Michelin Stars screaming chefs, mega egos, imposter syndrome, celeb clients, secret restaurants, kitchen fires—Chef Adrien Blech of Orienta, who recently won on TV’s Beat Bobby Flay, has lived through it all with enough stories about the wild times and teaching moments to fill a follow-up season of The Bear and then some. Though he’s part of the Blech family, co-owners of Le Penguin and Le Fat Poodle, and grew up with his father opening Le Bilboquet and Le Coloniel among others, he is clearly a guy with his own vision.
Right after graduating from Rye Neck High School as an all-state football player, he says “a decision had to be made whether I wanted to continue my poor scholastic career or get into what my father did. As an eighteen-year-old, it seemed like a fun job. You’re out late at night with your co-workers—it’s a scene,” he recalls. “I thought, I’m going to learn to be a chef, but I want to go my own way.” He got in on the ground floor at l’escale, checking in deliveries and working on the salad station.
One night at a dinner with his parents he met the executive chef of the Ritz Carlton in the Cayman Islands, who said, ‘We’re opening a resort, do you want a job?” Two weeks later he was toting a duffle bag in the Caribbean. “He could place the cooks wherever he wanted, at the beach bar or the contemporary restaurant, but he put me in fine dining, Eric Ripert’s restaurant. I pretended I knew what I was doing. It was my jumping-off point.” He helped to open Blue, which later won Best Restaurant in the Caribbean and five diamonds.
A few years later Adrien moved back to New York to work at L’Bernadin, a grueling schedule and tough commute from the far reaches of Brooklyn, requiring him to work from 5:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. to pull it off. He describes Ripert as a “Buddhist, gentle, loving guy” but the chef de cuisine at the time as “over the top, saying terrible things.” Adrien still hasn’t forgotten what he “messed up”: a shallot that wasn’t cut perfectly for a dish for the French President. He was twenty at the time.
After a short stint at a Vegas restaurant, he headed to LA and worked at a farm-to-table in Venice with a secret garden in back, a place with no sign that attracted incognito A-listers. The gig was great until he got a call on his day off to learn the place was on fire. “Next thing you know, I’m running through the burning restaurant trying to save cases of wine.”
Adrien then landed a spot at a gastropub called The Yard in Santa Monica. He loved the work of getting to know the farmers at the market and lugging thousands of dollars of produce back to the restaurant. The head chef was often absent due to a drinking problem, so Adrien would be at the helm. “One day he bailed, and Jonathan Gould, LA Times food critic, walked in. The critic of LA.” Adrien’s cooking earned rave reviews. His next adventure was time in Paris at a Michelin-starred restaurant at Le Royal Monceau, but after two years he was called back to LA as sous chef at The Hart and The Hunter. Around the same time his dad, Antoine Blech, asked him back to Greenwich to help open Le Penguin.
While working on the launch, he was invited to take a high-profile position as executive chef at SoHo House in Los Angeles. “You had to be a super celebrity to get in the place,” he recalls. There, he cooked breakfast for Kanye West twice a week and Cher on a regular basis. “Zooey Deschanel wanted me to do her vegan restaurant, John Hamm was there all the time, every table was high-end artists, musicians, actors. It was a big deal,” he says.
He went from fifty-five covers a night at Le Penguin to 1,700 at SoHo House. The job lasted ten months. “Big paycheck, young kid [twenty-seven], big job, way over my head,” he summarizes. “I was underqualified, but it was fun; and I learned a lot.”
Back once again on the East Coast while waiting for Le Fat Poodle to open, he spent a summer working in Shelter Island where he met his wife, Kate. He would go on to be the chef at Le Fat Poodle and then for Terra when he decided he needed to face a problem that had been hindering his success and even led to him being fired at one job.
He wanted to quit drinking.
“Everything came to a screaming halt because of alcohol. I went to rehab and took a break,” he says. “I would have nothing if I hadn’t gotten sober. It’s important to the success of this story and my future stories. Everything I have in my life I owe to sobriety.”
That everything includes most important his personal life: his wife and baby daughter. Professionally he took time getting back into the restaurant business. “I waitered and learned how to bartend sober—I figured it out and got good at it,” he says, grinning. When the opportunity came to purchase the restaurant that’s now Orienta, it seemed the perfect spot, a place he could co-own with his parents next to the much-loved Le Penguin.
Orienta, which is a French restaurant highlighting Southeast Asian ingredients, was slated to open three days before “the world shut down because of Covid. We couldn’t hire anybody. They’re like, go home, lock your doors, never come out.” But even with this huge obstacle, the restaurant took off, thanks to contactless delivery. They could barely keep up with the demand, and in warmer weather, the patio was a draw and so were Chef Adrien’s renditions of French classics with an Asian twist. He takes dishes he learned to prepare at Le Bernadin, for instance, a mussels mariniere; and instead of garlic, shallots, white wine, butter and thyme, he’ll opt for ginger, shallots, sake, lemongrass, kefir lime and Thai basil. “I take a classic French dish, swap ingredients and it’s super good.”
The experts agree, as he was able to beat Bobby Flay with his preparation of Vietnamese savory crepes. His high school football coaches watched the show and celebrated like he had won the Super Bowl. For a preliminary round, Adrien had to cook with escarole, an ingredient he had often picked up at the Santa Monica farmers market. One judge said of his dish that paired the greens with Calabrian chiles, Neuske bacon and honey, “This is the best dish we’ve ever had on this show.”
Next act? Chef Adrien is working hard on a new restaurant. The name, location and cuisine are under wraps for now, but he’s excited to share the new concept with GREENWICH readers very soon.
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