Gwynnett Street's Justin Hilbert on How He Found The Gig on Craigslist, Takes Inspiration From Wylie Dufresne
New kid on the block Gwynnett Street (on Graham Avenue in Greenpoint) is getting a ton of recent buzz. The reason? This is the coming-out party of Justin Hilbert (formerly of wd~50), plus his partnership with former Esca wine director Carl McCoy, and it also has a rotating menu, creative eats, etc.
A very serious Justin Hilbert
The chef is pretty humble, but with a little coaxing, his excitement about the project comes to the foreground. Not to mention some interesting tidbits about the route he's looking to take the rotating menu, admiration of chef Wylie Dufresne, and how he got his job (on Craigslist -- pretty cool).
When guests walk in, what should they be expecting to eat?
And since opening, what direction is the restaurant going?
The menu is ever-changing. I got the job and Carl wanted to open in three weeks. I'd had a lot of ideas for things in our back pockets. We started slower with a simpler menu for the sake of opening; now we're doing more and more involved techniques. With great wonderful, local produce.
How has the neighborhood taken to the restaurant? Cuisine?
We have a mix of neighborhood and travelers. We have neighborhood regulars who come once or twice a week sometimes. A lot of people come from the city. We're looking for both. It's nice to have a regular feel, but also people who are just finding out about us.
There's been a lot of positive buzz. Do you feed into that?
We definitely fly by our own ideas. We do what we think tastes best, based on availability. People love our dishes, and they're upset when we don't have that dish anymore. But they're willing to try. We're firm believers in change. It's an evolving kitchen and an involving process.
Who are your partners?
Carl McCoy. [We met on] Craigslist actually. I came for an interview, and we struck it really well. We were laughing and making jokes in the kitchen, and I made a few dishes he really liked. And then I cooked for his investors and his lawyers.
How did you get into cooking?
I started cooking when I was 15 -- my sister actually got me into it. We cooked dinner together all throughout high school. I had dinner before I went to cook at Mugaritz [in Spain], and I'd met Wylie [Dufresne] and told him I wanted to do a stage. But there was no openings on the savory side. So I staged with Alex Stupak [the pastry chef at the time], and he offered me job. I learned so much from him.