Chef Jason Hall of Gotham Bar & Grill and George Faison from DeBragga.com
Interview by Linda Sarris
After leaving D’Artagnan five years ago, George Faison joined the Sarrazin family at DeBragga, New York’s quality meat purveyor, with a main interest in working with heritage breed animals. The heritage breeds are harder to raise and it takes longer to raise them, which means they cost more, but it gives the farmers an opportunity to get back into the agriculture game because they offer a much better product that’s most importantly something that can’t be mass-produced. George demonstrated the butchering and explained the particular poultry or meat in each recipe. He described where it came from, how it was raised and a little bit of information behind it. Chef Jason Hall, the Chef de Cuisine from Gotham Bar and Grill along with his team, created a wide variety of meat-focused dishes with the products provided by DeBragga.com. There was an amuse-bouche of delicata and kabocha squash with a curry emulsion then full demonstrations of a white wine coq au vin chicken dish, a confited duck leg, milk-braised veal breast, and a braised beef short rib. The proteins were able to speak for the dishes during this event and the menu was designed around creating good recipes that can be easily executed at home.
Explain your working relationship with Gotham’s Executive Chef Alfred Portale and how much he’s involved at the restaurant.
JH: He is very present and it’s a relationship that’s really built on trust. How I’ve been able to approach it is it’s very much a collaboration of talented cooks, creative people coming together to make something that’s going to identify with Gotham. He works very hard to make sure I’m identified with Gotham, so I try to have the food we cook together identify with that. He is a tremendous resource and he’s one of the greatest Chefs ever. For me to be creative and have his input it’s not an ego situation, it’s about what ideas we come up with together that I can execute and we can both look at together and say this is good, not good, or we should try this. It’s very much a step-by-step procedure. We work on everything together. He’s very involved with the creative process. It’s more about coming together to pull off something that we’re both very proud of. The restaurant has been there for 25 years and I’m the first Chef to come as Chef de Cuisine that wasn’t trained there. Alfred and I had never worked together professionally. I’m able to kind of bring all of my experience and influence and put it together with his experience running this fine-dining restaurant so we’re able to make both of our visions clear.
Besides seasonality, where do you get inspiration for new dishes?
JH: At this stage in the game, I do a lot of reading. I’ve been cooking for a very long time. It’s more about conversation and research. Research being reading cookbooks, all of my friends are Chefs, I dine out, and going to the markets to talk to purveyors. It’s really a process of what kind of technique you have that you haven’t tapped into, or something in your repertoire that you’re not representing on your menu, or something you feel should be represented on the menu. Once you understand the basics and you know what you’re doing, you can think “OK it’s January and we want to have a venison dish on the menu.” So we’ll sit down and say, “What goes well with venison… juniper, rosemary, sweet potatoes, squash, turnips.”
What food do you miss from Nashville that you’re unable to find here in New York?
JH: I’ll tell you; the barbecue there is really good. It’s such a welcoming food city. The best thing is Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack. It’s the most famous fried chicken place in the south. It’s on the poorest block in Nashville, Tennessee. They’ve been a fixture in the community for like 30-40 years; it’s family run. They have a batter and cayenne pepper situation that’s super, super spicy. When Thomas Keller was making the fried chicken for his Ad Hoc cookbook, he went down to Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack and trailed at their kitchen. That’s something that you can’t get anywhere. I can make great fried chicken but it’s about being in the Deep South, the smell of the place and the people that you see.
What’s your favorite dish currently on the menu at Gotham Bar & Grill?
JH: There’s a Cold Smoked Tasmanian Sea Trout dish with baby fennel, celery hearts, meyer lemons and pumpernickel croutons. We’ve been able to kind of encapsulate a cure like a smoked salmon but still be able to slice it and use it as a platform for flavor.
Where is the butchering done for DeBragga meats?
GF: We have a full service facility in the Meatpacking District.
Regarding Dry-Aging, after 30 days, how long can you allow the beef to age?
GF: Certain meats, depending on the amount of fat they have, really dictate the amount of time they can age. Top level Choice certified angus beef 30-40 days, prime beef 40-50, some reserved grade Wagyu can go up to 90 days because of the intense marbling. It really depends on the fat content.
Can you dry-age other meats?
GF: We’ve actually dry-aged veal for Gotham. You just can’t dry it as long because it’s tender and doesn’t have the same amount of fat on it. For veal, about two weeks is the max. Also, lamb but you can’t really go much past two weeks.
JH: We had a really great response to the dry-aged veal.
What’s your favorite cut of beef?
GF: The French rib chop, which is a center cut but it’s in the ribeye on the bone. I actually just cooked up three dry-aged 50-day French rib chops last night. Ribeye is the center of the animal, it’s a really special cut up near the shoulder so it has more fat and it’s richer.
Where do you like to eat in NYC?
GF: Gotham of course! There’s also Colicchio and Sons, The Spotted Pig, and Prime Meats in Brooklyn. I like to eat where people are passionate about their cooking. I want people who are cooking really good food, using good ingredients and who are doing it right. I also like to have people cook for me things that I can’t do at home. This type of cooking from tonight is like what we do at home and I love that. But when I go out, I like to be challenged. So I love Corton. He [Chef Paul Liebrandt] is really cutting edge, and I can’t do what he does when I’m at home.