Sam Talbot might be best known as the hunky chef who appeared on Top Chef, but now he’s making a splash with his new, seafood-focused restaurant Imperial No. Nine, located in the Mondrian Hotel in Soho. We called him up to learn more about what sustainability means and how being on television affected his career.
Your new restaurant, Imperial No. Nine, celebrates sustainable fish. “Sustainable” can be a bit of a buzzword. What does it mean to you?
Basically what it boils down to is that we just procure everything in as much of an “eco” manner as possible. While some restaurants buy bulk honey, we buy it from individual farmers. And for fish, we use the seafood watch list and many other guidelines to get our information. Sustainable might not be local but it’s about traceability and knowing where the fish are coming from. Those are all the things that my team and I research. I have a great group of chefs who are smart and talented as well.
What are some of the types of fish that you’re using at the restaurant?
Right now we’re using hand-harvested scallops from Maine. And oysters are obviously sustainable. We serve them raw and fried, too. We have a day-boat cod dish on the menu that’s out of Maine that is amazing. We have sustainable tuna. People will say, “How can it be sustainable if it’s flying on an airplane?” But all of our fish comes on commercial flights, so they would be flying already and not just for us. And then we also have a lot of individual relationships with fishermen, too.
Do you have a favorite dish on the menu?
I really like the octopus and the king crab. The octopus is on the plancha and served with a soy vinaigrette and jalapeño soffitro. The king crab is also a la plancha and it’s with a sweet and sour butter.
Are you a fisherman?
I’m not a “fisherman” but I like to fish. I grew up in the Carolinas, so fishing was always second nature. My friend had a house in Kiawah and we grew up chasing alligators and fishing. We’d catch fluke, flounder, blue crabs, bass. It’s what we did for fun. And now, being in Montauk, I just walk down and I am at the water.
Are you still involved with Surf Lodge in Montauk?
Yes, but Imperial No. Nine is my focus right now. I have a house year-round in Montauk, so I use that as my get-out-of-jail-free card. It’s where I go to hide.
How did being on television change you?
It didn’t change me as a person. But it helps you grow. It’s a good accolade to have. As a chef you’re often heavily scrutinized, but on television, it’s a different story. So you grow a tougher skin, which is good as a chef.
Do you watch Top Chef now?
No, I don’t watch TV at all unless I really need to zone out.
So what do you watch in that case?
When I really want to zone out, Jersey Shore. I’ve never seen anything like that.
If you weren’t a chef, what would you be?
I don’t know. I’d like to think some sort of athlete but I’m too clumsy.
Check back in tomorrow, when Sam discusses what it’s like being a chef with diabetes and what’s next in store for him.