Special Sauce: Nobu Designer David Rockwell on the Perils of Pursuing Timeless Design

20170724-David-Rockwell-Brigitte-Lacombe-©-2014 copy.jpg

[Photograph: Brigitte Lacombe © 2014. Steak photograph: J. Kenji López-Alt]

Welcome back for part two of my Special Sauce interview with designer and architect David Rockwell. In this week's episode, David talks about what the initial design process for projects is like, and about some of the challenges he faces when talking to his clients: "One of the catchphrases for clients to say is, 'You know, I'd really like a timeless design.' Well, who would not like a timeless design? Timeless design has to be a result, not an intention. I think if you're afraid to go through timely to get to timeless, you end up with petrified."

As someone who was a consultant for many years before I started Serious Eats, I laughed really hard when he said that. And I asked him how he deals with the inevitable ego clashes in his line of work. He quoted Jack O'Brien, one of his favorite theater directors, in response: "'Don't put a hat on a hat.' From a design perspective I take that to mean, you don't want to engage in a project where everyone's going to do the same thing. If you have a client that feels like they know what they want visually, that's a little constricting. I'd rather work with a client who knows what they want emotionally, knows where they want to land."

I also got to ask David which person, living or dead, he'd most like to have lunch with (other than Frank Lloyd Wright). His answer was deceptively obvious: "I think Picasso would be more fun to sit and talk with and get him to scribble on a napkin. God, can you imagine?"

Anyone who can insightfully talk about Picasso, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and Nobu in a single conversation is definitely worth listening to.

Special Sauce is available on iTunes, Google Play Music, Soundcloud, Player FM, and Stitcher. You can also find the archive of all our episodes here on Serious Eats and on this RSS feed.

You Could Be on Special Sauce

Want to chat with me and our unbelievably talented recipe developers? We're accepting questions for Special Sauce call-in episodes now. Do you have a recurring argument with your spouse over the best way to maintain a cast iron skillet? Have you been working on your mac and cheese recipe for the past five years, but can't quite get it right? Does your brother-in-law make the worst lasagna, and you want to figure out how to give him tips? We want to get to know you and solve all your food-related problems. Send us the whole story at [email protected].