He built out the restaurant in Shaker Square around the kitchen so that wherever guests sat, they could see the wood-fired oven. And with a dedicated focus to plating and presentation, each reinvention of the menu allowed Katz to explore a variety of ethnic cuisine.
"It was really looking at it almost as a stage for the whole dining room and how could everyone sort of be a part of that," says Katz, who over the last 10 months has opened Zhug, a Mediterranean small plates concept, and Chimi, a South American ghost restaurant.
But as COVID-19 has shown, there's been incredible pressure placed on the restaurant industry, with several, such as Spice Kitchen and Bar, permanently shutting their doors due to restrictions placed on available seating, a declined interest in sit-down dining and lack of revenue. Katz announced in August that he was closing his flagship restaurant after 19 years, as it's been difficult to keep the same attention to detail the original restaurant required while also maintaining steady business. We caught up with Katz to talk about Fire's legacy, his decision to shut down and what the future may hold.
Q: When Fire Food and Drink first opened, what was your inspiration behind the restaurant and how did you see it fitting into the dining scene?
A: Our goal was to sort of put the kitchen on stage at Fire. In addition to that, we were located at Shaker Square because it's this nostalgic town center, especially for my family. We used to go there. My parents used to talk about going there. It’s just a beautiful, old shopping district and when they were renovating the Square, I couldn't think of a better place. I felt like it was pretty cutting edge at the time to have the architecture that I was creating, to do it at Shaker Square, to do the menu in such a simple way, but just really highlighting the ingredients.
Q: What did you learn from Fire that you've taken to other projects?
A: Fire was created with the whole mindset that we wanted to teach people about new dishes and food and all these things without being pretentious.The costs have just gotten so expensive that today what we look to do [with Zhug and Chimi] is to be much more frugal with our kitchen design and to really highlight the energy of the kitchen but also include the bar in that. Fire created the initial idea that everything should have great flavor and the design of your plate is really important, and it’s still about using your senses to eat.
Q: What went into your final decision to close Fire?
A: We had just signed a 10-year extension to our lease in December. We were excited to figure out how to move it into the next 20 years. On March 15, we realized we were going to have to close for the pandemic. You sort of need to keep people coming every week or every month for their celebrations. When they get used to sitting home for a year and there's no theater and there's no music and there's no art museum and there's no activities that they're used to that bring them to us — all of those things change their habits. Unless we're busy, we aren't the Fire that people would remember.
Q: What would a new Fire concept look like if you were to re-imagine it?
A: If I go to the heart of what it was, it's about the kitchen. And it's about the experience of seeing your food prepared. We have no plan to move Fire forward at this point, but if I were to dream of it, it would be a kitchen that everyone can watch and see and be a part of. It would be in a really cool farmhouse or something like that, where you're just able to see what's happening, and there's amazing meats and cheeses, and there's great roasted meats and things cooking in a hearth. Everyone is sort of doing it together in a central kitchen.
Q: Can you tell me more about the Indian concept you’re planning?
A: We're going to launch it hopefully in October. It'll be an Indian takeout and delivery model, using Indian as a base, but we'll do some fusion to it. We will have all dishes that can be shared, but much like the [Zhug and Chimi], we're taking the Indian culture and we're using that as our theme. There will be proteins, there will be vegan and there will be gluten-free. And there'll be just amazing Indian flavors done in a modern way that people can enjoy as another dining experience. Our goal is to offer people Middle Eastern and South American and Indian because we hope people can order Zhug one night or order Chimi one night or order the Indian one night and during this time, it makes it more fun.
food & drink
11:00 AM EST
August 21, 2020