Distilled's Shane Lyons: "It's Like Groundhog Day...I Know What's Going to Happen, but I Don't"
In part one of my interview with Distilled chef (and former All That cast member) Shane Lyons, the chef weighed in on his culinary style, his obsession with the Susie Homemaker potato masher, and his appreciation of NYC's bodega guys. Here in part two, he talks about offering to buy shots for diners who would suck the eyeballs out of fish heads, recounts a personal victory that nearly got him fired, and discusses how he learned that there were several right ways to do any one kitchen task.
What would you like to see more of in the New York culinary scene?
Warmth. Especially from the greeter at the door. Maybe I'm from Colorado here, but we could all be nicer. I'm not trying to be preachy; I just like when you go into a restaurant and the hostess smiles and says, "Hi, how are you? How was your day?" Even when I go get coffee, that's what I want. Food and drink have very little to do with why we go out. We want warmth.
What do you wish would go away?
The mentality of we're-not-gonna-do-that. I get that sometimes you can't have someone changing around your menu, but I feel like we're given an opportunity to please people, and their pleasure might be different from ours. It's really important to embrace the guest even when you don't like it, and I know that's hard to do. You have a lot of pride in the technique and ingredient. But they allow us to have a business.
What's your guiltiest pleasure?
The honest answer? Star Trek: Deep Space 9. I'm a total nerd.
What's your favorite meal to cook at home?
Roast chicken. All roasted birds, actually. Then I have a meal for four days.
What's the most memorable meal you've ever eaten?
Le Bernardin. It was a phenomenal, phenomenal meal.
What do you wish you could put on your menu, regardless of how well it would sell?
I put fish heads on the menu in Colorado, and I mean fried fish heads and spines. They were cornmeal-and-buttermilk-breaded and fried, and they came with homemade pickles and dipping sauces. I used to buy shots for people who sucked the eyeballs out. We had some people who thought it was the greatest thing ever, but needless to say, there was some pushback. One woman told me she wasn't on Survivor, and some people were like, "I'm never coming back." But I tried to use everything instead of throwing it away.
What music is best to cook to?
Depends on the time of day and the tone you're going to set. Prep should be rhythmic, like drums. Because then it's like, work-work-work-work. We like this Vietnamese hip-hop. You get in that mode and just chop chop chop. When you're about to rally before service, Neil Diamond. As that old joke from What About Bob? goes, there are two types of people in this world: people who like Neil Diamond and people who don't. I like "America." The violins come in, and you get so pumped.
On the next page, Lyons tells his line cooks to pull rabbits out of their asses.