Chef Michael White is an XXL, former high school offensive left tackle from Beloit, Wisconsin. Erin Fetherston is a California-born, Paris-trained fashion designer who wears a size zero and occasionally models the lacy, feminine dresses in her eponymous line. But they have a few things in common, starting with a New York City address. That’s because White’s latest restaurant, The Butterfly, is directly below Fetherston’s design studio. And when The Butterfly opens this spring, the female staffers will wear Fetherston’s elegant black aprons with sky-blue ruffles.
White understands how food and fashion can intersect. At his flagship restaurant, the luxurious Italian seafood spot Marea, he feeds fashion-industry powerhouses like model Heidi Klum and designer Jason Wu. The good-natured chef debunks the cliché that fashion people don’t eat. “Carine Roitfeld,” says White, naming the former Vogue Paris editor in chief who launched CR Fashion Book. “Her favorite thing in the world is the sea urchin and lardo toast at Marea.” Fetherston also likes food. She and her boyfriend, Gabe Saporta—the front man for the band Cobra Starship—frequently cook together. “I put him on omelet duty,” says Fetherston. “That’s the test of a great chef, right? He makes a mean omelet. So he passed my chef test.”
Recently, Fetherston and White decided to throw a party together to celebrate the upcoming opening of The Butterfly, and to preview its Midwestern-inspired menu. Because neither Fetherston nor Saporta eat meat, White focused on vegetable dishes. One of these is his terrific version of artichoke dip, baked with panko bread crumbs and Parmigiano-Reggiano and topped with crispy shallots. For another dip, White pureed sun-dried tomatoes with olives and capers, a recipe inspired by his mother. At The Butterfly, White will serve potpies with seasonal fillings; for Fetherston’s dinner party, the chef opted for mushrooms and butternut squash, with a topping of tender Parker House dough like his great-grandmother made.
While White cooked, Fetherston readied her apartment for guests like Andrew Bevan, an editor at Teen Vogue, and Tom Palmer, who produces her fashion shows. “A fashion show is similar to a dinner party,” she says. “You have to have a concept, you have to understand timing and you have to think about all the details.” When Fetherston plans dinners, the first thing she thinks about is the flowers. “Boy, am I lucky with flowers,” she says. Her hero is Jeff Leatham, the man behind the incredible floral displays at the Four Seasons Hotel George V in Paris. “He taught me to be brave with them and not treat them like they’re too precious. I’m always in a good mood when I’m playing with flowers.”
In the kitchen, Fetherston usually tries to make food healthier—she’s been experimenting with coconut oil, inventing a recipe for silver-dollar-size coconut pancakes. But she approved of the dessert that White and his pastry chef, Bob Truitt, devised for her dinner: over-the-top blondie sundaes with a super-rich caramel sauce and candied nuts. The sundaes are the antithesis of healthy, but Fetherston loved them. And the colors even matched her dress.
The Butterfly Supper Club and Cocktail Bar, 225 W. Broadway, New York City; altamareagroup.com.
Cocktails for the Butterfly
Drinks will be big at The Butterfly, promises Michael White. Overseeing the bar is mixologist Eben Freeman (left, teaching White how to make a Brandy Old-Fashioned). “I want to bring back the drinks from my parents’ era, but really well done,” Freeman says. “We’ll serve a Tom Collins, but with kaffir lime.” He plays with the classic Old-Fashioned, making a syrup with maraschino cherries—at The Butterfly he uses all-natural ones—and adding club soda as an unconventional finish.