This is part two of my interview with Betony‘s executive chef Bryce Shuman, wherein he talks about eating lamb with his wife in Spain, his favorite dishes on his own menu, and the night Frank Bruni dined at Eleven Madison Park. Be sure to check out part one of our chat, too.
What’s your guiltiest pleasure?
I have so many of them. Häagen-Dazs coffee ice cream. Shake Shack burgers. I love to eat too much Thai or Sichuan Chinese–like so much that my stomach hurts. I like making carnitas tacos at my house and eating like 20.
What’s your favorite meal to cook at home?
I love to roast a whole fish or chicken and serve it with a Greek salad or pasta. I love eating like that, with the chicken cut up on the table, the de-boned fish, a simple pasta, salad, and cheese. And I love to make tacos, especially fish tacos. I make this really sick habanero hot sauce, and I make the tacos with cumin crema, pineapple-habanero salsa, and cabbage cilantro slaw. There’s cornmeal breading on the fish, and I finish it with pickled onions.
What’s the most memorable meal you’ve ever eaten?
When my wife and I were in Spain, we went to Aranda de Duero, this little town in the middle of nowhere. We saw the word “Asados” on this building that looked like a shack, so we decided to stop. It was packed. We were the only Americans, and there were these photos of owners with bullfighters on the walls. There was one guy working this clay oven, and he was shuttling these cazuelas with lamb shoulder into the oven and baking the bread at the same time. There was another guy working the cash register and cutting the jamón, and that’s all he did.
We got shoved to the back, and my wife was like, “I’m starving, let’s go.” I was like, “No, we are eating here.” There were no menus, and they spoke no English, and we spoke very little Spanish. Somehow, though, they asked us if we wanted a salad or not and whether we wanted wine or not, and then they just started bringing us food: Salad, bread, a big thing of lamb, maybe some vegetables. The skin of the lamb was so good, and the meat was just falling apart in the juices. We dipped the bread in the juice. It was kind of like when you get the slowly roasted shoulder of the whole-roasted pig, and it’s so good and fatty. We had some dessert, like a flan or crème caramel, and then they poured us this liquor de hierbas. It was this local green liqueur, and it was sweet, super herbal, and super floral.
The whole thing felt like such a discovery, and that’s what you’re always searching for. You want to discover something new and unexpected that’s genuine and really good.
What do you wish you could put on your menu, regardless of how well it would sell?
If no one likes it, I don’t want to put it on the menu. All ingredients in their highest form, their best form, are equally incredible, from the freshest peas to the freshest sardines to the freshest lamb to the freshest parsley–they should all be on the menu. But I’m not going to pine away and wish that something would sell. I’m not going to ask, “Why don’t you understand that my moon grape sauce is amazing?”
What music is best to cook to?
Cooking at home with my dad, I like bluegrass, jazz, or blues. Cooking with my wife, it’s doo-wop, soul, and early rock-and-roll. The Animals. ’80s music. The Cars. Breakfast time is great for freestyle. I don’t play music in the kitchen at the restaurant because focus is so important. I love music so much that if it’s playing, I’m going to pay attention to that instead.
On the next page, Shuman reveals his favorite dishes on the Betony menu.
What one tip would you offer an amateur cook looking to improve his or her cooking?
Taste your food. Taste it all the time. And don’t be afraid of salt.
What do you wish you could tell your line-cook self?
Remain focused, remain interested, and keep pushing no matter how hard it gets, no matter how much you want to say, “That’s it, I’m done, I quit.” Keep your head down and get back on the horse. You’re going to get knocked down over and over. And taste your food, because someone else has to eat it.
What’s your favorite dish on your menu right now?
The grain salad, the short rib, and the tuna melts. For dessert, I love the white chocolate and coconut.
What are your favorite local purveyors?
Most of the people at the market. Nevia No at Bodhi Tree, because the stand is immaculate. Lynn Fleming at Lynnhaven is the sweetest person on the planet. She raises these national champion black Nubian goats and makes this great fresh chevre and feta. Rick Bishop [of Mountain Sweet Berry Farm] still manages to have cool, interesting unique vegetables. He does amazing things with peas, and hopefully soon, he’ll have many different types. I look forward to that. Zaid Kurdieh at Norwich Meadows. His stand has so many great things: tomatoes, gooseberries, yellow raspberries, squashes, greens, kale, and lettuces. He just crushes it. Alex Paffenroth [of Paffenroth Farms]. Jan and Mike Kokas at Upstate Farms. They bring a bunch of farms together in Columbia and Duchess County so you can buy them in the city through upstate. Seth McEachron at Battenkill Valley Creamery. He upped the fat content of the milk and really paid attention to the quality. He now has what I consider to be the best milk around.
What’s the most challenging thing about working in the New York restaurant scene?
Keeping up. Things move fast and change quickly. You have to pay attention.
Describe your craziest night in the kitchen.
The last night Frank Bruni dined at EMP, I was a sous chef on the meat station. Chef was there, plating right next to me. It couldn’t get any more intense, and we were busy as hell. Chef is plating, tasting, pushing, and driving the team. It was awesome.
On the next page, Shuman describes one item in his refrigerator as “instant good.”
What’s your proudest culinary moment?
Becoming an executive chef.
What’s your desert island food?
Ice cream. On a desert island, probably mint chocolate chip.
What’s the most pressing food issue today?
There are people out there that don’t have food. We have so much, and people have nothing. At some point, people just need to eat.
What’s always in your refrigerator at home?
Sriracha. Instant good.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten?
Raw seal. It wasn’t weird when I ate it, but thinking back, it’s not necessarily something I’d go for again.
Favorite food-related item to give as a gift?
You can have anyone in the world cook for you. Who is it, and what are they making?
My wife. Lasagna.
What’s next for you?
To get this restaurant going. We’ve only been open for a few weeks. This is it.
Hungry for more? A new chef interview appears in this space every Tuesday and Wednesday.