Art, food and design are synonymous with life in New York City, especially, if you’re Ryan Korban, Michael King and Lauren Levinger. King and Levinger developed the popular website www.thefood-life.com to extol the virtues of cuisine and culinary arts in New York City. And, Korban, is expanding his creative genius as an interior designer. Together, these three friends and “tastemakers” discuss their collaborative efforts, their current projects and how the flavors of art, culture and design intermingle in a spicy interview for The GROUND.
New York City is an enigmatic, eclectic mix of tastes, cultures, and creativity. Culture creators and bohemians have flocked to NYC for decades, to take a bite out of the Big Apple and collaborate with other like-minded wunderkinds. It’s Woody Allen’s town and you can play any character that suits your fancy, any role that stirs your stew. And as three friends have discovered, artistic collaboration in the city that never sleeps can bring an amazing idea to fruition.
Three friends, Ryan Korban, Michael King and Lauren Levinger, all met in New York City working in their respective fields of interior design, fashion, beauty and food. And if there’s anything that Ryan, Michael and Lauren have discovered in their years as bona fide New Yorkers, is that food and the culinary experience can infuse itself into any industry and any art form and every social experience.
Ryan, a successful interior designer, encouraged Michael and Lauren to pursue their passion for food, culture and art. The two developed a website, initially as just a fun project, that focused on their love of food.
While working in the fashion and beauty industry, Michael and Lauren came together around their love for the culinary world, creating the website www.thefood-life.com. The website has since become a go-to guide for good eats in New York City, as well as an insight into the food lives of celebrities and noted New Yorkers. On their website, the two talk, eat, and cook with foodies such as Alexander Wang, Curtis Kulig, Nicole Richie, and Jenne Lombardo, as well as with restaurants like The Meatball Shop and the Roebling Tea Room.
The duo dives into the lives of “tastemakers” and collaborates a type of food story around the interests of their subject. “It could be about health, it could be about decorating, it could be about creating an ambiance when you’re going to entertain, anything,” explained Lauren.
Ryan Korban, a noted interior designer and close friend of Michael and Lauren, got his start at the New School studying European art and history. He said he realized his passion for interiors after designing a collaborative boutique, Edon Manor; thus, opening the door for his prominent interior design business. Ryan, Michael, and Lauren met while in school, beginning their friendship and collaborating their interests.
The GROUND brought these three young New York professionals together to sit and talk about their interests, visions, pasts, and futures.
In terms of what each of you do in your various fields, how are your interests combined into a cohesive vision? Is it the food specifically, or the atmosphere around food and entertainment that binds your interests together?
Michael King: It’s not about what our subjects eat in particular, more about how food is incorporated into their lives. I think that in terms of decorating and ambiance, food is something that can create an atmosphere.
Ryan Korban: I see myself as someone who creates environments, whether that environment is an entertaining environment, someone’s personal home, a store, or a showroom. The most successful environments are those that touch all senses. It takes many ingredients to keep a space alive; it’s a living environment.
So you guys are basically looking at a fashionable lifestyle. In a way, that’s what you sell; you’re trying to show someone the lifestyle they want – from food to decoration.
Ryan: I’m trying to convince people I have good taste, and then charge them for it.
Michael: I think our audience and Ryan’s audience is somewhat different, because we don’t have a customer, per say. Ryan provides a service, and we, in a way, are trying to provide an inner view to a broad audience, around entertainment and environment.
You are all somewhat in the fashion industry, how does that play into your website and inspiration for design? What are your various approaches to fashion?
Michael: Fashion itself doesn’t really play into the site. However, because of my background, I have a lot of access to fashion industry people. We see them as interesting, that’s why we feature them.
Lauren Levinger: We were all drawn to New York for a reason. I come from California, it’s very laid back and there’s fashion to an extent, but nothing compared to here. I was drawn here by something, and I think that fashion was ultimately one of those things.
Ryan: Fashion is very integrated into what I do. I design stores, and I need to create an environment that makes people want to consume within it. The reason I’m so into fashion is because I’m very interested in luxury brands and fashion labels, I find the extension of a brand’s interior so fascinating, and I love extracting a designer’s sensibility for creating an environment.
Who do you look up to in terms of interior design among the major luxury brands?
Ryan: Yves St. Laurent and Pierre Berger. I think Lanvin and Tom Ford do an amazing job of creating an environment to shop within. Tom Ford creates a sexy environment, and I think a huge factor that drives fashion is sex. The interior design world is really missing that. Oh, and Ralph Lauren. Nobody can sell taste better than Ralph Lauren; he is the epitome of understanding how important an environment is.
What about you, Michael and Lauren, what are your influences; who do you look up to in your field or in general?
