Food Well Done

The Chef Behind New York's Contra and Wildair on the Easy Dinner That Got Him Through the Pandemic

Portrait of Fabián von Hauske. All images courtesy of von Hauske.

Fabián von Hauske’s restaurants craft some of the most photogenic food out there. But one bite, whether it be of a strawberry cheesecake pie from Jac’s on Bond or a slice of French onion soup focaccia at Wildair, proves that the ingredients are geared toward your taste buds as much as your Instagram feed. Since moving to New York 10 years ago, von Hauske has carved out a significant space in the city’s restaurant scene, accumulating Michelin stars, a cookbook, and a loyal following. His newest project brings him upstate. He’s developing a restaurant for a future Windham, New York, inn developed by The Hunter Houses. CULTURED stole a moment with the busy chef to talk about spontaneous dinner party dishes, late-night bites, and his favorite Wildair donut collab.


CULTURED: How did you get started in the world of cooking?

Fabián von Hauske: I was trying to figure out if I wanted to go to college or cooking school. Then I started a summer internship at this little Dean & DeLuca sort of place, where we did prepared foods and cooked special meals and had a little grocery store. That was my first experience in the kitchen. The chef was from New York, and I was this teenager in Mexico City, and I was really excited. She was cooking food from all over the place. I just kept doing that for a while, and then I ended up coming to New York to do a six-month program at this place called the French Culinary Institute [now known as International Culinary Center].

CULTURED: After the French Culinary Institute, you worked abroad in incredible kitchens, including Noma, Fäviken, and Attica. You’ve spent your adult life in restaurants, but I’m wondering what cooking in your home kitchen looks like.

von Hauske: I don't really like cooking for myself. I love inviting friends, and that's what really gets me to cook some special stuff. Sharing with people is what really drives me to cooking, and I think that's why I like working in restaurants. 

CULTURED: If you have three friends texting you, “We’re coming over for dinner,” and you have to whip up something, what are you making? 

von Hauske: I love making a Spanish tortilla. It's something I never did, and then I just got into it during the pandemic, and I made like a million of those things. I love cooking a simple pork chop. My building thankfully has a little, sketchy grill on the rooftop, so I can just start it up in my apartment, and I take it upstairs, and then I grill it up there. Then, I'll make a Mexican type of sauce with it. I love making salsa verde or something like that. Just something simple.

CULTURED: As New Yorkers, we've all had that moment of being out at 3 a.m. and needing a late-night bite. What’s your go-to late-night snack in the city? 

von Hauske: I’ve lived in the East Village my entire time in New York, so I go to Sunny & Annie’s and always get the P.H.O. Real. It’s like a bowl of pho in sandwich form.


CULTURED: You're also very involved in the wine world. What changes and trends have you witnessed in the New York scene recently?

von Hauske: A lot of people are looking into more domestic wines. People are looking for what's out there that's not so well-known, and I think a lot of these American producers are coming up.

CULTURED: Are there any specific wines that you would recommend drinking this summer?

von Hauske: My favorites right now are Stagiaire’s “Dreams of Layaway” and Absentee Winery’s 2019 “Balou.” And my favorite spirits right now are from Empirical, who were based out of Copenhagen but are moving to Brooklyn soon.

CULTURED: Wildair is beloved for its donuts. What made you want to add them to the menu?

von Hauske: When the pandemic happened, we closed both restaurants and we started doing take out. I was doing pastries and sandwiches and just out of nowhere, I was looking at a cookbook by this restaurant, St. JOHN in London, and they had a whole chapter on donuts. And I thought, Maybe we should take a stab at making donuts. For some weird reason, it just caught on. Now we only do it on Saturdays. We collab with a friend or restaurant regulars. My favorite we’ve done so far is the yuzu creamsicle collab we did with Christopher Abbott. We both have a crazy love for creamsicle stuff.


CULTURED: Besides New York, what’s your favorite food city, and what dish would you recommend from there?

von Hauske: Mexico City. The thing that I miss the most is carnitas tacos. There’s a place near where my parents live where you sit outside and they cook the whole pork. They cook the different pieces in different ways, and you can choose your own meat, but there's this one thing that they do and it's called the surtido, which means assortment. They pick up all the pieces and chop them up really fine and then you just have that with onion, cilantro, and green sauce.

CULTURED: Is there a kitchen etiquette rule you live by?

von Hauske: Just be nice. When I used to live in Australia, I worked for a chef who lived off-the-beaten-path. The train station would close really early, and he would drive me home sometimes. I just think of those small things. Being nice will get you so far.