A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to interview Chef Jonathon Sawyer for an upcoming Cleveland Magazine article. That brief interview turned into a very fun and memorable experience. Not only did I have the pleasure of meeting Jonathon’s beautiful wife and kids, but also Michael and Liz Symon (talk about a down-to-earth, kind and hilarious couple) and their good friend Christopher Schramm, the man behind many of the beautiful restaurants in Cleveland. This just added to the overall energetic environment at Bar Cento, with kids running around having a blast making pizza, The Police playing in the background and the staff downright giddy (made me miss my days of bartending/serving).
Thanks to Mike Symon, I was able to line up Chris Schramm for my next Q & A. And it’s only fitting. The food is just part of the reason why I love so many of our restaurants – granted it’s a big part, but there’s much more than the culinary creations that make up the overall experience. It’s the ambiance and design, too. And thanks in large part to Schramm, we have some seriously attractive spaces to dine at.
1. What is your favorite project that you have worked on? Always the project of the present. The present is always going to be where you have the highest ability to create an impactful creativity. Therefore, by default, that project has to be the most exciting. In this case, that would be the Flying Fig.
2. If you could redesign one restaurant in Cleveland, which one would it be? Probably Seoul Hot Pot. It’s Korean food and I’m half Korean. It would be nice to give the food a special presentation.
3. Favorite restaurant in town? Mi Pueblo (west).
4. How did you get into design? By natural selection.
5. Where do you get your inspiration? Nature.
6. What’s the first thing you notice when you walk into a restaurant? Colors and lighting, or lack there of.
7. What projects are you currently working on? Flying Fig face lift.
8. Any simple tricks of the trade the average person could apply to their home? Abandon the white walls – don’t be afraid of dark colors. Also, commit to at least one central piece you love.
9. What’s the biggest restaurant nightmare you have encountered thus far? No nightmares, just a few bad dreams (lol).
10. Do you like to cook? What’s your specialty? Yes. I like soups.
11. What designers do you admire? Is there one specific design movement or trend in design that you are particularly fond of? I don’t follow individual designers too closely and I don’t really collect design books or even visit many design Web sites. Originality is the most important aspect of any creative endeavor, so one should seek his or her own style of expression. I’m not saying it’s wrong to emulate any particular style, just that it should be melded with a personal uniqueness.
Side note: There are a few sites I personally like and use for inspiration for our home; Design*Sponge is my favorite and I think worth sharing.
12. What design trend(s) do you see on the horizon? Simplicity with substance and environments with natural elegance. Complicated and sensory-overloaded styles have their place, but for places that are going to be used by many on a daily basis, I think simplicity serves the soul in an easy manner. It centers people.
13. What type of feeling were you trying to create with the design of the space for such restaurants as Bar Cento, Flying Fig, Lola/Lolita and Juniper Grille? I think that if successful, each space should have a delightful energy to the senses. Something that moves them into an easy calm with an air of pleasant drama.
14. How does the design of the interior space reflect the menu and chef’s vision? How is it brought to life and supported by the physical space itself – what’s the connection? The space is the ‘big plate’ upon which the ‘little plates’ are served. It supports and contains the final food experience. It can do one of three things: 1. take the experience over the top; 2. antagonize the experience; and 3. do nothing. Therefore, design is really just an opportunity to add an extra dimension to benefit an already anticipated sensory experience. The basic connection is that the environment blends with the food; it shouldn’t compete with it or be contradictory to it.
15. I know Chef Sawyer, as well as others, is very conscious about the farm-to-fork movement and the impact he makes on the environment with his menu and restaurant. You mentioned the bar at Bar Cento is reclaimed barn wood. What other examples or techniques did you consider when designing this space to support the vision of the chef? I have to give the idea credit to the owner (Sam) of Bar Cento/Bier Market on the reclaimed wood; I simply executed the installation of it. I think it works both ways, in a vice versa fashion. The interior vision can support the chef/menu and the chef/menu the interior. With that said, there is a trend toward the organic and the freshest possible produce available. So it is a natural solution to create environments that reflect earthy, warm and clean design motifs. An example at Bar Cento is the primary green color used, which if I might add was met with much skepticism initially, but it played an important role in establishing the natural quality of the food. So the color skeptics were wrong – LOL!
16. You’re having a dinner party, what are the top 5 songs on your playlist? Feist/One Evening, Take Me Inside/After Life, Cisum to all women [II]/Deja Move, The Mexican Institute/Bienvenido a Mi Disco and The Concretes/Seems Fine.
17. If you could choose another profession, what would it be? Hyper-dimensional traveler. (They exist you know …)