Elegance Meets Efficiency

The best kitchens are where people congregate
and connect. And yes, also cook.

By Tina Dahir

Photo courtesy of Shawn Donovan/Concept 8

Photo courtesy of Shawn Donovan/Concept 8

What does a real estate developer, entrepreneur, author, and food connoisseur have in common with luxury residential development? Meet Henry Lambert and you’ll quickly find out. His latest venture, Clark Townhomes, features luxury $1M residential townhouses, mere footsteps from Cameron Village, that are changing the way we think about city living and eating. Here, Lambert marries his passions for cooking and urban developmental design with a touch of epicurean excellence.

Midtown: When did your passion for cooking begin?
Henry Lambert:
It was 1976, and I was supposed to develop a space under the 59th Street Bridge in New York City. I went down to Little Italy and saw a store called Raffetto’s— a popular store in the area that sold fresh pasta. [It gave me] an idea that I thought was interesting, so I looked in the yellow pages and bought several pasta machines. I saw a cheese store that was going out of business and made a deal with the owner to store the pasta equipment in the back of the cheese store. And, I called my idea Pasta & Cheese.

Fast-forward 10 years: You now have several Pasta & Cheese retail stores that have become a national wholesale business, and you sell your company to Nestle for $57M (rebranded as Buitoni). Where does that spirit of entrepreneurship and your willingness to take risks come from?
It begins where an idea meets opportunity. I saw long lines of people waiting for fresh pasta in San Francisco and there were no places to get fresh pasta where people lived in New York City, except for Little Italy. It seemed like an interesting gamble. I took the company public after a $40K investment. In this instance, it was a gamble that paid off.

It did. But, during that time you never quit your job in real estate. Today, you have real estate developments in San Francisco, San Diego, Denver, and France. And, most recently, you’ve added luxury developments across the Triangle. What elements make your residential developments luxurious?
Comfort. Natural light. Smart design. Green living. My philosophy is that every building should always have a second elevator. And, because I love to cook, I believe in better kitchens. People always use their kitchen as a place to congregate and connect. And, yes: eat. I pay attention to how elegance and efficiency can make kitchen design functional. You don’t have to look at your appliances: Instead, have an appliance garage and accentuate the architecture and design of where you live. It’s all in the details. 

How have you have taken your passion for cooking into the kitchens of your latest development?
People want to have choices, and I think that the world is different now. You have to [design kitchens] so that people sit close to where the food is being prepared. When I was growing up, you didn’t see countertops; people had a [formal] dining room. This is not the world we live in anymore. You have to arrange living spaces that meet people where they want to be met—how they like to prepare food and eat. I don’t want to build a kitchen that is not functional or easily used. 

You have written two cookbooks: Pasta & Cheese: The Cookbook and, most recently, The Kitchen Sleuth. How do you create your recipes?
I write cookbooks because I don’t write my own recipes: I collect them. For instance, I just got a recipe for a coconut sauce with curry after calling the chef 20 times. That didn’t work; so finally I said, “What if I come to Puerto Rico and take a cooking class from you?” And, that is how I got that recipe. Life is a series of learning from other people, from what inspires them. That is what inspires me.

Will you ever retire?
When you do what you love, you’re never “retired.” I wouldn’t know what I would do with myself. 

Photo by Joe Reale

Photo by Joe Reale