Sarah Simmons opened City Grit in September of 2011, turning the old schoolhouse that’s the daytime home to furniture shop WRK into a culinary salon at night. Over the last two years, she’s hosted rising stars and award-winning chefs for one-time-only dinners, and she’s built the City Grit experience into one of this town’s most compelling ways to experience the work of chefs outside of New York.
In our interview, she talks about the only thing she’s cooked in her house in 2013, her hatred of olives, and a dinner so good, she ate enough to make her heart race. Get a taste of her answers here and then read the full chat at voicefoodblog.com.
Describe your culinary style. Southern-inspired is a loose term for describing my food, because I also cook a lot of ethnic cuisines. I lived in Japan, so I cook a lot of Japanese food, and I use a lot of Japanese flavors. Sometimes I’m using Southern ingredients but making something Italian, French, or Japanese. Sometimes I’m using Japanese ingredients but doing a Southern dish. For instance, we’re doing these mobile clam bakes in August, and instead of doing a traditional clam bake, we’re going to do one with Asian flavors, Singapore chile, and jerk seasonings. It was those different types of flavors that set me apart five years ago, but now everyone and their mom is using shiso and yuzu. I think that’s awesome. It’s bringing a lot of attention to this cuisine.
What brand of knife do you use and why? I use a number of knives because my knives keep getting stolen. I don’t think it’s on purpose. I’m going to get a pair of hot pink knives because it would be a little more difficult for a chef to mistake them for their own. At least I think that’s what’s happening. But I also have a Korin chef’s knife that I hide.
What’s the most underrated kitchen tool?
Your dishwasher. Also, I feel like I will have arrived when I have a tilt skillet. Most people don’t have the space for it. Maybe a meat slicer too. You can use it for so many other things.
Is there a food you won’t eat? I loathe olives. But I cook with them. I’m not cooking for myself.
What do you hate seeing on menus? Lately, everything that I’ve wanted to order at first glance has had a tapenade in it. I don’t want olives to be the new Brussels sprout. That would make me so sad. But I’m not a hater. I know what it takes to put a menu together.
Where do you celebrate a special night out? Gramercy Tavern. If I’m spending my own hard-earned money, that’s a safe bet, and it’s always going to be amazing. If I had a paycheck, I would write it directly to Gabe Stulman [at the Little Wisco restaurants] and ABC because I eat at those places all the time.
What would you like to see more of in the New York culinary scene? Women. It’s really hard. I watch chefs interact with other male chefs, and they treat me differently. There’s a lack of respect and, in some instances, a lack of giving a shit because you can’t be in the boys’ club if you’re not a boy.
What do you wish would go away? Snarky hostesses.
What’s your favorite meal to cook at home? Two eggs every morning, because that is the only thing I’ve cooked in my house in 2013. On Thursday nights, I stand in the walk-in with a satchel and throw quart containers in it and then later throw them in the microwave and eat them. If you opened my refrigerator, you’d think I was a 21-year-old college boy. I still plate stuff, though.
What’s the most memorable meal you’ve ever eaten? I had a dinner at Hog and Hominy last fall. It was memorable because I had to stop eating because I was going to die. I wore my fat jeans, and I don’t finish anything that I don’t love. And I couldn’t stop eating, even though when you’re already full, the food is never as good as it should be. We got to the end and they brought us this Parmesan gelato. I was like, “That sounds disgusting.” But I was stabbing people with a fork to keep them away while I ate it with a spoon. My heart was racing because I was so full. I’m still so excited about it and in love with it.
What do you wish you could tell your line-cook self? Don’t be an asshole.
What’s next for you? We are hopefully moving into a new location in the next six months to a year. It’s gonna be so awesome and everything we’ve ever wanted. Right now, we’re giving a platform to chefs for getting in front of folks, but we’re gonna take that to a whole other level. We’re elevating the artisan food-maker, wine, and cocktails.