Q&A: Governor’s Brad McDonald on Seasonal Menus and Halloween Candy, Part 2


Yesterday, we talked to Brad McDonald about his latest DUMBO restaurant, Governor, his take on modern American cuisine and ’80s sitcoms. Today, we continue the conversation and learn about the chef’s favorite NYC restaurants and which Southern writers influence and affect his food.

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Food Network’s Alex Guarnaschelli

Your menu changes seasonally. What should people order at Governor right now?
Well, with the change of the seasons, there are the obvious things — like bringing back braised meats for the wintertime — and oxtail is one of those items. You don’t see it on a ton a of menus, but it’s such a unique flavor of beef, and it gets away from your typical steak. That’s on our menu now. I don’t know if you want to call meat a seasonal item, but I think [it should be]. It’s heavier, but it’s still quite light. Our celery root dish, which has become our signature, is also perfectly in season right now. We’re not using far-out ingredients. I want most diners to look at our menu and at least know what each product is, maybe not all of them, but more of them.

Are there other chefs who you look to who challenge diners in a way you think is interesting?
There are the classics for me — and I think every chef always says this — but I really love what the guys at Franny’s do. They have this distilled simplicity that is super sophisticated a the same time. I’m always really inspired by the meals there because they present beautiful dishes, but they really don’t give a shit about anything but deliciousness. I think that is amazing. I do really like what Matt [Lightner] is doing at Atera. It’s super inspirational because they’re really taking chances. Like I said, I do really want to challenge our guests even if that’s just something subtle like leaving the claw on a braised duck leg, so there is a reminder [to the diners] that we’re connected with the earth. I think Matt does that in a way that is much more avant-garde — a little bit more playful.

How much does your location play into your food?
At the end of the day, I think what drives the food is just what’s going on inside my crazy little head.

I read that you were a literature major in college. Have you seen the influence of any great writers on your food?
I’m deeply affected by Southern writers because I’m a Southerner at heart. On my bookshelf, you’ll find Faulkner, McCarthy, and, probably the one that’s most closely connected to food is Wendell Berry. I find what he has to say about food, and about slowing down your life, to be inspirational. It’s very pastoral. Those three writers are hugely influential to me in the way that I think and move in my life. I do try to stay conscious about the idea of hospitality and that it’s not just about me in the kitchen playing with a product.

We took a poll about the Halloween candy we like least. What would top your haters list?
Yes, candy corn. I abhor it.

We couldn’t agree more.