You mentioned the similarities with Black Eyed Susan’s. What are you going to be doing differently?
Black-eyed Susans, you have to play the line of summer crowd, so there were a lot of dishes on there that weren’t my style, like a rack of lamb, a couple basic pasta dishes—which were fine and they were delicious—and, you know, crab cakes…It was more appeasing the masses, the crowds in the summer time, whereas this will be much more food focused. Original, changing menus. I don’t want to say more fancy or whatever, but just more original. There won’t be crab cakes on my menu.
No question it’s highly creative and amazing cuisine at Black Eyed Susan’s, but there’s just some dishes you couldn’t get away from because we sold the shit out of them and people would rebel—like with gnocchi & lobster and our crab cake. Very basic dishes where if I were to do them, they’d be a little more focused [on the individual ingredients], I guess.
What kind of approach or philosophy then, will people be seeing from you?
Definitely, the menu is going to be dictated on a daily basis upon availability. It’s going to be hyper seasonal. I don’t want to call it hyper local because I will be sourcing from Lancaster and New Jersey a little bit. I am concerned though with those types of moral issues. It’s going to be more creative and thought provoking food. I want to do a lot of our own fermentation. We have a bar down here, so I have a guy making bitters, ginger beer, tonic. Everything from scratch, which is cool. In New Jersey, I didn’t have that bar aspect, which I’m super excited about. It really allows us to expand on the food because you can do wine pairing dinners, what have you.
It’s the next step in the evolution of what I want to do professionally. It’s the full package.
So, stepping back a bit, how are you adding then to both your experience at Black-eyed Susans where you were cdc and at Lord Baltimore where you were the chef?
They’re totally different in the sense that Lord Baltimore was definitely again, a demographic play. When you’re in those types of situations professionally where it’s all about money—you gotta source certain things because they’re at a certain price point, you gotta put certain things on the menu because you have a lot of older clientele not so much looking to explore as to eat a meal they’re familiar with, more or less. I think the same with Balck-eyed Susans. It’s an amazing restaurant, but at the same time, you’re at the mercy of your demographics. Crab cakes with potato brunoise and a salad is always going to on the menu because that’s what the demographic demands. Whereas down here, I don’t think it will be dictated like that as much. We’ll be able to change and evolve, to do something organically and not have to worry about having that crab cake on the menu. Especially this year—there was one point where crab was $27 per pound. They were essentially not even breaking even. We may have been losing money once you do the math. But Chris would have had a rebellion on his hands if he ever took those off the menu. I don’t think that’s going to be an issue down here.
Having that established farm community means farm-to-table is more familiar to people down there?
It’s also a niche too that hasn’t really been explored around here so much. There are some great restaurants around here. There’s Hari Cameron who owns a bunch of restaurants around town. He was put up for a James Beard award. There’s a big gay community around here which is great for dining because you know there are people that are going out to try new things, to have an experience, to do more than just put food in their belly. So demographically, we’re at a big advantage—not to mention it’s year round around here. If Black-eyed Susans was open right now, five people would go to eat. Whereas in the middle of winter here, we’re going to be fine. I’m walking around town, there’s people all over the place.
What are some cool things you’ll be doing at the restaurant?
We’re going to be doing a lot of whole animal butchery. I’m converting a refrigerator in our basement into a climate controlled charcuterie closet. We’re trying to have a nice, big wine program while having something like fifteen cheeses available all the time. I’m going to be doing a lot of charcuterie. Everything. Sausages, pates, terrines. Cured products of every shape and kind. I’m still baking bread [like the L.B.I. sourdough he made at Black Eyed Susan’s]. I’ll still be doing the sea salt but we’ll be doing [laughs] Cape Henlopen sea salt as opposed to Barnegat Light. My family is back in New Jersey, so the L.B.I. sea salt will continue next year but I’ll be doing it down here as well.
How close are you guys to opening?
We’re shooting for December 1st. I don’t foresee—yeah, five to six weeks out. They just had a meeting with the contractors.
Where are you at with the menu?
The menu is coming together quickly. Kitchen equipment will be delivered next week and I hope to get in the kitchen soon to start training, cooking, testing.
What are some things that you can preview?
For me as a chef in this particular situation, most people think about what kind of protein they’re gonna cook and then pick and choose vegetables and starches or whatever to put around it. I want to flip that philosophy on its head. I want to take whatever produce is at its peak, super in season and start backwards from there. I think the attention to the vegetables is what is going to make this restaurant distinctly different. Beef is available all year round. So is lamb. We live in a world where you can get whatever you want, whenever you want it. But if you walk away from that [getting things out of season] then you’re getting stuff that was picked yesterday at the farm, at its crispest, sweetest, juiciest and then work backwards from there—I think it’s going to make this restaurant a little more distinct.
Can you give an example of dish built that way?
One dish I’m working on is tentatively entitled brassicas. It’s going to be a conglomeration of all those things. It’s going to have pickled mustard, a rutabaga puree, sautéed cauliflower, Brussels sprouts. It’s going to be centered around that genus of plants. There’s also carrots around that are super delicious. Another dish I’m working on is goat yogurt and glazed carrots with pomegranate. There’s a guy who grows them down here. There’s a goat farm down here that’s making this super tangy, almost cheesy goat yogurt that’s super delicious. That’s sort of how I’m approaching the menu. Working with the vegetables and then taking a step back and then thinking protein-wise, what makes the most sense. What’s the most delicious.
I guess a lot of times, as in the case of the rutabaga puree if you’re pairing meat with it, you’re going to be using stock to bring it all together?
Or maybe you’re using a veg stock instead.
A lot of times, how I do it, I juice carrots so I’m cooking the carrots in carrot juice and then blending it together so it’s as carroty as carrots could possibly get. I do that with peas, broccoli—I’ll cook a lot of things in their juices. That way, it’s like broccoli on steroids or carrots on steroids. Really just highlight those flavors. As far as stock, I’ll usually highlight it with a super reduced stock of whatever protein I’m using. If it’s lamb, lamb jus. Beef, beef jus, etc.
The brassicas dish—that would be a veg plate only, though?
I don’t know. Right now, it’s a veg plate only.
They’re all cooked different ways? What’s the thinking there?
Exactly. Vegetable driven salads and dishes that stand on their own. And then, another one would be a dish I’ve been doing for awhile: beets five ways. So it’s a beet salad, but you have a roasted beet, a pickled beet, a pureed beet, beet microgreens, beet greens, and dehydrated beet chip or beet powder. Again, it’s basically just a celebration of that ingredient. For the beet salad, it won’t be anything but the most intense beet flavors you’ve ever had. And then I’ll highlight it with a cheese or a toasted nut.
But as you mentioned—whole animal butchery, acharcuterie cabinet, etc.—there’s def going to be a nice balance.
I’m gonna serve meat, for sure. I’m gonna have beef and foie—all those wonderful things.
What’s one dish where the protein highlight at the end is something other than yogurt or cheese?
Sous vide short rib will be on the menu. We’ll take high quality beef—we’re talking about getting quarters of beef. For the short-rib dish, what I have in mind is a celery root and apple puree based sauce with root vegetables. I’ll be doing the short ribs a little differently—that will be a very long sous vide. Not that overcooked, fall apart with a spoon short rib. It will be a melt away with your knife and melt in your mouth short rib that still has a little pink color and is handled a more delicately.