By now you’ve heard the news: we have a new boss, we have a new general manager, and we have a new EXECUTIVE CHEF. And we are so excited about her.
Meet Grayson. She’s cool, she’s talented as hell, and she’s very excited for summer corn.
I got to chat with her this week while she was preparing to make 800 beef cheek sliders for the opening of the Food and Wine Classic in Aspen. What a star. She was taping up shipping boxes for the trip as I recorded this.
So where did you grow up?
Where about? And how was that for you.
New Holstein! I grew up in a very German community, so I didn’t really realize how German I was until I left and came to New York.
When did you come to New York?
Right after high school, I went to the Culinary Institute of America.
Did you know for a long time that you wanted to be a chef?
I did… I’m very dyslexic, and my mom and I sat down and tried to figure out, like, okay, what do you want to be when you’re older, and I remember Sara Moulton— her cooking show was on TV and I remember looking up and thinking “well maybe I’ll be a chef!” and my mom thought that that would be a good idea because I’m artistic, and physical, and all the things that chefs are. So she took me to the CIA to check it out… She loved it, I loved it, and I wound up going there.
That’s awesome. How long is that program?
It’s a two year, intensive program… And then you do an externship, and that’s how I wound up in New York City actually. Because the CIA is in upstate New York. I am very goal-oriented, so first I wanted to go to the best culinary school—check. Then I wanted to go one of the best restaurants for my externship, so I wound up going to Jean-Georges, and then after I did that, you go back to school and you graduate, and I wound up working at Jean-Georges for four years. I worked every station, in the Nougatine and at Jean-Georges, and then moved on to do different cuisines other than French-Asian Fusion.
Did you have a favorite cuisine to cook in school?
Italian. Hands down. I love Italian food. I think it’s because I like eating it so much? (laughs) You know? I love pasta, and I love making pasta. So… that’s a big one for me.
Do you have a favorite shape of pasta– to eat, or make. Or both.
Well I love making fresh spaghetti, but I like eating orecchiette!
[Extraneous Orecchiette Chatter]
So wait, how did you find your way to Top Chef?
I didn’t find my way; they found me.
Because I think a friend of mine who was on the show kind of threw my name into the mix. They were like “Oh, you want somebody craaaazy?! Call her!” (laughs) You know? So they did, and they called a lot, until I said yes! And then I was on for the first time.
Wow… What the heck was that like?
It was a crazy, crazy experience, and if you would have asked me right after it, if I would ever do it again, I would have said Absolutely Not… And then I wound up doing it again. It’s super stressful.
Was it better than you thought—?
The second time? Awful. Yeah… I totally was psyched out because of how much I knew about it, and what it was. So… I’m not gonna say it wasn’t a good experience, because… any time you can get your face out there and people know who you are, it’s a good thing. It’s a good thing for where you work—it’s a good thing all around. But—
It was emotionally horrifying.
I can totally imagine. With that kind of pressure… That’s unbelievable.
It’s true. Yeah… it’s kind of crazy. But it was the kind of experience I would never change for the world. Because I’ve met so many people through it, and I got invited to a lot of cool things because of it! (laughs) It’s pretty funny actually, when you go on TV, people all of a sudden want to be your friend. It’s very strange to me. I was like, “You never wanted to be my friend before…! I see you!”
Wow. (I laughed) So then, how has life been After, and how did you find Larder?
Well— it’s so funny. I feel like I’ve been looking for this specific job for about two years… And I didn’t know what it was. You know? Lots of opportunity had come, and I knew that I just didn’t really want to be in a restaurant working until 12 o’clock at night. It was just… not… where I was at. And I wanted to do other things. I mean I just didn’t want to cook from one menu. And, as you know, we have so much to offer here that I knew I would never get bored! (laughs) And that’s a big thing for me.
Oh, yeah. But you’re right—We have new products, like, every week. It’s really exciting. And figuring out how best to use all of the regional products and produce depending on the season… it’s super exciting.
And I love farms, and learning how everything is [made] and where it comes from. I’ve worked on farms before, and I feel like you can’t actually appreciate using produce until you have experienced those things—like squishing aphids with your fingers!
You’ll never throw anything in the garbage again! Because you know how long it takes to produce.
And I think that’s something really special about this place too— the fact that the produce we’re using in the kitchen or the products we’re selling are, first of all, coming from people who are spending their lives making food for their community with love and so much hard work. And then we get to honor them in our own way by making great food.
And we’re able to bring that to city folk!
So, if you could choose one thing you were most excited about cooking this summer…and it could be Larder-related or not— what would it be?
I LOVE corn. So there’s definitely going to be some sweet corn things… I mean, I love it, just, as is, but there’re so many cool salads that you can make, and things for the marble… and watermelon…! I’m excited.
I know— all the nice fresh, raw, cold things.
I like things that don’t need a lot of stuff to be awesome… Simplicity is key.
Yes… That also is very Italian… though that’s a whole other conversation for another day… 🙂
My last question is: if you had one plate of food to eat forever for the rest of your life, and it doesn’t have to be one item- it could just be a plate of all the things you like- forever… what would be on your plate?
Can it be any season I want…?
Yes. It’s a magic plate.
For me, it would be Summer—wait how many things can I put on my plate?!
It can be like just a big plate of all the stuff you want to eat for the rest of your life and be like, [takes plate in arms] “See Ya.”
I would have a dry-aged strip steak… and I would have corn on the cob… and I would have an escarole salad with shaved radish, fresh cucumber, and Italian dressing… and I would have some sliced heirloom tomatoes seasoned with Maldon, olive oil, and pepper. And I would have strawberries and cream as my dessert!!! (laughs)
That’s GREAT. Can we make that right now? That sounds like a wonderful meal to have forever for the rest of your life.
I think I’m going to make that for dinner tonight when I get home!
Do! And then please take a picture, and then bring your leftovers… to me.