Yesterday, we chatted with Sam Talbot about sustainable fish sourcing, diabetes, and trying to eat healthy on the road. Today, Talbot gets into how America eats, alternatives to salt, where he likes to travel, and how to grill a lobster.
What do you think about the American diet right now? I mean there’s all this talk about sugar and salt and things like that. Are we in a crisis?
Diabetes and heart disease are both epidemics… It’s getting younger and younger. I mean, I’m a juvenile diabetic, so I was like this at age 11. Now people are being diagnosed at age 21, 26, 27 with type-one. Type-two is literally an epidemic, but type-two is not hereditary. It’s based on your lifestyle—or lack of lifestyle—and your diet. And so yeah, it’s alarming. They’re using tons of processed sugars and white flours, etc. I think that many chefs are trying to do the right thing… Even with corporations, like even somewhere like Whole Foods. I was in Whole Foods the other day and I saw a sign, We’re trying to support sustainable fishing. Kind of like what I’m doing. It’s good to see. So I think crisis might be a little dramatic. I think we’re working in the right direction.
You travel a lot. You go to airports, you see what’s available. Are you generally hopeful? Do you think that there’s good progress being made? I noticed at LaGuardia, in a place where there used to be a Burger King, I just went and bought Intelligentsia coffee. And they had Pat LaFrieda burgers. It’s nice to see that kinda change. But are we seeing enough of it?
No, I don’t think… But again, it’s happening. Now you see… I was in, not LaGuardia, no it was LaGuardia, and there was a place in there that had a wheatgrass shot. Like, that’s cool. I mean, you can get wheatgrass shots, what, at Union Square green market or any green farmers’ market, and now at LaGuardia? That’s kinda cool. You can’t get one here, at my restaurant, right? I thought that was pretty cool. I don’t know if Pat LaFrieda is the healthiest option…
At least it’s better quality meat, I would think, than Burger King…
But you know what I mean. Things are in the right direction.
Do you eat meat?
Yeah, I use Pat LaFrieda burgers here. [Laughs.] I eat meat. It’s all about moderation.
All this food in this restaurant is based on a sharing concept. So you’re meant to be like, “Oh hey, can I try that? Let’s see what this is about.” And you’re meant to order a lot of food. So there’s three of us sitting here and we order six to seven to eight dishes. Like that’s a lot of food. But the food’s designed so that you don’t walk out of here so that all of your glycemic indexes shoot through the roof and then you get out, you’re like going to have an after dinner drink or going to the movies with your girlfriend, you’re like, “Can we just go home? I ate too much.” All too often that happens when you eat at a restaurant, because it’s made with refined sugars, white flours, all of those things that just bring you down.
What about allergies?
I take that into consideration all the time when I make a menu. So many of my friends are trying to eat gluten free or have celiac or whatever. Yeah, I mean I take that into consideration when I’m making dishes. Now there’s certain things, like can I take the soy sauce out of my octopus preparation? Unfortunately, no. But they have other options on the menu where you can. So I do take that into consideration, for sure.
What about salt? I was actually pleasantly surprised that the food I had here wasn’t very salty, which I’m finding more and more restaurants. And I like salty food, but it’s getting to be overpowering in some places.
Citrus is my best friend. Just because, as a seafood guy, as an ocean guy, you can’t do anything without a lemon? So literally, everything has lemon zest. Everything has fresh citrus or zest of fresh citrus. A lot of the preparations, there’s a cream. Citrus crèmes. A lot of herb-based vinaigrettes, thicker vinaigrettes, with the aromatics diced into it. You don’t need as much salt if you’re packing things with that much flavor. Or a lot of green herbs for something like chimichurri. But literally, it’s very popular to finish certain items with sea salt. If you put chimichurri on it or squeeze a lemon, it goes a long way, especially when you’re dealing with a seafood place.
What about from a lifestyle perspective. You like to surf. What are some other things that you’re into to like get away, get out of the kitchen and get yourself so that you don’t get completely overwhelmed by this stuff?
Well I haven’t done anything out of the kitchen for a while, cause the restaurant just opened. What I would like to do is get to Montauk as soon as possible. Montauk is kinda where—I do have a restaurant there, so that’s work as well—but I do love to surf. Here, just from the daily grind, I get to go over to Equinox, which is just two blocks down the road. Yoga or cardio, whatever. But as far as a lifestyle is concerned, my fun is out east.
