Steven Kamali: Broker to the Chefs


Nightlife and hotel impresario Steven Kamali had barely settled into a booth inside the Soho House last week when he was asked about his involvement with the well-known art gallerist Larry Gagosian’s rumored café at 980 Madison Avenue.

The question drew a nervous laugh from the 31-year-old Roslyn native, who for the past 10 years has left his distinctive mark on both the Manhattan and Hamptons hospitality scene. The question also caused a friend of his who had joined the interview to abruptly leave the booth, perhaps to let Mr. Kamali face the music alone.

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“I can tell you we are consulting with the Gagosian Gallery, and we’re helping him curate a restaurant concept for their venue at 980 Madison Avenue,” said Mr. Kamali, in a tone so casual and cool it made us forget the uncomfortable moment minutes earlier.

What had been known about Larry Gagosian’s new cafe—at least from public documents filed with the city Department of Buildings—was that it would be a multistory storefront designed by Annabelle Selldorf in the RFR Realty-owned building. If realized, the new storefront would be one-part restaurant, one-part retail space that, according to insiders, would be a bookstore of some sorts.

Mr. Kamali would not comment further on the project, beyond it being a “restaurant” concept. There was bigger news afoot, he insisted. Mr. Kamali, who for the past 12 years has grown Steven Kamali Hospitality from a fledgling brokerage business for restaurants into a hotel and nightlife consultancy group that counts more than a dozen employees under his stead, was going to add another branch to his business: The Chef Agency.

The concept is simple. The Chef Agency will help hotels and restaurants across the globe fill out their kitchen staffs with the top five most important positions, from the executive chef to the general manager.

“Part of this is we’re connecting dots,” he said. “We would like to be the first call when the Four Seasons in Asia needs a new chef du cuisine,” he said.

The Chef Agency is still in a nascent state—the website is in beta form and its “proprietary” database of 2,500 chefs from across the globe is still being assembled. But once it launches, Mr. Kamali expects the new agency to have a far-reaching impact, with hotels across the globe enlisting his help to staff their kitchens with the most promising chefs in America and elsewhere.

“There are a number of hotels that are opening in the Middle East, Northern Africa,” he said. “Morocco’s got incredible development hotels … there’s demand there for talent.”