The United States doesn’t have a lot of food to call its own. Even though, great food movements have started here and some of the world’s top chefs reside here, most of what you see is borrowed from other places. Except for Southern Food, that’s all us. Good ol’ stewed okra, po’ boys, fried chicken and of course BBQ. Moist, sweet, salty and slow cooked BBQ finished off with a touch of bourbon. And damn is that stuff good! But good Southern food doesn’t just happen, it takes time and love and a passion for real food, done right. Which is why we’re stoked to be serving it up with Chef Nate Barry-stein of Bitters, Bock and Rye. Chef Nate is serving up the kind of down home, Southern cooking that’s so good you throw all decorum to the wind (we’re talking BBQ sauce on your face, hands and spots that will have you asking “what the *&(^&, how did that get there?).
We managed to resist the intoxicating smell of BBQ long enough to sit down with Chef Nate and get his take on food, family and why San Francisco is a great city to be a chef.
EnjoyFresh (EF): Tell us a secret?
Chef Nate (CN): I’m a geek. All I do is think about food. I’m not big on being dishonest at all. Everything is out there. I cut a lot of corners, but those corners are chosen with purpose. Like when I feel that shape should have been a circle and not a square. I do that a lot. There are things that are traditional that we don’t need to adhere to anymore. Chefs from 200 years ago didn’t have the same technology or ingredients we have today. It’s unrealistic to think we should handle food the same way. It could be as simple as what an egg does now as what it used to be used for or the fact that we have hundreds of types of flours when there used to only be one.
EF: What do you love about your job?
CN: I love the food. It’s not just this job. It’s every restaurant job I’ve had. I get to be around food constantly.
EF: What drives your crazy about your job?
CN: The number of hours it takes. I love it, but I go home and go directly to sleep and wake up and go directly to work. That’s every day, there’s nothing I can do or will do about it.
EF: What frustrates you about the restaurant world?
CN: All the TV shows and the celebrity aspect of the restaurant world. We are losing the concept of what a chef is. A chef is the chief. He’s the person in charge of everything, not the person standing around saying “hey I’m on TV”. If they are there (on TV), whose in their restaurants? That’s what drives me crazy. There are all these celebrity chefs. They have all this power and fame. They have all these restaurants but they never work in any of them. Yet, they put their name on it like it’s their food. I’m on the line every day and it’s a huge let down for me.
EF: What’s your food philosophy?
Keep it local. With the exception of getting a better product. With meat, I don’t want to have farms around my house, I might travel a few hundred miles to get that, but produce I can grow across the street. And seasonal, I’m not going to get something that’s 6 months out of season just because I can.
EF: Favorite food trend?
CN: I’ve always loved pretzels and I love watching everything becoming a pretzel right now. You’re seeing it in a lot of places. Although, I saw Pizza Hut come out with a pretzel pizza that seems gross, covered in a weird cheese sauce. I saw this commercial and my girlfriend and I were instantly like “oh that’s so gross”.
(To stay on top of trends) I go online a lot to read and keep an eye on what the new trends will be. I check out the Food Network. I want to see what people are thinking about. I don’t care about recipes but I want to see what is out there, what other people are seeing. I look at the papers too, read other restaurant reviews. I want to keep up with local trends and see what my competitors are doing.
EF: Where do you think San Francisco is in the spectrum of food cities?
CN: Between here and New York it is tough to say, but between us and the rest of the world, we are miles ahead. Even, LA is way behind. You see things like foam on menus, which is really 10 years out of style. Sometimes you go to a certain part of the country and that’s the way it is and always will be. Recipes are hundreds of years old.
EF: Least favorite food trend?
CN: The huge boom of restaurants. Anyone can open a restaurant now, there are no criteria. Everyone is doing it. It doesn’t matter what their experience is. Maybe they’ve never worked in the restaurant world before. These people apply for liquor licenses and get them over people who have worked in the restaurant world for 20 years.
EF: What kind of experience do you want your diners to have?
CN: We just want them to be happy. To be full, to enjoy their meal. It’s always a family thing for me. I want to know everyone that’s here and I like them to know me. If you got the bar, the bartender knows everyone and if they don’t they are going to make an effort to know them and get their story. We’re not trying to be elitist, we’re a BBQ restaurant, we want people to share and have a blast. I’ve always been the one doing the cooking in my life. We had family dinners as a kid and the chef never had to do the dishes, so I got out of the dish pit as soon as I could. Ironically, my first restaurant job was a dishwasher.
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