As Restaurant Workers Fled New York, This Chef Came Back “Once I left, I realized how good everything was. I appreciate it more now.”
In the New York City hospitality industry, there are a number of “opening experts,” people who specialize in establishing a business and setting it up for future success. Ashley Rath is one of them. Over the course of her still-brief career, she has worked to open Atera, Dirty French, Santina, and the Grill, where, as a 29-year-old chef de cuisine, she turned out updated versions of high-rolling American classics. So it was a shift when she traded midtown for Brooklyn to help open LaLou, a casually intimate Prospect Heights wine bar with no Dover sole in sight. And it seemed like a U-turn when she left to help open a megarestaurant in Las Vegas, landing in Sin City just a few months before the pandemic began.
Many restaurant workers who left the city before and even during the pandemic have stayed away. Rath, meanwhile, couldn’t wait to return. Now, she’s helming the kitchen at yet another new restaurant, Saint Theo’s, a breezy, high-kitsch West Village Italian spot that specializes in a style of Italian cooking Rath had once sworn off. So why did she come back? Why is she once again excited about Italian cooking? Grub Street called her up this week to find out.
You’ve been open less than a week at this point. How’s it going?
Some days, it’s felt almost like a party — but in a good way, not a crazy way. I haven’t cooked in the West Village in 11 years, and I forgot what it’s like. I’ve always found that the West Village has this vibe to it; everybody just wants to be out. It’s communal. It’s energetic. It’s fun. It’s youthful. And it still feels like that.
We’re open for four days a week at the moment. I’m doing about 140 covers, sometimes more, but not much, just so that we can get the kitchen down, the dining room down. It’s nice to be back in New York City feeling that groove again.
What’s the menu like? I read it as “Italian vacation.”
The menu is coastal-Italian influenced. For me, my biggest influence is Sicily. We also have a Venetian part of the menu — our cicchettis and our cuttlefish over polenta, those are very authentic Venetian dishes, which is something that I didn’t know much about before this. I absolutely love the cuttlefish. I don’t feel like you see cuttlefish that often on the menu.