This is the kind of travel experience Phil Winser lives for: Touching down in Paris after a red-eye, making a beeline for the farmers' market straight from de Gaulle, stopping off for a café au lait, and spontaneously breaking bread with a group of farmers still dirty with soil from their crack-of-dawn market delivery.
"They filled our table up," Winser says, eyes gleaming. "They had out all of these cheeses and these amazing chutneys with bread and glasses of red wine at eight in the morning. There’s no better way to understand a culture than that."
Winser, along with his best mate and business partner, Ben Towill, have been circling the globe on adventures like this since the glass-plate doors of their first restaurant, The Fat Radish, opened in 2010. The eatery lured New York City’s fashion set to the then-nether region of the Lower East Side, and launched the pair into high-demand. Since then, Winser and Towill have opened two more Manhattan restaurants, and their catering company, Silkstone, has been commissioned for a flurry of impossibly chic events. Most recently, the team released a stunning cookbook featuring dishes from the The Fat Radish's ever-evolving menu. They also have a fourth eatery in the works, amidst rumors of an out-of-town hotel project (though Winser says nothing is confirmed).
Veering further into the travel world would make sense for Winser. His father was the director of the Royal Geographic Society, organizing honest-to-goodness expeditions to far-flung locations like the Brunei rainforest and Kora National Park in northern Kenya. Starting at age 5, he would visit his dad during his weeks-long stints away from home. "We lived in such an amazing way, it gave me the bug," he said of his globetrotting.
Due to severe dyslexia, Winser did not pick up new languages easily. But, on these family voyages, he was able to connect with strangers over dinner. "I love the idea of bringing people around the table to share a meal. Even if you can’t really communicate, you end up communicating through food."
That’s the vibe he hopes shines through in his restaurants, events, and the new cookbook — the simple, authentic bonhomie of a meal made with whatever is at hand, shared among friends made on the road.
"It's this idea that you never stop exploring," he continues. "The key thing is just giving it a go and not being afraid of failure. It's an enjoyment for life — just getting people around a table."
So, what of exploring a project beyond the Big Apple? Winser — who could be a boyish, dirt-under-the-nails version of the hotel magnate André Balazs — says they’re not there yet.
"In the future, we'll see. I would love to do something outside of the city, in a bit more nature. I love New York City, but it's as important to build in some time to get your hands dirty in nature as it is to have fancy dinner parties."
In the meantime, he's gotten pretty good at throwing those fancy dinner soirees. In Shanghai this month, he, Towill, and their longtime chef, Nick Wilbur, created a three-course meal to fête the grand opening of Tory Burch’s new flagship mega-store. Adhering to their strict, locally sourced ethos, they scoured the Asian city’s markets for the makings of strip steak with a golden beet, sweet-potato mash, and duck-fat fries.
"It’s quite tricky translating it. But, you just try to find the best ingredients you can and use what’s available," Winser says.
Indeed, it is that guiding principle that has led to his and Towill's success, and they intend to adhere to it with any future projects that may arise — in New York City, or beyond.