Grand Hyatt New York’s Daron Lee talks new brunch offerings, life as Chef du Cuisine, and more

by | Oct 10, 2016 | Dining

Grand Hyatt New York

Grand Hyatt New York’s New York Central

Although a premier location from a premier hotel brand, the Grand Hyatt New York is more than just a hotel. It is a popular meeting spot in Manhattan as it features more than 60,000 square feet of meeting space. Its food and beverage offerings recently expanded as its fine dining spot, New York Central, has changed up its menu. Chef Daron Lee recently joined the team, following time at Villard Michel Richard at The New York Palace Hotel, and a fun new “Boozy Brunch” has been added for late Saturday and Sunday risers.

Chef Daron — a Florida transplant — spoke with Downtown about New York Central, some of its changes and how he wound becoming Chef de Cuisine at the Hyatt. The hotel itself can be visited online at and followed on Twitter via @GrandHyattNYC.

Chef Daron Lee

Chef Daron Lee

How did the opportunity to join the Grand Hyatt New York team come about? Were you recruited? Had you worked with someone on the team before?

Daron Lee: New York is a very small world, and the chef I was succeeding was actually a classmate of mine from culinary school over 10 years ago with whom I never kept in touch.

Prior to becoming Chef de Cuisine, had you stayed at Grand Hyatt New York before?

DL: Although I was somewhat familiar with the Hyatt brand, I had never stayed at any of its hotels. Ironically, I always walked past the Grand Hyatt but never set foot in the property.

What was the first restaurant you had worked in?

DL: My first restaurant experience was at The Modern under chef Gabriel Kreuther. I spent three years there where I developed most of my fundamental cooking knowledge.

Chef Daron Lee

Chef Daron Lee

You are originally from Orlando. What led you to moving to New York?

DL: I graduated from the University of Central Florida with a degree in art, so naturally I came up to New York City. However, things changed and soon I found myself enrolling at the French Culinary Institute looking forward to a career in the kitchen.

Is there anything you miss about living in Orlando? Is there a great culinary scene down there?

DL: Not much to miss about Orlando except for the weather, in contrast to cold winters up north. 10 years ago, there was not much of a culinary scene and most of my gastronomic inspiration came from Iron Chef — the Japanese original — Great Chefs Of The World on the Discovery Channel, and the early days of the Food Network.

Most of the restaurants you have worked at seem to be located uptown. Did you ever come close to working at a downtown restaurant?

DL: The closest I have gotten to working downtown is Scarpetta in the Meatpacking District. Part of our culinary program at FCI, which is located in SoHo, included working in the school’s onsite full service restaurant L’Ecole, which is now closed. My favorite knife store, Korin, is actually located downtown in Tribeca on Warren Street, if that helps?

Chef Daron Lee

Chef Daron Lee

For someone who hasn’t yet dined at the Grand Hyatt New York, how do you describe the menu at your main restaurant?

DL: Our menu offers an eclectic variety of comfort foods inspired by the surrounding neighborhoods and cultures that make up the heart and soul of New York City using ingredients sourced locally and seasonally. We serve breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week including brunch on the weekends.

Do you have a favorite item on the menu?

DL: The grilled octopus is a great starter, and our burger is a good go-to. I’m very happy with a new addition to the menu, a jumbo lump crab cake, which we serve as an appetizer as well as a sandwich. I love any breakfast item with eggs, and for brunch it is a tie between the baked eggplant skillet and the Nutella French toast.

Where did the name of the Boozy Brunch come from?

DL: It was a quick collaboration within the Food and Beverage team, but most of the brunch cocktails were contributed by Jerome Wadell, one of our assistant outlet managers.

When not busy with your career, how do you like to spend your free time? Do you have any creative passions beyond the kitchen?

DL: Most of my free time now is devoted to my family, mostly my two-year old son, but I do — or did — enjoy visits to the Met, dining out, and traveling.

Hyatt aside, do you have a favorite restaurant in Manhattan?

DL: One of my most memorable meals was when I took my wife to La Grenouille for a birthday dinner; the classic French fare and service was just impeccable and transports you to another time. The Bar Room at The Modern — which is currently under renovation — is always good, and I can never turn down a Double Shack Burger.

Finally, Daron, any last words for the kids?

DL: Always show gratitude, appreciate the value of hard work, and don’t take life too seriously.

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