A Voce's Missy Robbins, Part One: How to Be in Two Places at Once, the Obamas, and Female Chefs
Chef Missy Robbins worked in celebrated New York restaurants like March and Arcadia before heading to Italy, and then Chicago's Spiaggia, where she was the executive chef. Now she heads up A Voce's two locations: Flatiron's Madison and uptown's Columbus (Circle). Robbins was one of Food & Wine's Best New Chefs, named this spring.
A Voce's Missy Robbins.
We caught up with Robbins on how she manages two kitchens at once and why she doesn't think of herself as a female chef. Tune in tomorrow for the second half of the interview.
Rebecca spoke with you last September, when A Voce Columbus opened, and asked you about how you'll divide your time between the uptown and downtown [Madison] restaurants. At the time, you said you were still figuring out that balancing act. Now that it's been nearly a year, how is it working?
I'm actually 50-50, for real. It changes daily. There are days that I'm uptown in the morning, downtown in the evening, and there are days that I spend at one place or the other ...
It was very weird for me at first, to feel detached from one place or the other. But I spend a tremendous amount of time on the phone with wherever I'm not. I do a lot of texting too. In this day and age it's easy to do this; both of my chefs de cuisine have gotten used to it. ... Jeremy [McMillan, chef de cuisine of A Voce Columbus] will send me pictures on his phone of specific tickets as they come in. It works because of the technology. It would be very different if we were doing this 10 years ago. Like he'll send me the ticket of a VIP, and ask, "What do you want to send?" Or sometimes there's a name on a ticket and I'd forgotten to tell him who it is -- I can say, "It's OK, it's just a friend," or sometimes he'll ask, "OK, you told me about this VIP, this is what they ordered, what do you want me to do?" When we're working on new dishes, he'll send me pictures of the dishes he's working on. It's actually one dimension that makes it easier. He realized it's faster than texting me.
That's so interesting. I've actually never heard of chefs communicating via cellphone photo before.
They don't want to admit it!
But if a chef has more than one restaurant, it's expected, and inevitable, that they won't be able to be there every second of the day.
And my chefs de cuisine are really incredible. They've both been with me for over a year. [McMillan and Hillary Sterling at A Voce Madison]. Their names are on the menu now, because they deserve to be, but also because it lets people know that someone is taking ownership of the restaurant when I'm not there. That was important to me -- besides paying tribute to the hard work they do. The menus are a collaboration between the three of us, and I think people want to know that.
In September you also mentioned that you're really not cooking for an uptown palate and a downtown palate. Is that still true? Are there dishes that work downtown that don't work uptown and vice versa?
I think it varies from night to night. To be very honest, there are times when I'm so surprised that something sells in one restaurant or the other. It's crowd-dependent. There are nights when we have a lot of tourists and nights when we have a lot of regulars. But the food is accessible. I don't do crazy food. We keep it new, interesting, and innovative, but it's not crazy. The menus are different -- different, but you still know it's my food. And my chefs de cuisine have very different approaches.
I'll give you an example: We do a regional menu, a three-course lunch for $29 that changes every three weeks. The chefs de cuisine participate hugely. We choose a region, we all do research, and I get such different feedback from the two of them. Their approaches are so different. Hillary likes to push more buttons than Jeremy, and Jeremy is a little more elegant. Neither is better or worse. I have to bring them both to the middle where my food is. It's the first time I've had chefs de cuisine under me, and I understand how it is from their point of view. When I was at Spiaggia, I had to be my own chef within Tony's [Mantuano] style. So I'm very sympathetic to them having to do that also. We all learn from each other and ultimately it makes the food better ...