Life has softened Chef John DeLucie like buttah! Twenty years ago, he was a single man and journeyman chef, riding his bike through Greenwich Village on a spring afternoon. He stumbled upon a vacant restaurant property that captured his fancy. What has transpired since has seen the city, his place in it, and the way people view macaroni and cheese, transformed.
“I want to create an ambient space that provides people with decent food and a good vibe.” Those words capture the trajectory of his new role as a restaurant owner and working parent.
DeLucie’s number came in when he co-founded The Waverly Inn on a tranquil corner in the Village with former Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter. The defunct beef and carbs go-to for a past generation re-opened after nine months of painstaking work, with no telephone number and a mimeographed menu. The rest, as they say, is restaurant lore. DeLucie and Carter built it and they came – the rich and the famous – in droves. An inadvertent shaving of white truffle atop a dish of baked macaroni and cheese ignited the NY food press and started a craze. “If they had Instagram back then, we would have broken it,” chuckles DeLucie. The “soft launch” became de rigueur for eateries that wanted to discretely tiptoe into the scene. And a chef’s career was born.
Like many who toil in his field, DeLucie has put his simple, Italian-inspired fingerprints on more than a handful of restaurants across his roller coaster ride through kitchens, including The Lion, Empire Diner, Bedford and Company, Bill’s, The Windsor, and the King Cole Bar at the St. Regis Hotel.
Today, his time is occupied by the biggest game-changer of his career, one he admittedly waited a long time until it was just right. “This kid is remarkable,” he says of young Seppe, whom he shares full working parent responsibility with his wife, Julia Chien, an executive at Bergdorf Goodman. “It all falls into place, all those years of working in the trenches. It suddenly makes sense,” he says, fielding calls and organic baby formula over breakfast at his usual morning spot, Seppe in tow.
DeLucie and Julia count themselves as part of the new parenting hoi polloi, navigating all the joys and stressors of raising an active 9-month old in a cramped and bustling city. “I’ll be the first to admit, it takes a village,” says Chien, “and I’m the lucky one to have John as my village. He has blossomed to be an even more amazing man than the one I fell in love with 7 years ago.”
To hear John tell it, the couple are clearly members of the mutual admiration society. “I just try to make a good meal and a good experience for people,” DeLucie says. “Julia is out there working her job, going to meetings, putting out fires, doing it all, and then she comes home and it is all about the family. New York is a tough town. What she does is just phenomenal to me.”
Watching the chef handle his parenting role on a spring morning, it is clear that his passion for food has evolved since the days of THE HUNGER. “I used to lose sleep over a piece of fish. You felt judged. You waited for the reviews. Now if I’m losing sleep?” He looks down at his son. DeLucie looks tired, like any new parent. The reviews are forthcoming. But to judge by the vibe in his small New York apartment, they are going to be rave.