Gray Kunz, the beloved New York chef behind Lespinasse, Cafe Gray and Salt & Char, has died at the age of 65. During his illustrious culinary career, Kunz created his own spoon while running the kitchen at Lespinasse.
On the morning of March 6, a statement appeared on The Upper House’s website reading, “We are greatly saddened to learn of the passing of our friend and colleague Gray Kunz. In a career that spanned more than four decades over three continents, he was revered as the Chefs’ Chef. His contribution to Swire Hotels, and the wider culinary world, is immeasurable. More than ten years of collaboration on Café Gray Deluxe in Hong Kong, and later in Shanghai, further strengthened both our friendship and respect. Gray was an integral part of the success not only of The Upper House and The Middle House but of Swire Hotels as a whole. The thoughts and prayers of his Swire Hotels family and team are with his loved ones during this time.”
During his illustrious career, Kunz operated Cafe Gray in the Time Warner building in New York City between 2004 and 2008. in 2009, Kunz opened Cafe Gray in Hong Kong. More recently, Kunz opened Salt & Clar in 2016 before leaving the restaurant the same year.
Kunz Credited His Asian Origins & European Upbringing As Having a Profound Effect on His Cooking Style
Kunz was a native of Singapore and was raised in Switzerland. In a bio on his official website, Kunz’s diverse upbringing is credited with influencing his taste for “esoteric flavors.” The profile says, “The Asian influences are evident, as is the luxury and contemporary style that have become hallmarks of modern Swiss business, and of course the impeccable preparation of French fine dining.”
In a 2007 interview with the Institute of Culinary Education, Kunz said that he regarded himself as a New Yorker. Despite this, Kunz said that he still regarded Switzerland as his home. Kunz said that his Swiss qualities are “solidness, the trustworthiness, the aspect of when I say something, I do it. The way I think, influenced by my schooling, my upbringing, and my dad, is say less and deliver more.”
Kunz said that his mother contributed to his more artistic side. A Gawker profile on Kunz referred to him as being “reserved, quiet, unnervingly focused, and an intense perfectionist.”
Kunz Said His Move to New York Was the Culmination of His Global Food Education
Kunz learned his trade studying under the legendary chef Fredy Giradet in Bern, Switzerland. Kunz told New York Magazine in December 2003 that he worked under Giradet for five years. Then, Kunz spent time honing his craft in Hong Kong where he cooked at The Regent Hotel. Kunz said of this time, “When I left there. I felt as comfortable with the Chinese palate as with the French.” Following those stints, Kunz went to set up shop in New York City in 1989. Kunz’s first job in the city was at the Peninsula Hotel.
When speaking to the Institute of Culinary Education in 2007, Kunz said that his move to New York was the “culmination” of his education in Europe and Asia. In the same interview, Kunz said that he owned a home in Upstate New York. Kunz added, “I need to get out of the city, in order to be able to cope with all the things that I have to cope with. Family is really something that’s very difficult for a chef to be able to maintain.”
Kunz Was Multi-Award Winning Chef, an Author & a Pilot
Among the awards that Kunz won in lifetime included Best American Chef and Best Chef in New York City, both awarded by the James Beard Foundation. Kunz also co-authored the 2001 book, “The Elements of Taste.” In a 2004 feature in The New York Times, Kunz said that the money from the book, which he co-authored with Peter Kaminsky, was going to aid him in setting up his next project.
Away from the kitchen, Kunz was an enthusiastic pilot, flying a two-seater plane.
Kunz told The New York Times in 2004 that during his time training in Switzerland, his wife, Nicole, supported the family, including their two children, through her job at the United Nations International School. Gawker said in a profile that Kunz and his wife lived in a townhouse in the Cobble Hill section of Brooklyn, New York, with their two cads.