In part one of my interview with Charlie Bird’s Ryan Hardy, he talked about service, peanut butter and jelly, and the moment everything clicked for him. Today, he’s back with his favorite ingredient, his best tip for an amateur cook, and the most memorable meal he’s ever eaten.
Favorite item in your pantry or walk-in?
We make neonata di pesce, which is cured fish with garlic, wine, salt, Calabrian chilies, and a little lemon. It’s kind of chunky, salty, and spicy; it’s almost like Italian peanut butter–you could eat it on a spoon. We use it for so much.
At what New York restaurant do you celebrate a special night out?
I’m a big fan of Eleven Madison and Nomad. I’m a fan of Daniel [Humm] and Will [Guidara], and I enjoy the whole staff. Neta; those guys have a lot of fun. They approach Japanese food the way we approach our food–they just cook for you, and it will be delicious, and you will really enjoy it. Marea: It’s beautiful. I love to get to Brooklyn for either a special night out on just a night off–I like to wander around and get to know a neighborhood. It has a different feel.
What’s your guiltiest pleasure?
Pizza. And sweets. I could eat a bag of Oreo cookies without thinking. My fiancée is like, “You should eat the organic ones.” I would, but they’re not as good.
What’s your favorite meal to cook at home?
Pasta. For sure. With whatever is in the markets. It’s very Zen for me. It doesn’t take long to make fresh pasta from scratch from start to finish. It takes about 20 minutes to have the noodles rolled and open a bottle of wine. Foreplay of food is important, and we miss that sometimes. It’s why Chinese takeout can’t really replace home-cooked food.
What’s the most memorable meal you’ve ever eaten?
I ate at this little crudo bar in Napoli that we stumbled into, and it was an extraordinary experience. There were eight bar stools. They would take the fish apart in front of you, and everything was served in a box, Japanese-style. We ate red prawns from the gulf of Napoli. It was Easter weekend and a warm spring day, and it was one of those everything’s-right-in-the-world kind of moments.
What do you wish you could put on your menu, regardless of how well it would sell?
I just put it on the menu, I don’t have to wish. I don’t have a problem with things selling or not, generally speaking. It’s like that old bumper sticker: “If there’s something I wish I was doing, I’d damn well be doing it.” That’s why we opened a restaurant; we curate.
On the next page, Hardy talks about the time he almost killed someone in his kitchen.
What music is best to cook to?
I love jazz and classical for prep. It keeps things very calm, and it changes your emotions. I like hip-hop late-night.
What one tip would you offer an amateur cook looking to improve his or her cooking?
Travel. Even if it’s from here to Philly to eat cheesesteaks. You don’t have to spend a lot of money. Take one trip a year. And ask questions and keep your knife sharp.
What do you wish you could tell your line cook self?
Work cleaner. I’m constantly organizing in my brain, and that’s the basis of being a successful line cook. Work organized.
What’s your favorite dish on your menu right now?
Roasted chicken and French fries. I love it; it’s my go-to at the end of the night. Rigatoni is soul-satisfying. I try not to eat the cappellacci because it’s a pain to make, but I love it. And chocolate cake with espresso.
What are your favorite local purveyors?
Fishmongers. We’re new in this game, but I have lot of contacts in Martha’s Vineyards for oysters and scallops.
What’s the most challenging thing about working in the New York restaurant scene?
Space and keeping good employees. It’s such a competitive market in every aspect. We compete for diners, media, cooks, and wait staff. Everyone wants something new. I’ve never had to fight to get dishwashers like I do here. We worked two or three nights without a dishwasher. I’d expedite five or six tickets and then go do dishes; the AGM was coming down and doing dishes. The dishwasher, expediter, and host are your three most important people–everyone else can be replaced–so treat them with love.
Describe your craziest night in the kitchen.
I worked at a restaurant on the water on Martha’s Vineyard. It was July 4, and we were try to get out as many dinners as possible before everyone walked out to see the fireworks. I looked around the restaurant to see what was coming next, and I could see this big table, and they were running late. Twenty minutes later, I get the order in, and the server runs in and says, “Fire everything.” Then this guy comes into the kitchen. He’s drunk, and I recognize him from the 10-top. He says, “Do you mind telling my why I’ve been here a fucking hour and haven’t had any fucking food?” It was one of two moments in my life that I thought I was going to kill someone. So I grabbed the ticket and said, “Do you see the time? Do you see the clock? I’ve had it two minutes.” When the customers start showing up in the kitchen demanding food, that’s a bad day.
Hit the next page for Hardy’s favorite food-related item to give as a gift.
What’s your proudest culinary moment?
Opening day here. I’m very proud to lead a team, feed families, and see my name on the paycheck. It’s very impactful. I was fortunate enough to be nominated a few times for James Beard, and sitting in that auditorium surrounded by people who are your heroes is incredible.
What’s your desert island food?
Porchetta. It’s so simple and beautiful. Every time I get a porchetta sandwich in Italy, I’m blown away by how simple and good it is.
What’s the most pressing food issue today?
Sustainability. Not being able to get food in the future because of how things are grown. What our government is doing both positive and negative. Also, water and water usage. We need to release the ability to control commodities. It’s a huge danger to our ability to feed ourselves as a country. We work on little plates of tuna in our restaurant, so it’s easy not to look at what’s going on in the rest of the world, but there are massive issues that I don’t take lightly.
What’s always in your refrigerator at home?
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten?
Fried crickets in Mexico on guacamole; it’s delicious. I’ve eaten so many types of insects and every type of offal you can imagine, including brains. It doesn’t seem that strange to me. You’re going to eat the arm, but the idea of eating its liver is weird?
Favorite food-related item to give as a gift?
Olive oil. I’m obsessed. Armando Manni is a good friend and a well-known producer, and he makes a Tuscan olive oil that’s second to none. He only sells it by invitation, and Thomas Keller uses it in his restaurant. We use it on the crudo and olive oil cake.
What’s next for you?
Becoming a New Yorker. And marriage–I’m getting married over Labor Day.
Hungry for more? A new chef interview appears in this space every Tuesday.