A celebrated pastry chef and cookbook author, Claudia Fleming is one of the most respected pastry chefs in the country and we are proud to call this pastry legend a member of our alumni! Before studying pastry in Paris or creating an award-winning pastry program at Gramercy Tavern, Chef Claudia Fleming got her first taste of the hospitality world as a server, cook, and pastry assistant at Union Square Cafe from 1987-1990. Read on for Chef Fleming’s beautiful reflections on her time with us.
“More of a favorite feeling than memory was the sense of community that was baked into the environment at Union Square Cafe. It was the beginning of a revolution in the restaurant industry. Danny didn't just preach enlightened hospitality at Union Square Cafe, he lived it—as did all of us who had the privilege of working there! He made us feel our opinions mattered and that together we could part of something great and as it turned out, we were! Danny was part of the team and one of my most vivid memories was constantly chasing him down in the dining room begging him not to clear tables...the owner didn't clear tables, at least that was my experience! But, for Danny, helping the team and the guests were paramount.
After years working the FOH in many restaurants, I became seduced by the kitchen. Unwilling to give up guest interaction cold turkey (I loved anticipating guest needs and trying to make them happy), I worked both FOH and BOH at Union Square Cafe on Saturdays. I was charged with the garde-manger station during an insanely busy and long lunch service, then went onto the floor to wait tables for a crazy busy dinner service. I'd be in the locker room trying to refresh myself and put on my hospitality hat while my colleagues were yelling that my station was being sat! They covered for me of course, but it was both stressful and exhilarating and I felt such a sense of accomplishment.
My days at Union Square Cafe forever informed my sense of what working in a restaurant could and SHOULD be. Those were such exciting, heady, and happy days...I loved them!!!”