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Eva Hagberg / May 2010

Food Arts presents the May 2010 Silver Spoon Award for sterling performance to AvroKO, a New York City–based design firm that has spearheaded a restaurant-world revolution with their historically conscious yet ahead-of-the-times aesthetic and holistic approach to the increasingly congruent worlds of food and design.

Kristina O'Neal, William Harris, Adam Farmerie, and Greg Bradshaw founded AvroKO in 2000 in order to produce the Nolita restaurant Public. As AvroKO they were involved in every nuance of the restaurant, they picked the chef—Adam's brother Brad, who was attracted to riffs on Australian-inflected nostalgic cuisine—oxtail and snail ravioli or sticky toffee pudding—and figured out everything from the financing to the menu typeface. Since the success of Public—which ushered in an aesthetic era that prized exposed filament bulbs, dark leather, and cues from an idealized version of a past—AvroKO re-created the success, but not the aesthetic, with other New York City restaurants such as the fluid Park Avenue (Summer, Autumn, Winter, Spring), where menus and interiors are totally transformed in lockstep with the season; fashion-inspired The Stanton Social with its striking herringbone-patterned wine bottle wall; and Midtown steak haven Quality Meats.

Last year, AvroKO finished their second self-propelled project, the Bowery restaurant Double Crown, where menu and physical ambience summon up Raj era ghosts of the far-flung British colonies and with it pushed their phantasmagorical conversation forward. Neon signs and elephant chain sculptures share space with a white-painted dining room that could just as easily be a colonial cricket club as the hip downtown restaurant it is, and it's all part of the theater. "We were enthralled by the idea that there could be a space that at once felt somewhat colonial and in which something new was created out of that relationship," explains Farmerie.

"If you wanted not to be transported, either by the food, or the space, or the light, or the complete experience, you'd stay home and chop carrots," says O'Neal. "People go out for sustenance, but the desire is also to have some type of experience which is transformative," Farmerie concurs.

It's here that the architect/designer split proves so helpful. "We had two traditional architects who were totally concerned with form and space and line and materiality," O'Neal explains, "and two of us who were really interested in story and concept, creating moments in architecture that were supportive of that concept." AvroKO's career, then, has been a continual dance between those two concepts, and with others: history, storytelling, Americana, fantasy.

AvroKO-designed restaurants, and four more are opening in New York City this year as well as one in Hong Kong and a W in Bangkok, are the ultimate expression of a public space created entirely to facilitate a private experience.