Video on Paul Gerard
THREE CHORD CUISINE
When Chef Paul Gerard talks about his now defunct Exchange Alley he doesn’t get all misty eyed like his many regulars do. “I’m proud of what we did with Exchange Alley but I also have my eye on the future and that excites me more than anything”
When asked about Exchange though Paul explains “Exchange Alley was not a concept, it was an identity.” Specifically, it was Chef Paul Gerard’s identity, the palpable culmination of his decades making food amidst the sex, drugs and rock and roll that defined his youth and New York City’s Lower East Side.
But New York has changed quite a bit since the heyday of CBGB and The Dead Boys,and now his restaurant stands out amongst the vegan joints, upscale coffee bars and farmer’s markets that have taken hold. Walking down into the long, lean space, you almost expected ghosts of former singers, starlets and gamblers to be sipping spirits in the mid-morning light, steady streams of cigarette smoke wafting from overflowing ashtrays. A mix of everything from Fats Waller to Willie Colon, Afro beats, French lullabies, Arthur Alexander, Dion to Desmond Dekker, Dr John to Sister Spector, and swing flow from speakers, and an orange hue radiates over the bar, resting on Gerard’s collection of memorabilia from New York and his long stint in New Orleans. And then there’s Gerard; his tattooed arms hauling crates or pulling vegetables from his backyard garden, his fingers deftly chopping herbs.
In this film, old and new New York came together on a plate at Exchange Alley, Gerard’s “three-chord cuisine” a tribute to the blues-based, three-chord progression that mirrors his straightforward approach to food, where simple ingredients and bold flavors sing together. His kitchen is full of sound, the slice of a knife or clash of silverware cutting through like music of its own. And from the four-foot length of stove and counter come delicately roasted tomatoes, braised chicken, lasagna edges, and charred kale.
While much of the New York food scene is about salvaging the old, Gerard focuses
instead on preserving it, pulling inspiration from rockers of yore and all the cooks who have stood beside him. At Exchange Alley it all came together in your face, “like a Ramones song.”
So now that Exchange Alley has sung its swan song what’s next? The world is going to be seeing a lot more of Paul Gerard. Expect it to rock too!