Fletcher's Brooklyn Barbecue's Matt Fisher: "This Town is Fiercely Competitive, and We're Insanely Lucky to be Cooking Here."
In part one of our interview with Fletcher's Brooklyn Barbecue pitmaster Matt Fisher, he talked about creating a style of barbecue unique to New York City and then weighed in on the food he just won't eat (fish), why he admires Kenny Shopsin, and the reason he uses cheap knives in his kitchen. Here, in part two of our interview, he talks about his guiltiest pleasure, the most challenging thing about working in New York Restaurants, and two meals that were equally memorable for very different reasons.
At what New York restaurant do you celebrate a special night out? Wolfgang's Steakhouse. Or dim sum, usually Jing Fong on Elizabeth.
What do you wish would go away? Small plates. I'm all about gluttony.
What's your guiltiest pleasure? Pretzel rods and the jars of salsa con queso you can get at the grocery store.
What's your favorite meal to cook at home? Chicken fajita tacos with my wife. That's the first dish I ever cooked for her.
What's the most memorable meal you've ever eaten? Roast chicken with lemon sage gravy with root vegetables that my wife made for me. And a rack of barbecue ribs I ate when I was 10 years old that gave me my first case of food poisoning. Those two meals are equally memorable for very different reasons.
What do you wish you could put on your menu, regardless of how well it would sell? Cold-smoked cured salmon--yes, despite the fact I don't eat fish. Growing up Jewish in NYC, bagels and lox were huge in my family's background, and my family is huge in my being a chef, so it makes sense to serve that.
What music is best to cook to? I love to cook to bluegrass; that's just the truth. Bill Monroe while I'm lighting the fire--those two things go together like hand and glove.
What one tip would you offer an amateur cook looking to improve his or her cooking? Taste everything and then season boldly. And ask questions.
What do you wish you could tell your line-cook self? It's not going to get any easier, but hang in there.
What's your favorite dish on your menu right now? Chili mac.
What are your favorite local purveyors? I love the people at the Meat Hook. Manhattan Food Exchange in Chelsea Market. And Pat LaFrieda. Kalustyan's. How could I have forgotten to say Kalustyan's? It's the best store on earth.
What's the most challenging thing about working in the New York restaurant scene? The noise. The media, the press, the buzz. Blocking all that stuff out. Trying to stay inspired and focused on important things and not lose yourself in the hype or expectations. This town is fiercely competitive, and we're insanely lucky to be cooking here. It's easy to lose sight of what a tremendous gift it is to do what we do.
On the next page: "What the fuck else can go wrong?"
Describe your craziest night in the kitchen. I was in one of my restaurants, which shall remain nameless, and we'd just opened. All the refrigeration went down. Then we had this convection steam oven with a glass door, and 15 minutes into service, someone smashed the door. And then the health department came in. It was 7 p.m. on a Friday. It was the first week, and everything was fucked up. Now I feel like that's kind of typical, but at the time, it was like, "What the fuck else can go wrong?"
What's your proudest culinary moment? Cooking for Bill Clinton and opening Fletcher's. Those two are tied. Both of those were hugely amazing moments. President Clinton ate pulled pork, burgers, and cheeseburgers, and he took extra to go. He had, like, a fourth serving.
What's your desert-island food? Pizza and root beer. Pizza from John's of Bleecker Street served in, like, 1975. Wait, was John's even open in 1975? I don't know; John's in the old days.
What's the most pressing food issue today? Safety. As the food chain funnels through fewer and fewer outlets and things get more stacked upon each other, and animals are created, and run-off from feces flows into the field, it gets really scary. And the solution is not to add chemicals and radiate things and preserve them. We need to come up with solutions that are less impactful to the planet and less harmful to the food chain. We really seriously need to look at what we're doing with food.
Favorite food-related item to give as a gift? Homemade pickles or barbecue. Few people are disappointed when you give them barbecue.
You can have anyone in the world cook for you. Who is it, and what are they making? My dad making, well, anything. Spaghetti and meatballs, maybe. My dad is, like, the best cook ever. He got me cooking when I was five or six. He was never in the business; he was a lawyer.
What's next for you? More barbecue. Other than that, I don't know.
Read part one of our interview with Fletcher's Brooklyn Barbecue pitmaster Matt Fisher
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