Sometimes there’s no fanfare when a chef takes over an established kitchen, especially not at a restaurant that caters more to celebrities in stilettos than a forward-thinking food crowd. But Angie Mar had big plans when she took over at The Beatrice Inn in 2013, and she’s been working slowly and steadily to make sure she sees them coming to fruition in New York.
Mar arrived with her sous chef during the busiest part of the year and tried to cook the menu she’d inherited. A week later, she dropped it. “We came in at 8 a.m. on a Sunday and flipped the entire menu by the start of service on Monday,” she tells the Voice. It was a bold move, but only the beginning.
“A kitchen is a team and a family. I acquired someone else’s family, and they were mostly very inexperienced cooks.” Mar says. After assessing everyone’s strengths and weaknesses, she gradually let that entire staff go. She had arrived with a Michelin-star mentality, gained from heading up the kitchen at April Bloomfield’s The Spotted Pig, so it made sense to rebuild her brigade until every single person came from a similar pedigree: “From the guy who works my grill, to my prep cook and my oyster shucker, we expect a lot from ourselves, each other, and the food that we cook here,” she says. Owner Graydon Carter gave Mar free rein over the menu, and she credits her growth as a chef to that freedom: “My palate has been refined, and I’ve found my voice,” she says.
That voice likes to sing about meat — Mar says the menu is now “anal rustic.” “Everything looks really beautiful, like we’ve walked into the woods and leaves have fallen in perfect places,” she says. Dishes lean toward nostalgia and comfort, but every leaf of parsley has been placed with agonizing precision. She doesn’t worry too much whether ingredients are local or sustainable — the meat, produce, and herbs just have to be the best. Mar’s cooking focuses on what she ate growing up (like her signature milk-braised pork shoulder), what she’s learned from her travels, and the flavors she’s pulled together from her Chinese-American upbringing.
One of her favorite menu items, the “butcher block,” brings her back to childhood, where she found the most joy while interacting with friends and family over food. “For me, as a diner, I can’t think of anything better than to really get in there and share a beautiful meal with someone. It’s the act of coming in and ordering for three people the best cut of dry-aged meat you can get. It’s fun. There’s no pretension. There’s nothing precious about it. It’s honest, and that’s what I love about the dish.”
While she’s generally kept her head down to build the reputation of “the Bea,” perfecting each of the 200 meals served there on a daily basis, her accolades are starting to come from outside the restaurant. Mar recently competed against four other NYC city chefs at New York Cochon 555, where she was crowned the Princess of Pork. She took a heritage Berkshire pig from Brown Boar Farm, which she and her team then transformed into six winning dishes. “The menu was cultivated by every person in my kitchen; that’s what’s special,” she says. The Brown Boar Farm people schooled the team on where the animal came from, what it ate, and how it was raised, and then they broke down and made use of every part of the animal together.
“These guys have to cook my food all day,” she says, “so events like this give them a lot of freedom. That’s what I want to foster: imagination and creativity.”
Pork tartare was common in her sous chef’s German heritage, and that led them to use the pig’s heart in a tartare with smoked egg yolk, burgundy truffle, Parmesan, and fried oregano. Because a number of her cooks are from Puebla, they used the rib meat in a mole negro with crispy tortilla, and washed other things with tequila. Mar’s mother grew up in the U.K., which inspired the larded, pastry-topped mincemeat pies. Mar herself, having grown up in a Jewish neighborhood, inspired pork-fat challah bread with liver and onion pâté and smoked pork honey. Expecting the other teams to utilize the pork blood in sausage, she used hers in a dessert course, folding the blood into a velvet cake and finishing it with cream-cheese-and-lard icing, pork neck caramel, smoked and caramelized guanciale, and marrow-bourbon crème brûlée.
“That’s the learning process,” she says. “That’s being a team. We were all invested in it. And then we won! That’s really cool.”
Back at work, Mar continues to improve and refine her kitchen’s culture. She recognizes that most people who come through the restaurant’s doors don’t think too much about who’s making the food, or where she comes from. They just want something delicious on their plate. So she focuses on integrity, making sure that each dish that lands on a table is “perfect — if we don’t care about that, it means we don’t care about our diners. Every plate is our integrity. I’ve always known that this restaurant could be something fantastic, and right now I feel honored that the rest of New York is starting to take notice as well. We’re excited about that, and about the future.”