You might recognize Charles Lopez as the dapper Frenchman managing events at the Skylark on any given night. Or maybe you recognize him from Chopped, which he won (season 9, episode 11). We sat down with Charles to chat about his background, his inspiration, and how speed-racing and fine cooking are more alike than you might think.
Years in NYC:
Drink of choice?
Favorite part of your job:
Creating relationships with guests
So...you won Chopped. I know you're all front of the house now, but you obviously have a background in the kitchen.
I moved to New York to be a chef. I had been [a chef] in Monaco and moved here last minute with an opportunity to work at [now closed] Payard, and then moved to Daniel.
Those are some serious gigs. How did Chopped happen? And was it as stressful in real life as it seems on the show?
A friend of mine had been on the show and suggested I go on so I said why not. It is stressful but if you watch the show before you can kind of prepare. You know what ingredients are in the pantry. So I kind of went in with a game plan.
And won! Are you happy you did it?
It was a good experience. Maybe because I won (maybe I wouldn't be saying that if I didn't win). But Alex Guarnaschelli said the fish I made was the best fish she had ever had on the show. So that was pretty cool.
Do you find that your experience in the kitchen informs the way you run the front of the house?
Absolutely. Coming from the back of the house gives me that knowledge to overcome challenges because I can see them from both angles. That's something that was very important to me. I think in order to lead a team the right way, you have to know how to do their job.
Do you still cook?
Yes! I recently moved to New Jersey so now I have an actual, real kitchen. I did a six-course dinner for my family a couple weeks ago. [Casually shows me some impressive photos of this family dinner]. I did an amuse-bouche a play on the french classic Raclette, grilled bread w some pancetta, potatoes, pickled red onions. Instead of Raclette cheese normally melted over vegtables, I did more of a Mornay Sauce, but instead of gruyere I used raclette, and I used an ICI Siphons which does an emulsion. So it's normally a very heavy dish but it ended up being very light. And I served the sauce tableside.
(editor's note: when Charles talks about family dinner it's not exactly spaghetti and meatballs. Find him on instagram at @charles_e_lopez to see what plating should look like).
What do you do when you're not making magic happen at The Skylark?
I don't race motorcycles but I will say I ride motorcycles at a racetrack. Pure speed, no tricks no stunts. My other biggest passion is Formula 1. I try to attend a race every year. As a kid it was my dream.
On the connection between cooking and speed racing:
You have to be exact, and disciplined. When you ride it's like 150 miles per hour. You have to be strict with yourself.