“How’s it going, man?” Matt Fisher recognizes a regular while we’re mid-conversation in his Gowanus dining room. Over the course of an hour, the pitmaster for Fletcher’s Brooklyn Barbecue calls many of the people who walk through the door by name, a testament both to his memory and the kind of loyal customer base the restaurant has developed. Perhaps the latter was propelled by Hurricane Sandy: Fletcher’s opened the week the storm struck, and because it was one of the only eateries in the neighborhood with power and, therefore, the ability to serve hot meals to harried residents, it spent its first few days in business feeding relief workers and helping to alleviate the damage suffered by new friends however it could.
Or perhaps it’s because the Brooklyn–style barbecue resonates with Brooklyn residents: Fisher is clear that he and owner Bill Fletcher aren’t trying to emulate anyone else at their joint. “I’m from New York and he’s from New England,” Fisher explains. “We wanted to draw upon flavors we found in the city.”
In our interview, he weighs in on the knife his father gave him as a gift, two meals that were memorable for very different reasons, and the person who signed his cookbook “Fuck you, you asshole.” Get a taste of his answers here, and read the full interview at voicefoodblog.com.
Describe your culinary style. Amplified comfort food with smoke.
Describe how you run your kitchen. Graciously. I’m a huge believer in educating. Some of the people who are in our kitchen were not even cooks before they started working here, and I’m excited to help people like that explore their love of food.
Who or what inspires you? Kenny Shopsin. He autographed my cookbook, “Fuck you, you asshole.” Robbie Richter [formerly of Hill Country]. Natasha Pogrebinsky at Bear in Long Island City. She’s a single woman cooking in the kitchen alone turning out incredibly artful, passionate Eastern European cuisine, which is really not a style that’s being honored. Will Horowitz at Ducks Eatery. He does this personal, high-wire, off-the-wall brand of cookery that’s not really commercial, and that’s brave and exciting.
What brand of knife do you use and why? Cheap. I saw so many knives break in the kitchen when they were used to do things like hammer nails. I have a Sabatier at home and an antique Chicago Cutlery my father gave me when I was 23.
What’s the most underrated ingredient? Fresh horseradish. We grate our own horseradish and use it in a lot of our dishes. When it’s not super-spicy, it’s so disappointing.
Who’s the most underrated culinary figure in New York City? Alan Ashkinaze, the chef at Millesime. He’s an incredible chef. He’s not even remotely close to being a household name, but he has the chops of anyone else around.
What’s the most memorable meal you’ve ever eaten? Roast chicken with lemon sage gravy with root vegetables that my wife made for me. And a rack of barbecue ribs I ate when I was 10 years old that gave me my first case of food poisoning. Those two meals are equally memorable for very different reasons.
What’s the most challenging thing about working in the New York restaurant scene? The noise. The media, the press, the buzz. Blocking all that stuff out. Trying to stay inspired and focused on important things and not lose yourself in the hype or expectations. This town is fiercely competitive, and we’re insanely lucky to be cooking here. It’s easy to lose sight of what a tremendous gift it is to do what we do.
Describe your craziest night in the kitchen. I was in one of my restaurants, which shall remain nameless, and we’d just opened. All the refrigeration went down. Then we had this convection steam oven with a glass door, and 15 minutes into service, someone smashed the door. Then the health department came in. It was 7 p.m. on a Friday, and everything was fucked up. Now I feel like that’s typical, but at the time, it was like, “What the fuck else can go wrong?”
What’s your proudest culinary moment? Cooking for Bill Clinton and opening Fletcher’s. Those two are tied. President Clinton ate pulled pork, burgers, and cheeseburgers, and he took extra to go. He had, like, a fourth serving.
What’s your desert-island food? Pizza and root beer. Pizza from John’s of Bleecker Street served in, like, 1975. Wait, was John’s even open in 1975? I don’t know; John’s in the old days.
You can have anyone in the world cook for you. Who is it, and what are they making? My dad making, well, anything. Spaghetti and meatballs, maybe. My dad is, like, the best cook ever. He got me cooking when I was five or six. He was never in the business; he was a lawyer.