Food Studies WEEK: Interview 4 – Chef

foodstudiesWEEKI am beyond thrilled to introduce today's interviewee, Jeremy Salamon, executive chef of The Eddy in NYC. Jeremy is the little brother of my little brother's childhood best friend. That's tough to visualize, but I've essentially been watching Jeremy control the kitchen since he was a wee thing, whipping up dishes well beyond the comprehension of all the adults in the room. He's worked in some of your favorite NYC kitchens like Buvette, Locanda Verde, and Prune, he hosted his own Hungarian-themed pop-up dinners, and he was even a guest judge on Food Network's The Great Food Truck Race! Also, he's only 23, so there goes your self-esteem. 21463087_10155014311988041_6958226022280802954_n.jpg

If you're in NYC and want to have a really special meal in an intimate, cozy setting, do yourself a favor and go get the tasting menu at The Eddy. Jeremy is the kind of conscientious, hard-working chef you want to support, and I can't wait to see what he cooks up next.

This interview covers some tougher concepts like mental health, so I opted out of adding my normal silly GIFs so Jeremy's honest and thoughtful words can shine.

Q: How long have you worked at The Eddy?
A: About three years now. I started as a line cook, was then promoted to sous chef, and then I left to work on my own project. Soon after, I was asked to come back as executive chef.

Q: How did you end up working in restaurants?
A: No one in my family is in the industry, which is the more common way people come to food. I told my mother when I was 9 that I wanted to do this, but I don't really know why. I think it has something to do with the fact that I knew my cooking brought my family together. Even when my father lost his business, and my brother was going through stuff, and my parents' relationship was on the rocks, we all sat down together to eat. So I just associated food with good moments. I thought maybe if I could learn how to cook, I could help heal what was going on with my family.

Q: Wow, that's so... honest and beautiful and vulnerable. Thank you for sharing that with me.
A: I guess that's the honest answer, because otherwise I really don't know. I think about it sometimes, when I'm like, "Why the fuck am I in this industry?" Because it's kind of terrible.

Q: Speaking of being terrible, what are a few of the major challenges in your work?
A: Definitely communication. Being able to communicate is such a priority and required skill, and if you can believe it or not, there are so many people who lack communication skills. Whether it's a cook, general manager, waiter, or vendor, if just one small detail is missing, it could really screw up your entire day.

Being able to manage stress, which is something I am learning how to do, and how to be positive for everyone else in the kitchen is also challenging. One negative person can really bring down the entire house. And more so in this industry, people take their work home with them. Some people only have a few hours of sleep and then they get up and do breakfast service at 5AM and don't get out until 8PM - people take the drama and stress home with them. That's why industry suicides have really gone up in the last couple of years, and chefs are just starting to be more conscious of mental health. Being sober and anti-drugs is such a big thing now. But now that people don't have alcohol and drugs to turn to, they don't quite know what to do with all the stress and where to put it.

Q: I'm glad to hear mental health awareness in the kitchen is on the rise, even if there's a ways to go. So there must be something about your work that you like if you stick with it. What do you like most about being a chef and working in a restaurant? 
A: First and foremost for me, really honestly, is being able to feed people. Genuine people. I think there are many types of diners in a restaurant, as there are many types of people in the world. When you get a really genuine family, or a pair on a date, or an older couple that's celebrating their anniversary, it's so rewarding when they're into the food and the experience. I love getting a chance to be a part of that celebration, just like I got to be a part of when my brother graduated high school or when my parents had an anniversary. It brought me pleasure to be able to make a cake for my parents or cook a dinner for my brother. So I feel like I'm being somewhat welcomed into their life just a little bit, and for me, that's a pleasure.

I also love that I've gotten to meet so many people through restaurants. I've met authors who were writing books and have gone on to publish them. I've met famous actors. I've met other cooks who are now also executive chefs. Just being able to talk and spend time with people and learn from them is a pleasure for me.

Q: For people like me who have never actually worked in a kitchen, what is the structure and what does executive chef mean? What are some of the other roles in the kitchen?
A: An executive chef is the president of the kitchen. They oversee all the departments, have the final say, and can veto dishes and ideas. Right underneath them is the sous chef which is like the vice president. So when I'm not there, the sous chef steps into my role. The sous chef manages more of the cooks and helps out with the ordering. Below sous chef, there would be almost 100 positions in a classic French kitchen including junior sous chef, lead line cook, grill cook, saute cook, and a garde manger (which is the person who preps all of the cold items).

Q: How does a general day work?
A: The Eddy is only open for dinner service, but we open up at about 9AM, which is when a porter or dishwasher arrives. They start breaking down boxes, cleaning up windows, mopping - all that fun stuff. But the porter also receives all the deliveries that have been ordered from the night before. Those can come in anywhere from 9AM to 3PM. By 12PM, I come in with my sous chef and we'll start getting the kitchen prepped and set up.

Around 2PM, the other cooks start to come in. We have a team meeting and then we'll talk about the day, what happened yesterday, what's on the agenda for today and tomorrow, and what we need to grab from the farmer's market. Then we'll do prep and create family meal, which the entire staff eats around 4:30PM. We always have a pre-service meeting, so that includes the general manager, owner, and the waitstaff. We talk about new dishes, new beverages, wine, and service etiquette. Then we open our doors at 5:30PM until about 11PM. I'm there expediting on the line.

Q: What's expediting?
A: Expediting means I'm calling out the tickets, what's fired, and what's ready to walk out the door, where I finish the plates. Since The Eddy's a pretty small kitchen, I cook and I expedite. Normally I'm working the meat station where I'm in charge of all the entrees and proteins. But at the same time, I have to call out orders, and I have to approve every plate that walks out of the kitchen. I do a lot of multitasking.

Around 11PM or midnight depending on how busy it is, we start to break down. Then we clean up the kitchen and write a list for the next day. Me and my sous chef will place the orders to our different vendors. The last people to leave are usually the dishwasher and the bartender.

Q: You mentioned family meal. I'm just always entranced by this concept of family meal. What is the typical family meal?
A: It always changes depending on the cooks. I really like it when we have a different cook every day that gets to create their own family meal for the staff. I feel like they can express themselves and try out new dishes, or maybe they want to make something that they actually make for their family.

An example of family meal is if we have some leftover chicken, we'll roast it with this sausage I get from Local Bushel, one of our produce vendors from upstate NY. Sometimes I'll make fresh cheese and cut some bread up and make a big salad. We normally keep it simple, but I had one cook make this really amazing curry with ginger. It was really luxurious and he made his own naan, so people can get pretty fancy. And other times it's pretty casual, like taco Tuesday.

Q: If there was one thing you could change, what would it be?
A: That is a loaded finale question! I wish that - and I'm saying this as if there was a genie in front of me that is asking - I wish everyone had the same day off, so the restaurant was closed for a day or two. We'd have to really consider the finances and the practicality of that, but I do really wish it was possible. That way, nobody has to deal with work pestering them, because we spend so many hours there. That's my wish, Genie.