I’m not a guy who spends much time thinking about the past. There’s so much adventure and opportunity in the world, I tend to focus on what’s next. However, in preparing for the 30th anniversary of my landmark restaurant, Aureole, I’ve been looking in the rearview mirror at our awesome three-decade run in the competitive food culture of New York City. I feel simultaneously proud of what we’ve achieved and humbled by the many loyal customers who supported us in the past—and continue to help us today—by making Aureole their regular spot as well as the setting for special occasions in their lives.

However, it’s impossible to think about what we’ve accomplished at Aureole without also reflecting on the history of the American food revolution, which has paralleled the span of my career.

I carried the idea of Aureole around with me as a student at the Culinary Institute of America, through my culinary experiences in France, as well as during my time as a fledgling cook in New York’s legendary French restaurants. I worked as butcher and charcuterie maker for Chef Jean-Jacques Rachou at La Côte Basque, an institution for classical French cuisine on East 55th Street. I honed my pastry skills at La Petite Marmite, and I hustled on the line at Le Chantilly and Lutèce, alongside other young cooks like Daniel Boulud and David Bouley. (Those restaurants, now gone, were training grounds for the city’s haute cuisine–era maîtres d’hôtel and chefs.)

However, the concept came into focus when I was 23 and had the opportunity to become chef at the River Café, in the then desolate Brooklyn neighborhood of Dumbo. Although that restaurant is now more than 40 years old, it has featured only six chefs, which tells you something about its staying power.

iver Café is where I encountered the earliest examples of what would become the biggest influences in my career. It was one of the first major restaurants to support the American regional food movement, and also one of the first to promote California varietal wines. Although local sourcing is now commonplace, at that time it was groundbreaking for chefs to work directly with small suppliers and growers, as I did, bringing in ingredients like Michigan morels, New Jersey tomatoes, and Hudson Valley quail.

When it came time for me to go out on my own, I was only 27. But as young as I was, I had already experienced two primary culinary influences: the refinement and techniques of classical French cuisine, and the break-the-rules energy of the emerging American regionalized food movement. For me, those two worlds came together on the plate when I developed what has become my signature: progressive American cooking—a style built on rambunctious, intense flavors and unexpected combinations.

I was driven by a sense of discovery to forge a culinary identity of my own. And decades later, I haven’t changed. I still try to pull flavor out of ingredients in the simplest ways, keeping the food as unmasked—as true to itself—as possible. And I still look for ways to create excitement on the plate.

I knew exactly what I wanted my first restaurant to embody: urban elegance. I was committed to creating a big-time restaurant that could compete with the most celebrated restaurants of New York. To me, that meant it had to be on the Upper East Side, close to Fifth Avenue. And I wanted it to be in a townhouse, because I love the feel. Understandably, as New York still reeled from the stock market collapse of Black Monday 1987, it took me a while to find a financial partner who could envision and support the specifics of my idea. But eventually, I did.

I was driven by a sense of discovery to forge a culinary identity of my own. And decades later, I haven’t changed.

With the investment in place, the rest started to come together. I found the right name, courtesy of a good friend who was an NYU professor, and the right home: an iconic turn-of-the-century brownstone just steps off Madison Avenue. It was a five-floor, five-unit, 9,770-square-foot townhouse in which Orson Welles lived during his Mercury Theatre and radio days. I moved into an apartment on the top floor, like an old-time storeowner living over his shop.

At the time, fine dining in America also meant grand style, and every detail of Aureole represented that tradition. Eventually, the beautiful, sophisticated intimacy of the townhouse, with its golden-glow lighting and lush floral arrangements, became as much a part of the restaurant’s appeal as my signature cooking style.

I was 28 when Aureole opened its doors. And soon after, we received a three-star New York Times review and became one of the city’s most revered restaurants. The days when I just cooked, wiped down my station, and put my knives away were over. The entire nature of my relationship to the kitchen was shifting. If I wanted to continue growing, I knew I would need to train others. Adding to that change, I also married and became a father.