After shifting back and forth among Italian, American and French cooking, his next venture is Bar Primi, a pasta restaurant set to open in New York in April. It's the latest example of how he has found success by building on his own tastes and the way he likes to eat, rather than attempting to ride any food trends.
"I think it's such a silly word — trends — I try not to follow them. I always want to do what I feel as opposed to, 'Let's do this concept,'" he said Thursday during an interview at the South Beach Wine and Food Festival.
"I love music, and I'm a music guy, and I have very eclectic tastes, as long as it's good, in any genre. I feel the same way about food," he said. "I love Italian food, I'm pretty knowledgeable about it, but I love to do other things. Trends are for suckers."
Trying to seize upon a trend also is impractical, given that it can take years to bring a project to fruition, said Carmellini, chef and partner at Locanda Verde in New York, The Dutch in New York and Miami, and The Lafayette. He said Bar Primi was actually the first restaurant he wanted to open — he filed the trademark application for the name back in 2007 — but other opportunities popped up and pushed back his plans.
It will feature handmade extruded pasta, rolled, egg-based pasta dishes, as well as antipasti and gelato. And though he dismisses trends, he said there likely will be one gluten-free option on the menu.
"I want people to feel like they're coming into our house, we want to take care of them. So if someone says they don't eat gluten, the old me would've said, 'I'm really sorry,' but now we try to accommodate people," he said.
The Lafayette, which opened last year, includes a bakery and a cafe with takeout in addition to the restaurant.
"I had this idea for a long time of doing this modern, grand cafe style — it's not really bistro, it's not really brasserie — it's something kind of in-between. And I love sweets, I love pastry ... and I wanted to engage the neighbourhood, so beside the restaurant part, we have this beautiful bakery," he said. "So that was the dream, and the restaurant kind of grew up around it."
Carmellini describes himself as a hands-on chef and business owner who has clear ideas for every detail. But staying hands-on becomes a struggle as the number of restaurants increases.
"I was really good at that when we had one restaurant, and I'm still trying to teach myself how to be good at that with multiple restaurants," he said. "But I will bleed to death before I let it not be oaky."