Yesterday we spoke with Jim Lahey, innovator of no-knead bread and author of the soon-to-be-released book My Pizza: The Easy No-Knead Way to Make Spectacular Pizza at Home. He explained how making pizza at home is actually much easier than you’d expect and also told us about how he’s using hookworms — yes, hookworms — to cure his sensitivity to wheat. Today he talks about how the culinary landscape has changed and also previews what’s up next.
You were originally a sculptor before becoming a bread maker. Do you see a lot of parallels between fine arts and culinary arts?
Well, I think sculpture is on a bit of an uptick with the new level of wealth. You have all these rich people who, in economic [boom] times, invest in art or gold. But in reality, classic arts are dying. In five to seven years — probably by the time Hudson Yards is open — Chelsea will lose its art galleries and resemble Soho. … I predict the arts struggle. The medium is the issue. You’ve read McLuhan? I am dating myself now, but the medium is all things holographic, digital, virtual. … At the end of the day, [fine arts and culinary arts] are two concepts of the same fold.
What are your thoughts on the industry today?
I don’t think that making good food in any form is ever going to be bad. If you make food at a standard you’ll find an audience. But you have to work harder now in the industry because 20 years ago, you were the only person in the West Village. … Now, of course, the market is so saturated with restaurants that you have to work really hard to maintain your customers and impress them and surpass their expectations. Back then, you could just resemble something good. There was no Yelp or food blogs. Today, of course, it seems if you don’t have digital media as an infrastructure, you’re not with it. There’s so much hype now when you open something. [You need to] leverage blogs and the digital, and when a restaurant opens, it’s about surviving the hype of the opening. But if you live in the neighborhood and have community, and take ownership of your place, that’s the most beautiful thing.
Any advice for aspiring chefs?
With a chef, you know, you can never be too critical of what you do. You should never be too proud. You can be proud if people imitate you; that’s the highest form of praise. … Honestly, be critical of what you do and keep meditating on what your culture is. The reality of the kitchen is that the hours suck, the work is brutal and physical, and your supervisor is never going to be happy with you. To be good, you have to practice perfectly and be extremely disciplined. That does not mean going to school, I get so many kids who went to CIA, ICE, FCI, and they don’t last because they don’t want to work physically. You have to be willing to make a lot of sacrifices. The real growth potential is in the outer-lying boroughs and suburbs and secondary cities like Scranton where there’s an interest in food but no culture.
So what’s next for you?
I’m opening up Sullivan Street Bakery 2.0, but I’m not naming it that because then I’d be feeding into the digital bubble. We’ll open in 40 to 60 days. It’ll be a micro-bakery. I’m going to riff on anything I like and riff on myself. I’ll have an out-of-body experience and imagine I never existed and redo everything I’ve done.