. We always try to handle it as a team.
KF We actually had a chance to change the name of the restaurant, but it just made so much sense to us, because we’re one entity. It’s exciting; I love being able to share stuff like that with a partner, one that’s been around me for good and bad times. To be able to share a journey with someone who understands you is remarkable.
DR A lot has been accomplished in the first year, and a lot of that is testament to the fact that there are two of us.
KF Now that we have a staff team at the restaurant, it’s kind of like a little family. Everybody knows who to ask for what. It’s like mom and dad.
DR A very similar dynamic. They just need to talk things out before they speak to the kids.
WHAT HAVE BEEN YOUR FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF THE SOUTH?
DR It’s called the hospitality industry for a reason; there’s always a level of acceptance and wanting to help each other. But it’s very very very competitive on every level. Here, that level is still there but it was approached differently. Everybody was just very welcoming, friendly and immediately courteous. Here, if we need anything, someone may offer information before we even ask.
KF I don’t think we could have asked for a better reception. All the chefs here really welcomed us with open arms.
WHAT CAN A DINER EXPECT FROM [ONE]?
DR I hope that [ONE] can offer something that’s a little bit more interactive, a little bit more fun for the guest, but where there’s still a high level of concentration on the food and the service.
KF And to give people a little bit of a pull from their comfort. When someone says, “I don’t eat chicken liver,” and we say, “OK, try this little macaroon with cocoa; it’s a savory bite,” and they try it and say, “Whoa, that was my favorite bite. I never knew it could be like this.” That, for me and for any chef, is the most exciting part. Hopefully every time you come back, it’s a little bit of a different experience.
SOME OF YOUR FOOD IS PRETTY IMAGINATIVE…
KF Food is a story. Food is – it’s life. But it starts from somewhere, memories or a feeling or something like that is what we really like to touch on. It’s more than just taste.
DR Having the ability to play on any of the senses is good with food. Very succulent chicken with crispy skin, that’s a play on two things that your mouth and your body recognizes as two things.
KF That’s our fun part, if we can capture that in a single bite. That’s the reason we do a lot of snacks. It will make a person think, “This is like a cheese straw or something that I’ve had before – so here’s this one story,” and then they break off in conversation. That’s the sense of dining. I think it’s almost a lost art.
OUTSIDE OF THE RESTAURANT, WHAT’S YOUR GO-TO COMFORT FOOD?
DR My family’s Italian, so my immediate thought is a big family sitting around the table. It was always over pasta and red sauce. I can eat that any day of the week; I can eat it seven days in a row.
KF I’m part Filipino, Japanese and Guamanian. For me, fermented and pickled things are always really delicious and, of course, rice. Home-cooked Asiany stews are my favorite things. I can even eat it in the summertime, outside – it doesn’t matter to me, I’ll eat it whenever. But pasta we usually make at home. We like to make our own pastas.
CAN YOU MAINTAIN A WORK-LIFE BALANCE? DO YOU THINK THAT’S IMPORTANT?
DR We spend pretty much every waking hour together.
KF And sleeping hour.
DR Even if we’re like, “Alright, we’re not going to think about the restaurant…”
KF …So, what do you want to do?
DR “Yeah, what do you want to do?” “Oh, let’s make dinner.” It’s still always focused around food.
KF I’ll cook one thing, and he’ll cook one thing and we’ll meet in the middle. Food is kind of who we are.
DR Not everyone appreciates art; not everyone appreciates fashion; but everybody eats.
WHAT INSPIRES YOUR MENU?
DR Creating a menu is like Jenga. We make a really strong effort to not repeat any part of any ingredient on the menu. And it depends on the growing seasons.
KF Like, tomato season came late this year, so a few fall ingredients shifted, too.
DR We really pay attention to those particulars.
ON THAT NOTE, WHAT FALL INGREDIENT ARE YOU MOST LOOKING FORWARD TO?
DR I don’t want to be stereotypical, but I think pumpkins are a really exciting thing. I want to try to use them in a more savory way.
KF And yam greens and sweet potato greens. The first time I was exposed to them was here and now I love when they come around.
LET’S NOT FORGET ABOUT THE DRINKS. HOW DO YOU APPROACH THE BEVERAGE SIDE OF THE RESTAURANT?
DR The restaurant is very wine-influenced. I think the accompaniment of alcohol and food is very classic. But we have also done pairings with other drinks, like related juices or mixed drinks. We have a beverage director, and our sommelier has a large hand in it, as well.
KF We’ve started making a lot of our own kombuchas. It’s fun to play with that. After a nine-course tasting menu, your palate gets heavy. So to break up the monotony, we add a little bit of acid. It’s fun; there are endless opportunities.