Yesterday we spoke with Prune chef Gabrielle Hamilton about her big win at the James Beard Awards on Monday night, taking home the title of Best Chef: New York City. Today she reveals what traits a chef must have to run a successful kitchen and her favorite dish on the restaurant’s menu.
What is your kitchen personality like?
It’s kind of changed over the years. I’m more mother-hen-y now and slightly maternal but not gooey in any way. I think I’m pretty firm and fair. [When you enter the kitchen] you know what my job is. It’s to make sure that everyone has what they need to do their job: clear expectations, good equipment, protocol, the electricity turned on. I just provide a clean, well-lit, healthy place, and [my team] will go from there.
What are the most important attributes that a chef must have?
Slight mania in a positive way, cleanliness, and you have to have an objective palate.
Prune is known for its quirky menu. What are some of your favorites?
Well, I will say that I probably eat a dozen radishes with butter and salt each day. It’s been a signature since we opened. Not really a day goes by that I don’t have it.
So what are you going to do with your James Beard Award?
Huh, that heavy round brass thing? I have some things pinned to my bulletin board; stuff from Michelin and the like. Maybe I’ll put it there?
What do you think is the biggest difference between a big and small restaurant?
That’s what’s so funny about winning this [James Beard] award. It’s such a conflicted category. Obviously the guys with big restaurants and doing fine dining — that’s where this title should go. I feel less than this title but I feel a little more than we are often credited for. Because we are tiny and the tables wobble, it’s easy to underestimate what we can do in a small space. We don’t have the space or the china or physical real estate to pull off what you can in a large kitchen. Even in terms of having a walk-in. We can’t have a full cheese program ’cause we can’t keep the cheese! But what we have in common is putting out good service and good food.