Jim Poris / November 2008
Food Arts presents the November 2008 Silver Spoon Award for sterling performance to Clark Wolf, the über consultant whose transformative vision has resonated throughout the hospitality industry for more than 25 years. As the brains and brawn behind the Clark Wolf Company, he's galvanized hotels—notably the Loews chain—to embrace an urbanity that draws an appealing mix of seasoned travelers and locals to their public spaces, built an f&b bridge between the homey and the chic for hotels and restaurants, fueled the small plates lobby menu movement, and helped boost the nearly extinct notion of artisanal American foods to a point of reverential acceptance. Indeed, his book American Cheeses—a work close to his heart, as he was the first to sell the goat cheeses of the seminal California artisan Laura Chenel when he started up the San Francisco branch of Napa Valley's Oakville Grocery so many years ago--will be published next month.
"If it's not about really good food and good business, then I don't want to do it," says Wolf.
Good food? No doubt about it. To wit: in Las Vegas, Wolf has vetted menus and operations for the likes of Rick Moonen and Hubert Keller at Mandalay Bay Resort and Bradley Ogden at Caesars Palace; set up the much-imitated Canal House and Grand Bar, and the Church Lounge at Grand Hotels in SoHo and TriBeCa (Manhattan), respectively; and helped conceive a string of paradigm-shifting spaces for Loews, ranging from The Gaucho Room at The Loews Miami Beach Hotel to the Ventana Room, Canyon Café, and Flying V Bar at The Loews Ventana Canyon Resort in Arizona. Should he need any more street cred—which he doesn't—Wolf could throw around projects from the 1980s like Arizona 206 and the Sign of the Dove in New York City; recite corporate clients like Quaker Oats, Heinz, and Starkist; or note food court operations from coast to coast.
"Some consultants come out of the kitchen, some from the front of the house, but I came out of the pantry," says Wolf of his start in retail gourmet shops in San Francisco in the 1970s. That experience evolved into running Barbara Kafka's Star Spangled Foods shop in New York City, where on the side he nurtured a consulting portfolio large enough for him to start his company in 1986.
Wolf exuberantly shares his insider's experience and knowledge, "continuing the public and professional conversation," as he says, as chair of the advisory committee to the food studies graduate programs Marion Nestle oversees at New York University, for which he also engineered the acquisition of the vast library of cookbooks and journals gathered by the late food journalist Cicely Brownstone; as a contributing authority to Food Arts; as a serial instigator of and participant in topical industry conferences; and as a fund-raiser for numerous charities.
"It's fun and compelling to bring different pieces and resources of the industry together," Wolf says. "Food's the most important topic in the world. Because without it, we're gone."