You never know what you're going to learn talking to Chef Bryce Shuman, the executive chef of Michelin-star restaurant Betony. One of Food & Wine's 2015 Best New Chefs, he tells us which herb wards away evil spirits in the graveyard, why he never plays music in his kitchen, and what his must-have drink would be for his last meal on earth.
Open-mindedness, even to things like raw seal bones, has served me well as a chef.
Joanne Ozug: As a child, your family traveled all over the world. How did those experiences impact your cooking creatively?
Chef Shuman: Traveling impacted me deeply in my development as a chef. At a young age, I was exposed to different types of ideas, styles of cooking, and ways of living and eating. These experiences allowed me to see just how vast—not to mention extraordinary—the world is. I always ate what was available, whether we were in the Arctic or Costa Rica. Open-mindedness, even to things like raw seal bones, has served me well as a chef.
JO: Guests who have had the privilege of enjoying your food know the incredible flavors, textures, and beauty of your dishes. What's your style in your personal kitchen?
Chef Shuman: I tend to cook large-format things: whole birds, big roasts, hearty soups and large salads, using whatever is freshest at the market near my house. A meal prepared simply and in abundance makes for very delicious eating.
JO: Your NYC Midtown restaurant, Betony, is named for a rare herb. Is there a deeper story behind the name?
Chef Shuman: When my dad retired from being a professor, he became a dealer and collector of rare and antique books. He would always track down food books for me, like "Spices and Herbs and the Lore of the Kitchen." I first read about betony in that book. What I loved about betony is that it was thought to not only prevent anxiety and have a calming effect, but to stimulate the appetite. Plus, when planted in graveyards, betony was thought to ward off evil spirits. We could all use some of that.
JO: You're a big supporter of No Kid Hungry. What is particularly meaningful to you about the organization?
Chef Shuman: One in five children go to school hungry every day, and it just blows my mind. No Kid Hungry especially resonates with me because I now have a child of my own and live in a city with unbounded wealth; so the contrast is driven home. No Kid Hungry sets up summer meal sites on a truck and delivers meals, and even games, for kids. It helps reduce the stigma of living with less financial stability. They're also extremely active in helping to change government policies.
I really love the people who are involved with the organization. Billy Shore and his sister Debbie Shore, the founders, are simply incredible and have the hugest hearts. The entire team inspires me.
JO: You were a Culinary Co-Chair at the 2015 NYC Taste of the Nation, benefiting No Kid Hungry. What was your favorite part about this event?
Chef Shuman: The atmosphere! It was electric, with lots of really happy people. That single event raised one million dollars for No Kid Hungry, and all through doing things that we as chefs love: cooking for and serving people. I got to meet some very accomplished people, like George Stephanopoulos, who are also big supporters of No Kid Hungry, and felt a great sense of community, too, with some truly world-class chefs.
JO: How did it feel to be named one of Food & Wine's 2015 Best New Chefs?
Chef Shuman: As long as I have wanted to be a chef professionally, I have picked up a copy of Food & Wine magazine every time the best new chef issue comes out. These guys were my rock stars. It's been a dream realized to join these honorees. After the announcement, all the other winning chefs and I got tattoos—but if you looked closely, you'd see they were temporary and rubbed off in a few days.
JO: You've said that you're the resident DJ of your living room. What kind of music do you like to listen to when you cook?
Chef Shuman: In the kitchen at Betony I prefer the atmosphere to be silent. I love music so much that it can be a distraction. I'll often be thinking about what I want to play next, who the right musician would be for a particular tone. When I'm cooking at home, we listen to bluegrass, jazz, Leon Redbone or Hall & Oates.
JO: Chef Shuman, where and what would you want to eat and drink for your last meal on earth?
Chef Shuman: Mama Dips in North Carolina used to be in front of Skylight Exchange, a record store/café/used-bookstore that my dad and I frequented. So I'd say, from Dips—the best chicken and dumplings, jar of pickles, delicious fried chicken, corn bread, and New Brunswick stew. Otherwise, it'd have to be at B's BBQ, on B's BBQ Road outside of Greenville, NC. Just one of the best BBQ joints, period. I would drink an old Madeira from the 1900s, a large, very cold beer, or a large, sweet iced tea, depending on how I'm exiting.
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