Lauren: We both love Nancy Meyers. She creates environments.
Michael: I think that’s how I became obsessed with wanting to open a bakery or restaurant to begin with. Nancy Meyers is the writer and director of Something’s Gotta Give, and more recently, It’s Complicated. She’s so particular about her sets, and they’re so inspirational for us. The way she makes everything so desirable in an unpretentious way is amazing. I think that’s sort of what we’re trying to do: our site is very clean, very aesthetically pleasing, and very easy to navigate.
Ryan, you’ve been considered an anti-minimalist; you definitely like to fill up a space. Your work seems very fashionable because you are dressing a space in a way, would you agree?
Ryan: People want to live the way they dress. There are so many friends of mine who I consider to be so glamorous and dressed so well; I go to their house and I think, “oh my god this place is a dump.” I’ve had a lot of influence in trying to dress my friends’ homes. I think the great thing about NYC is that you can come here and be whoever you want to be. The bad thing is, there’s a lot of smoke and mirrors. Its one of the few towns where you can go out every night and have your picture taken, be in the perfect outfit and go back to a dump in the Lower East Side.
Michael: And have to put your cashmere sweaters in the oven because you don’t have enough space.
Ryan: I think I’ve always been very curious of interior because I love fashion, but there was something about fashion that didn’t seem substantial enough. I like looking at someone as a full package, not just what they look and dress like, but the way they live, the linens they choose, the soap that’s next to their sink. You really start to see someone’s taste when you enter their home.
Is it really organic the way you design a space?
Ryan: You get two types of clients: the client who wants to hire you for you, and the client who wants to have more of a collaboration with you. It’s fun when someone comes to you and says, “We want what you do.” It’s much more challenging when someone has their own aesthetic, but those projects are the best because I learn from my client and take away something from every project. People always ask me what my favorite room in a house is, and it’s the room that doesn’t feel necessary. It’s the entryway, powder room, conservatory, terrace; it’s excess.
Lauren and Michael, where do you stand on collaboration?
Michael: Every single one of our stories is collaborative.
Lauren: A lot of the time people we interview will come to us and say things like, “I have a garden every summer and it would be great if you guys came and photographed it before everything bloomed, then we can eat all of the produce after it’s grown.” That’s from someone who you would never think knew how to use a shovel.
Ryan: But the fascinating thing is that everyone eats, so it doesn’t matter if they’re eating McDonald’s or what. That’s the same thing with interior, you might not have a nice interior, but everyone sleeps on a bed, everyone sleeps on sheets.
Being in New York, you’ve all been confronted with different cultures in food and design. What’s your approach to culture; is there a specific culture or era that you really like working with?
Ryan: French 1940s and Italian 1970s design. Add a little fur on top of that. That’s the secret, don’t tell, or I won’t make money. These two eras have always been the biggest inspiration for me.
Michael: We have favorite foods and favorite cultures, but with this site, there is no limit. The broader, the better for us to give our readers and visitors a well-rounded experience. We feature different kinds of cuisines; that’s the whole point of food – you can explore.
Ryan: That’s what makes the world go ’round. My father is from Lebanon, so I was around Lebanese food my whole life. The one thing we can all share with each other is food. You can share your political views, but that always gets sticky… you could share your libido, that’s always fun… but what you can really share is your food.
The theme of our issue is time. What can you tell us about your vision of time, your vision of the past, of the future, based on what you do, how you feel, and how you incorporate it in your lives?
Lauren: People are learning more and more about food, and it’s becoming an adventure for everybody to go places and try new things; there’s so much media attention around food. I think it’s an exciting time for us to be getting involved with food. The time is right.
Michael: There’s a huge interest in educating people about food, what they eat, and what they put into their bodies. People are going to be more and more educated about what they put in their mouth. Like the greenhouse farms on our rooftops in the city, or the local co-ops; all these things are just going to get bigger and more accessible to people. So, that’s one aspect of it. There’s also another aspect of it, such as when magazines like New York Magazine, do cheap eats issues, which incorporate food trucks and things. And obviously the high-end aspects of it, with huge restaurants opening that are backed by celebrity chefs, with more and more media around food.
Lauren: Exposure is different than actual talent, and I think that people can decipher between those two things.
Ryan: I think that there are people who want attention and want to be famous, and people who want to be recognized for their work and celebrated for it. We are unfortunately in a time when people would rather be in the spotlight, have their picture taken, have people talking about them for whatever reason, and the people who deserve to be recognized and celebrated for their work seem to be fewer and farther between. But, people will start craving talent again, when nobody is A-list and everybody is just C.
Michael: When everybody’s famous, nobody’s famous.
The GROUND issue #02