Q&A, Part 1: Dan Ross-Leutwyler of Bellwether on His Culinary Background, Transitioning to Brooklyn, and the Fatty Crew
Perched at the crossroads between Union Avenue, Richardson Street, and North 11th, the mint-green, retro-decorated Bellwether is not a newcomer to the Williamsburg scene. But with the recent arrival of Chef Dan Ross-Leutwyler, the former chef de cuisine at Fatty 'Cue in the West Village, we expect to see great new things coming from this kitchen. We sat down with Dan to discuss his aspirations for the space, his straight-forward, no-nonsense approach to food, and the transition from Manhattan to Brooklyn, made with many members of the Fatty Crew who crossed the bridge with him.
Tell us a bit about your culinary background and how you got involved with cooking.
It's not a long story. I graduated college in 1998 and just dicked around in different jobs, but none of them were really satisfying to me. I'm 36 now, so that was 23, 24, 25--just not having any real direction in my life. So I said, "It's time to figure this out." I'd always had a real passion for food as a child. I was a latchkey kid, so if I was hungry I had to feed myself, and I'd always had a real interest in food. I used to watch Great Chefs, Great Cities all the time...so I said, "Let me really dedicate myself to it for a few years and see if I can make a career out of this." At the time I was still in a school mentality, so I ended up going to the Institute for Culinary Education, which is a decision I regret every day of my life.
Why is that?
The money would be a lot more useful to me in my pocket than having to write a check every month for a student loan. I really don't feel like it got my foot in any doors. I really don't feel like it prepared me for what life was like in real kitchens. A lot of the people I went to school with wanted to be food stylists or journalists. No one really had that hunger to be behind a stove. After I got through school, I did an externship at WD50, which was super-intense and I learned so much there. I was really hoping a job would materialize out of that. But it didn't. And that's totally cool. Then I just started working though a number of kitchens in New York City. I took a year off to go work in the Hamptons--which was really weird. Came back to New York and really went to it. That's the story.
So what prompted your most recent move to Bellwether?
Well I was getting married on June 9. My last job--I don't want to say anything disparaging--but it just wasn't working out for me. I was the chef at Fatty 'Cue in Manhattan, and I learned a lot there and we did a lot of things I'm really proud of, but it was just time to move on. I was able to take some time off between that job and the wedding. In that free time I was helping a couple friends out, and I met Chris and Matt, who are the owners here, through a mutual friend, Latoya, who is the general manager here. We just started talking about food and the problems they were having and what they wanted to do and my thoughts about food--it all dovetailed really nicely. They were able to offer me a job and pay me what I wanted and so here I am. I started here June 18 or 19. It's been a month.