How much do you surf when you’re out there?
Surf all day, stay in the water, out in the water, fishing, amazing trails. The Warhol estate’s out there. I paint a lot out there. A lot of my artwork is all derived from being in Montauk, from natural elements, from sea glass to sand. I have, shoot, like fifty paintings that I make out there.
Yeah, I paint in Montauk right in my front yard. A lot of my book, all the pictures are from Montauk, like me checking my blood sugar out my backyard or making granolas and all the hemp seed trail mix that I was telling you about that I made on the road and everything. I’m always there in my mind a little bit.
What are some of the places you like to travel to?
Oh, man. I love Brazil. I go to Brazil as much as possible. Florianopolis, Rio, Sao Paulo. I’ve been all over Colombia. Jeez. Italy, all over Tuscany. All over France. Japan. South Korea. Okinawa. Puerto Rico.
Do you turn off when you travel?
No, it’s always on. I mean every trip I go to, everything I do, I look for inspiration. And the book reads like that, too. There’s udon on there. Like, this isn’t a Japanese restaurant. But when in Rome… When I was in Japan, I ate udon four times a day every day. My buddy I was with was like, “Dude, I just want a cheeseburger.” I’m like, “Who are you, man?” Like eating sushi at six in the morning. That’s sick. It never turns off. I don’t know if any chef has the ability to do that.
What about this? We’re running a lot of grilling advice on Food Republic. Do you grill the lobsters at all at Surf Lodge?
At Surf Lodge, yeah, well like la plancha—
How would you recommend putting a lobster on the grill at home? Is it something you would recommend doing? Or what would the technique be?
I mean, for me the best way to do it: Cook it in a bouillon first, then steep it in the water, let it turn off. Then cook it maybe 75% of the way. Crack it out of the shell, season with a lot of lemon, chimichurri, something like that, salt and pepper, and then do the finishing cooking process on the grill. You scoop it out of the shell, put it back in so it gets the nice char.
That sounds good.
Like I said, it never turns off. We could do this for hours.
I guess to bring it back to where we started with the eco stuff, I sense a little bit of a backlash toward all this farm to table, sustainability, local, regional—
—Yeah, well it gets crazy. It gets so wordy. There’s so much verbiage that goes with it. And at the end of the day, I don’t want all of those words. I don’t want all those words attached. I don’t need them…
Well not necessarily about you, but do you think—
—No, no, no. Yeah, as a whole that’s what happens to chefs when they start to say farm to table. And there is a backlash. And at the end of the day, I think it can get too wordy, from a chef’s mouth. It gets too in your face, like you have to do this, you have to do this. And I think the way that I try to tackle that and sort of put the backlash to bed is just by saying, “Listen, we’re just trying to be eco responsible.”
Well what about seasonality? I mean are you changing this menu at Imperial No. Nine based on what’s available for market?
Of course. Well that’s the whole thing about being eco responsible is that you’re using what the earth offers you when it does and not flying in avocados from, or flying in strawberries from California in December. Right? It just doesn’t make sense. Why? It tastes like cardboard.
Do you have relationships with any of the farms that you’re getting stuff from?
That was my entire point is that I have a relationship with everybody that I use, whether it’s my producer of hen eggs or lamb belly or Carolina redfish or my scallop guy or my fisherman in Montauk who gets all my shellfish, lobster, and clams, from the guy who gives me my honeycomb from the Adirondacks through my grapevine vineyard vinegar that I use from Napa. I have part of a co-op in East New York farms, in East New York, Brooklyn. We use hen eggs from a woman named Sylvia in Pennsylvania, and we are trying to take all the hen eggs—we use like eighty dozen a week — and save the shells and bring them back out to the compost.
Is it working well for you from an economic perspective? Is it sustainable?
Yeah. I mean it does cost a little more money and it takes a little more time. But at the end of the day, I think that everybody wants to do the right thing. Everybody wants to be able to eat and feel good. And if have a platform to be able to educate and cook for people and have them be into it and get the reviews that I hope to get and the customer to continually walk through the door, then yeah.
And the customers, you’re finding, they want this? They’re reacting well to it?
They love it.