Q&A, Part 2: Bellwether Chef Dan Ross-Leutwyler on Food Service Marriage, Eating Out, and Kitchen Music


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Yesterday we spoke with Chef Dan Ross-Leutwyler about his recent move to Bellwether in Brooklyn and his approach to cooking. Today he discusses what it’s like to have a spouse in the industry, where he eats out, and his connection to music. He even admits to the only food he will never eat.

Your wife is also in the industry, as one of the owners of Pies n’ Thighs. What’s it like to share that sort of connection with a spouse?
It’s great. And sometimes it’s also terrible. I think and talk about food all day. She thinks and talks about food all day. And what the hell do we do when we’re alone after both working 12 hours a day? We sit around and we talk about food. But the other side of that coin is that she’s incredibly understanding of the demands that this job places on me. So sometimes when I come home at 2 o’clock in the morning drunk after a lousy shift, she’s sympathetic to that. She works as hard, if not harder, than I do. So it’s nice to have that understanding. But sometimes you just want to escape food and not have to talk about it.

Do you guys cook much at home when you’re not working?
We really try to, but sometimes it’s just really hard to cook at home. Especially when you have to wash your own dishes. That’s the main impediment to me to cooking at home–having to wash your own dishes. But we try to do things that will sustain us for a whole week. I’ll run over to the Meat Hook and buy a bunch of meats to chop up and grind to make a meat ragout that you can eat for the whole week. We like to keep some salads in the fridge, but I’d be lying if I said we ate everything that we cooked.

What are five food items that you are never without in your house?
Hummus, Carrots, this fermented black bean paste we buy in Chinatown, tonic, and pistachios.

Anything you won’t eat?
I’m not super interested in ever eating lung. That just sounds kind of gross to me. Every other part I think is cool, but there’s a reason people don’t cook with lung. Other than that I eat with an open mind.

Where do you like to eat and drink out, when or if you have free time?
Other than Pies n’ Thighs? I really love what they’re doing at Roebling Tea Room. I think they have the best burger in the city. Dennis, the chef, is always willing to take chances there and I really appreciate that. I just went to Mission Chinese for the first time and I can’t wait to go back. But I’ll never wait two hours in line for anything–let alone food–so that makes it kind of hard.

But the free beer sweetens the deal a little.
We went there and brought them a bucket of chicken from Pies n’ Thighs and so it was like “Oh yeah. Just go sit down.” I don’t make it out there as much as I’d like to, but there’s this place Bao Xuyen in Sunset Park that has amazing banh mi and avocado shakes. And I try to support local places. I live in Greenpoint, so I try to support places in Greenpoint. There is this great Mexican diner called Acapulco that’s really satisfying.

What was the most memorable thing that you’ve eaten recently?
It was these wok-fired radishes and crispy pork jowl at Mission Chinese. And I don’t know if it’s braised and fried–I don’t know what the hell they do to it–but I’ve never had meat with that kind of texture before. Definitely something I’ll remember for a long time. That and the Westlake porridge there. Both amazing. But we’re trying really hard to not go out to eat all the time because it’s a financial burden for people who want to start a family and want to travel and live in New York City.

Who are you drawing inspiration from these days in New York?
That’s a hard question. I don’t really keep up with what’s going on in the fine-dining world. I’m so far removed from that…I think it’s amazing that now in 2012 I can buy from the same produce vendor and I can buy the same exact stuff that they have at these fine-dining restaurants. Like what they’re doing over at Roberta’s, that’s really inspiring to me. You can take very similar ingredients to what they use at Daniel or Jean-Georges or Le Bernardin and are able to do something different with it, in a different sort of environment, at a price point that makes more people able to enjoy it. The democratization of dining in New York. That is something that I think is really awesome and would have been unheard of years ago. For instance, everyone is trying to sell me grass-fed beef. That’s awesome and makes me really happy. And I have people dropping off samples of local organic vegetables. I think that’s really cool…I feel like my responsibility as a chef is to guide people’s decisions and change their minds–to get them to eat food in a way they’re not accustomed to. That’s a lot of responsibility, but that’s also a great opportunity. And while we don’t feature our farmers on the menu, we try to do everything to support people who share the same philosophy as us.

I know that in the past Bellwether has had events like Classic Album Sundays and also dance parties with the likes of James Murphy [of LCD Soundsystem] as DJs. What is Bellwether’s connection to music?
If I wasn’t cooking food for a living, I would want to somehow be involved in music. My sous-chef and I had a DJ night here on Tuesday night. Once we were done in the kitchen, we came out and played the music we want to hear in restaurants but the kind that never gets heard. People care a lot about music, and if that’s the way to get them in the door and get them interested in the food, then that’s amazing.

What music do you listen to in the kitchen here?
It’s a wide range of stuff. My whole thing is sloppy underground indie rock. My sous chef Bradford Forsblom listens to a lot of droney synth-type stuff. We both like classic rock. It’s just a real wide range. We try to keep it interesting. We know that when someone comes and tells us to turn it down that we found a really good song.

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