Betony's Bryce Shuman: "This Is It"
This is part two of my interview with Betony's executive chef Bryce Shuman, wherein he talks about eating lamb with his wife in Spain, his favorite dishes on his own menu, and the night Frank Bruni dined at Eleven Madison Park. Be sure to check out part one of our chat, too.
What's your guiltiest pleasure?
I have so many of them. Häagen-Dazs coffee ice cream. Shake Shack burgers. I love to eat too much Thai or Sichuan Chinese--like so much that my stomach hurts. I like making carnitas tacos at my house and eating like 20.
What's your favorite meal to cook at home?
I love to roast a whole fish or chicken and serve it with a Greek salad or pasta. I love eating like that, with the chicken cut up on the table, the de-boned fish, a simple pasta, salad, and cheese. And I love to make tacos, especially fish tacos. I make this really sick habanero hot sauce, and I make the tacos with cumin crema, pineapple-habanero salsa, and cabbage cilantro slaw. There's cornmeal breading on the fish, and I finish it with pickled onions.
What's the most memorable meal you've ever eaten?
When my wife and I were in Spain, we went to Aranda de Duero, this little town in the middle of nowhere. We saw the word "Asados" on this building that looked like a shack, so we decided to stop. It was packed. We were the only Americans, and there were these photos of owners with bullfighters on the walls. There was one guy working this clay oven, and he was shuttling these cazuelas with lamb shoulder into the oven and baking the bread at the same time. There was another guy working the cash register and cutting the jamón, and that's all he did.
We got shoved to the back, and my wife was like, "I'm starving, let's go." I was like, "No, we are eating here." There were no menus, and they spoke no English, and we spoke very little Spanish. Somehow, though, they asked us if we wanted a salad or not and whether we wanted wine or not, and then they just started bringing us food: Salad, bread, a big thing of lamb, maybe some vegetables. The skin of the lamb was so good, and the meat was just falling apart in the juices. We dipped the bread in the juice. It was kind of like when you get the slowly roasted shoulder of the whole-roasted pig, and it's so good and fatty. We had some dessert, like a flan or crème caramel, and then they poured us this liquor de hierbas. It was this local green liqueur, and it was sweet, super herbal, and super floral.
The whole thing felt like such a discovery, and that's what you're always searching for. You want to discover something new and unexpected that's genuine and really good.
What do you wish you could put on your menu, regardless of how well it would sell?
If no one likes it, I don't want to put it on the menu. All ingredients in their highest form, their best form, are equally incredible, from the freshest peas to the freshest sardines to the freshest lamb to the freshest parsley--they should all be on the menu. But I'm not going to pine away and wish that something would sell. I'm not going to ask, "Why don't you understand that my moon grape sauce is amazing?"
What music is best to cook to?
Cooking at home with my dad, I like bluegrass, jazz, or blues. Cooking with my wife, it's doo-wop, soul, and early rock-and-roll. The Animals. '80s music. The Cars. Breakfast time is great for freestyle. I don't play music in the kitchen at the restaurant because focus is so important. I love music so much that if it's playing, I'm going to pay attention to that instead.
On the next page, Shuman reveals his favorite dishes on the Betony menu.