GeGa Japaridze and Téa Abashidze at the Knockdown Center on October 7.
Photo: Mark Peterson
You may have seen that we published a list of 49 extremely powerful New Yorkers whose names you’ve probably never heard of. You can call their inner power, hidden power, hidden power—but in any case, what they wield is a distinct, sometimes frightening ability to get things done in their respective universes. Here’s a look at all the food and nightlife powerhouses on our list, from a lettuce baron to two nightclub doyens to the man who fills the city with fine Korean restaurants.
Zaid Curdieu (center) with Illis Kane Sorrells cooks (left) and Fernando Baena at the Union Square Greenmarket on September 29 at 8:45am
Photo: Mark Peterson
On Fridays, the Union Square Green Market is packed with chefs picking tomatoes or squash before a busy weekend, sure, but most importantly, they’re trying to meet Zaid Kurdieh, the owner of Norwich Meadows Farm in Chenango County. “It’s become a status for me to create that relationship and be someone they hold their best crop for,” says Andrew Soutine, executive chef at Mary Lane, a low-key West Village location. Will start conversations with Kurdieh, talk about the technique and invite the farmer and his wife Haifa to the restaurant. Did Sutin try to bribe the couple with food? “Yes,” he says. “Building that relationship is one of the most important things I’ve done for my career — period.”
The Most Powerful New Yorkers You’ve Never Heard Of
The reason: “They grow the best karaflex cabbage I’ve ever eaten,” says Flynn McGarry. Victoria Blamey, another celebrity chef, agrees: “Savoy cabbage is always wonderful. Same with karaflex – great sweet, juicy leaves when you roast it.
But not only does Kurdieh grow the best produce; it’s that his farm does it with a consistency and scale unmatched by other green market darlings, making it indispensable to produce-fettish chefs who will do whatever they can to take advantage of New York’s unofficial kale king . During COVID, Ethan Frisch, co-founder of spice company Burlap & Barrel, along with about a dozen chefs from around the city, manned Kurdieh’s stand for months. Meanwhile, Breads bakery owner Gadi Peleg rented him a nearby restaurant space, free of charge, to pack boxes for delivery. All to help – and gain an edge over other chefs competing for the same best of the best ingredients. — Chris Crowley
Polo Bar presents itself as open to all comers, but it is not. It’s a private club in all but name, guarded by Nellie Mudim, a former model from Cameroon who came to Ralph Lauren’s sanctuary of tailored leather and honey pine via Keith McNally’s Mineta Tavern. She is seemingly attached to the landing at the bottom of the restaurant’s spiral staircase – so much so that on a recent night off, a bemused Clive Davies could be heard asking: “Where’s Nellie at?”
It is Mudim who brokers the Polo Bar’s carefully guarded hierarchy of actors, editors, fashion moguls and the extended Lauren family. Rumors persist that the classification system is as stratified as McNally’s, although restaurant officials deny this. Established regulars won’t say too much for fear of upsetting the balance that Moudime, a self-described control freak, maintains within these windowless walls, but someone let slip that she befriends many of the VIPs and “gets into their orbit in a real way.” Kehinde Wiley has painted numerous portraits of Mudim, and she is said to constantly fend off poaching attempts, but for now, when, say, Steve Tisch, Marjorie Gubelman, or Tommy Hilfiger ask for a table, it’s Mudim who who decides where she should be—and whether any hoi polloi should gain access at all.— Ben Ryder Howe
Every era has its defining chefs and restaurateurs: Daniel Boulud, David Chang, Gabriel Hamilton. These days, it’s Kihyun Lee, and even if you don’t know his name, you’ve probably eaten at his restaurants, which have raised the profile of Korean cuisine and almost completely turned the fine dining hierarchy upside down. When Lee’s company, Hand Hospitality, opened Her Name Is Han in 2015, he firmly established a down-home sensibility: Korean home cooking for the 21st century with design straight from Seongsu-dong. The following year, Lee entered into his first partnership with the couple JungHyun and JeongEun Park. Together, the group opened Atoboy and Atomix — the latter of which has become among the city’s most acclaimed tasting stands. Lee, meanwhile, has continued to expand: Lysée, Jua, Moono, LittleMäd and the shared seafood joint AriAri, which can quote an hour wait for a Tuesday meal. Lee also began poaching restaurants directly from Seoul, bringing the city’s brightest talents and legacy institutions: Okdongsik and its famous pork broth, bulgogi specialist Samwoojung, and in November, the “Korean soul food” of Hojokban. — Chris Crowley
GeGa Japaridze and Tea Abashidze at Knockdown Center on October 7 at 20:19
Photo: Mark Peterson
When Gega Japaridze and Thea Abashidze moved to New York from their native Georgia, their Eastern European sensibilities were shocked: while at a party in a Brooklyn club, the lights came on at 4 a.m. “We thought it was urgent,” Japaridze says. “‘What’s going on? What’s going on?'” Abashidze recalls. “My friends were like, ‘Girl, take it easy; this is New York.'” Because the parties here were tamer than they expected, they saw an opportunity.
The two promoters, who are former lovers with similar chiseled features, remained in the city and in 2019, together with Tyler Meyers, opened their own club, where the party never stops at 4 in the morning. The basement is in the literal basement of the Knockdown Center, a one-time factory in Maspeth, and “keeps alive that 24/7 club culture that you see more in Europe and Berlin,” says musician and raver Jonah Almost, who tells me he’s been hanging out at the club long after 11 a.m. “He became the institution for the scene.”
People often compare it to Berghain in Berlin, but the couple bristle at that: “The reason they say that is because they haven’t been to Georgia,” says Japaridze (he says Tbilisi is one of the best nightlife cities in the world). A night at the Basement is not for the faint of heart. The place is very dark, very sexy. “There are mazes, nooks and crannies to explore,” says Almost. “No one bothers you, so you can do whatever you want.” To preserve this vibe, bouncers cover your iPhone’s camera lens with a black sticker when you arrive. This assumes you can enter: those deemed too basic are denied entry. “The goaltender’s job is to create fantasy,” Almost says. “If you’re not contributing something to make this situation quintessentially New York and cool, then you can’t get in.” But Abashidze hopes you’ll try again. “Next time you come, you might be fine.” — Brock Kolar