City Grit's Sarah Simmons: "We Are Moving Into a New Location"
In part one of our interview with City Grit's Sarah Simmons, the chef talked about who inspires her, divulged an underrated kitchen tool, and said she wished snarky hostesses would just go away. Here in part two, she talks about a time she ate until she was going to die, discloses what New York City restaurants she should sign her paycheck over to, and reveals what's next for her--including a big move.
What's the most underrated restaurant in New York City? Louro, Dave Santos' new-ish restaurant. For sure. His review [in the New York Times] didn't read like a one-star review. It was way more positive--Pete Wells seemed way more excited than one star.
Who's the most underrated culinary figure in New York City? Maybe it's Dan Kluger. He practices what he preaches to the ultimate degree. I guess he gets a lot of press, though. Maybe it's Ashley Christensen. She does some of the best Southern food in the country, and a lot of people know that. But as a restaurateur, she's opening six restaurants in three years, and that's amazing.
At what New York restaurant do you celebrate a special night out? Gramercy Tavern. If I'm spending my own hard-earned money, that's a safe bet, and it's always going to be amazing. If I had a paycheck, I would write it directly to Gabe Stulman [at the Little Wisco restaurants] and ABC because I eat at those places all the time.
What's your guiltiest pleasure? I've been traveling a lot lately, and I've been collecting potato chips in all of these countries. Shrimp cocktail potato chips from London are awesome. Cocktail sauce and saltine crackers is a favorite snack of mine, and this is like that but in chip form.
What's your favorite meal to cook at home? Two eggs every morning, because that is the only thing I've cooked in my house in 2013. On Thursday nights, I stand in the walk-in with a satchel and throw quart containers in it, and then later throw them in the microwave and eat them. If you opened my refrigerator, you'd think I was a 21-year-old college boy. I still plate stuff, though.
What's the most memorable meal you've eaten? I had a dinner at Hog and Hominy last fall. It was memorable because I had to stop eating because I was going to die. I wore my fat jeans, and I don't finish anything that I don't love. And I couldn't stop eating, even though when you're already full, the food is never as good as it should be. We got to the end and they brought us this Parmesan gelato. I was like, "That sounds disgusting." But I was stabbing people with a fork to keep them away while I ate it with a spoon. My heart was racing because I was so full. I'm still so excited about it and in love with it.
What do you wish you could put on your menu, regardless of how it would sell? We're eventually going to do brunch, and I want to do a dish called "greens, eggs, and ham." I'm pretty sure it's not going to be a fast seller, but it's my goal for people to be talking about it. I've gone through about 15 iterations of what that looks like. I started with sautéed greens and ham (and went through about 27 iterations of that) with poached or sunnyside-up eggs. Then I said, "Let's be more creative." So maybe it will be hangover food, like ramen or pozole. It would be cool to have a dish that's fun to say but helps cure the hangover.
What music is best to cook to? I love rap. I really love it. But anything that gives you a pep in your step, like the '60s, '70s, and '80s Pandora station.
What one tip would you offer amateur cooks looking to improve their cooking? Travel. People get so hung up on skills, which is important if you want to learn professionally, but if you want to not follow recipes, understanding flavor in a variety of dishes is a way to take home cooking to next the next level.
What do you wish you could tell your line-cook self? Don't be an asshole.
What's your favorite dish on your menu right now? We do this play on patatas bravas with spicy Kewpie [mayonnaise], shredded nori, dehydrated uni, scallions, and topped with bonito. I think it's super fun, and the guests have really loved it. It's a fun surprise, and it's so simple.
What are your favorite local purveyors? Ag Local. It's a great company because it connects you with protein farmers that are local and sustainable. They take the work away from me and help connect guys who want to work with me. Tim Stark grows the best tomatoes I've ever had, and I'm from the South. I started using Gabe the Fish Babe, and I love how passionate she is about fish. It's fun to support a female.
What's the most challenging thing about working in the New York restaurant scene? I have not been on a date in a few years. It's hard. Meeting someone: when? And then when I do, I can go out with you August 21--unless a big client wants me to do something that night, and then I can't.
Describe your craziest night in the kitchen. There was a day when one of my cooks wasn't paying attention and hadn't perfectly portioned what we were serving that night. Then an investor added a table of eight. So I was like, "Be very careful with the pulled pork because we don't have enough of it." I walked out of the room, and when I walked back into the room, the cook was sitting at the table eating a family meal and eating meat. And I said, "What is that?" She'd made a bowl of the pulled pork. So we were short that night, and I lost my shit. We had to go to the freezer and find pulled pork that was vacuum-sealed and frozen. I'd made extra for an event, and we had to defrost a giant portion just to get three portions out. And then we had to start over the next day because I couldn't re-freeze the pork.
What's your proudest culinary moment? Being named one of Food and Wine's Greatest New Cooks with Alex Stupak, Justin Smillie, and other brand-name heavy-hitters. I started as a home cook, and that had been the story. But after this, it's kind of not relevant anymore. It's hard to charge the prices you have to when people think you're a home cook. This did a big favor for me.
What's your desert-island food? Chips and guacamole. Whenever I'm super-stressed, I just can't eat anything else. If I'm on the street chowing down on guac, you know something's wrong.
What's the most pressing food issue today? The fact that we're going to run out of it and no one seems to care. It's so sad.
What's always in your refrigerator at home? Spicy mayo: Sriracha and Kewpie. It's like crack.
What's the strangest thing you've ever eaten? I think maybe crickets.
Favorite food-related item to give as a gift? I would rather a boy show up with a leg of lamb instead of flowers. So that's what I want to do, maybe: show up with a leg of lamb.
What's next for you? We are hopefully moving into a new location in the next six months to a year. It's gonna be so awesome and everything we've ever wanted. Right now, we're giving a platform to chefs for getting in front of folks, but we're gonna take that to a whole other level. We're elevating the artisan food-maker, wine, and cocktails.
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