If you’re calling a chef for an interview, you’re kind of secretly hoping—just for the thrill of it—that he’s maybe in the middle of making something. Chef Michael Kramer of Jianna, opening in early 2017, the latest of the Table 301 Restaurant Group, did not disappoint: “Hey, yeah, okay, hang on just a minute,” he says through the phone. “I’m just making another batch of gnocchi for the Celebrity Chef Dinner at the Gran Fondo this weekend.”
Kramer’s resumé boasts many accomplishments, including serving as the opening executive chef in 1999 at McCrady’s in Charleston, as well as quarterbacking in kitchens from his native Los Angeles (Spago, in its heyday) to Dallas (Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek) before heading to Greenville in 2013.
Now, with the Table 301 Group, the chef is poised to open Jianna in early 2017, which he bills as “approachable Italian. We don’t want it to be stuffy by any stretch,” he says. It will open on the second oor of Falls Park Place overlooking Greenville’s signature showpiece. Five-star awards and acclaim for culinary creativity is great, but with his new spot, Kramer is making food that he loves to eat—and, perhaps even more gratifying, that his eight-year-old son Evan does too (squid ink pasta is a favorite). Unlike Evan, we’ll all have to wait just a little longer to whet our appetites with Kramer’s cuisine. Between food and wine festivals, James Beard Award dinners, and perfecting his pasta, Kramer dished with TOWN:
So I have to tell you, when I was 18 and went to LA for the first time, the only place I wanted to be sure I went was Spago, and here it is that you used to work with Wolfgang Puck there. What was that experience like? >>
It was a really great experience. Wolfgang Puck, for as big and as famous as he is, still loves food and cooking though he doesn’t get to do it as much anymore. It was where all the celebs wanted to go and all the people wanted to be. It was an open kitchen so we could see all the guests. Swifty Lazar had his famous Oscar Party there.
Who was the most famous person you cooked for? >>
Well, that depends on who you consider famous. Mel Gibson, Jennifer Aniston, Elton John, David Geffen . . . it kind of goes on and on.
But you’re at home now in Greenville? >>
I love Greenville. It’s been great for me. The cycling has been a big plus. I got up this morning and did a quick trip over to Paris [Mountain]. Riding’s been a huge part of my life.
When did it click that you might go from surfer kid as you were growing up in LA to cooking? >>
I worked at a bunch of Italian restaurants and delivered pizza, and then I lived in England on a study abroad and I got to travel all over Europe. I really started liking food and thought it was super cool. I was very fortunate because my parents were very supportive because they loved food. They weren’t the typical doctor and housewife. My parents met in Vegas, and my mother was a dancer, and my father was a drummer.
How will Jianna be different than other Italian spots here already? >>
We’ll have guys right at the counter shucking oysters at the bar, and at the other end, we’ll have the guy with the prosciutto slicer. The whole kitchen is open, so we’re really kind of bringing it into the dining room, and we’ll be doing extruded pastas [pasta made with only flour and water that is forced through a die, then cut and dried]. As far as I know, no one in Greenville’s making extruded pasta at this point. Our pastas are going to be a little more modern. Our style is going to be a little more modern than an old-school Italian restaurant.
What’s your favorite end of the night, go-to dish for yourself? >>
You really want to know? Cereal (laughs).
Like what, Cap’n Crunch or Count Chocula, at least? >>
No, I keep it pretty pure, it’s something like Cheerios. Or, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.