Gwynnett Street's Justin Hilbert on How He Found The Gig on Craigslist, Takes Inspiration From Wylie Dufresne
The chef is pretty humble, but with a little coaxing, his excitement about the project comes to the foreground. Not to mention some interesting tidbits about the route he's looking to take the rotating menu, admiration of chef Wylie Dufresne, and how he got his job (on Craigslist -- pretty cool).
When guests walk in, what should they be expecting to eat?
It's a lot of American cuisine. We use all of the techniques from the past, using lots of local ingredients to make food that's affordable and somewhat interesting at the same time.
And since opening, what direction is the restaurant going?
The menu is ever-changing. I got the job and Carl wanted to open in three weeks. I'd had a lot of ideas for things in our back pockets. We started slower with a simpler menu for the sake of opening; now we're doing more and more involved techniques. With great wonderful, local produce.
How has the neighborhood taken to the restaurant? Cuisine?
We have a mix of neighborhood and travelers. We have neighborhood regulars who come once or twice a week sometimes. A lot of people come from the city. We're looking for both. It's nice to have a regular feel, but also people who are just finding out about us.
There's been a lot of positive buzz. Do you feed into that?
We definitely fly by our own ideas. We do what we think tastes best, based on availability. People love our dishes, and they're upset when we don't have that dish anymore. But they're willing to try. We're firm believers in change. It's an evolving kitchen and an involving process.
Who are your partners?
Carl McCoy. [We met on] Craigslist actually. I came for an interview, and we struck it really well. We were laughing and making jokes in the kitchen, and I made a few dishes he really liked. And then I cooked for his investors and his lawyers.
How did you get into cooking?
I started cooking when I was 15 -- my sister actually got me into it. We cooked dinner together all throughout high school. I had dinner before I went to cook at Mugaritz [in Spain], and I'd met Wylie [Dufresne] and told him I wanted to do a stage. But there was no openings on the savory side. So I staged with Alex Stupak [the pastry chef at the time], and he offered me job. I learned so much from him.
My sous chef is one of my best friends, and we work together every day. I'm blessed to have him with me. It's a compilation of the two of our minds. We've been talking about doing something like this for years. Everything I come up with, he adds something to it. It's a nice homogenous relationship.
I'm excited about all of the food we do. We're really proud of all of the dishes that we're doing. When there's a newer dish on the menu I get really excited.
Random, but ... how do feel about ramps?
We love ramps. We'll be getting a lot very shortly. For me, I love spring and all spring vegetables. Ramps are just one of the signifiers of spring. We recently also got these beautiful flowering sorrel.
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