Peter Sherman has worked for luminaries, like Joël Robuchon at L’Atelier de Robuchon, April Bloomfield at The Breslin, and David Bouley at his Tribeca flagship, Bouley. So what was the next step for the French Culinary Institute-educated, New York-born chef? Opening the city’s very first all-bacon restaurant… of course.
“I spent my entire career cooking for the best people out there, and learned so much about what food should be like and taste like and the attention to detail that goes into executing it,” Sherman said. “But in the world of fine dining, and the restaurants I worked for especially, people were always looking for the mistakes so they could jump all over them. That’s why I’ve always leaned towards bars and gastropubs rather than white tablecloth restaurants, because people go to bars to have a good time, not to judge. I wanted BarBacon to be a place with approachable price points and approachable food, listed on a menu with approachable vocabulary.”
And what’s not to get about BarBacon, which gamely jumps on the single-concept trend, exemplified by places like Meatball Shop, S’Mac, Empire Biscuit and Taquitoria? Essentially, a variety of artisanal bacons find their way into every last item on the menu, like Burgers and Banh Mi, Lobster Rolls and Grilled Cheese, a Cobb Salad, Corn Bread, gooey Chocolate Chip Cookies and salty-sweet Ice Cream Sundaes.
Sherman even offers a Bacon Tasting, comprised of five frequently rotating selections that currently include Nueske’s Applewood Smoked Bacon, Ozark Trails Brand Hickory Smoked Peppered Bacon, Father’s Country Maple Bacon, gamey Wild Boar Bacon, and the restaurant’s own Lamb Bacon, which is applewood-smoked and cured for days in their secret house spice blend. “We approach bacon like an indulgence. If you’re going to spend calories on ice cream, are you going to get the worst you can find or the best?” posits Sherman. We also spoke with the smoked meat-adulating chef about the appeal of the single-concept restaurant, the other ingredient he could imagine basing an entire menu around, and if everything is truly better with bacon.
Did you always want to be a chef, growing up?
No, I sort of fell into it. I was going for a business degree from Colby College, and in between studying for exams, I wanted to do something other than watch T.V. So I ended up cooking on a whim, and it was something I wound up looking forward to more than those business-related jobs I was working towards. So I decided to become a chef instead.
What job would you say really kick-started your career?
Oh, working for Joël Robuchon at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, without question.
So how did you come up with the idea for BarBacon?
When I was at Robuchon, there was this Japanese chef that was living and working in NY for the first time. His brother wanted him to send him a food that was truly New York, and he asked me for help thinking of something, since I’ve lived in NY my whole life. And that question kind of stuck in my head for the next decade; what exactly is it that we make here? I thought of smoked foods, like ham, bacon and barbecue. That signified American cuisine to me. So it was the idea of that, as well as following current trends in the industry at the time, i.e. single concept dining. And bacon had never really been approached in the right way before, as a fine, artisanal product.
Why do you think the single-concept spot is really gaining in popularity right now?
It’s unpretentious. When people go out, they want to know what they’re eating. When I consult for other restaurants, if they can’t tell me who they are in one sentence, that’s a problem. People are specific about what they want to eat; Italian, Mexican, Chinese. And if you’re a hummus shop or a meatball shop or a bacon bar, it’s very clear to customers what you represent and who you are and what they can expect to eat when they show up.
We’ve all heard that expression “everything is better with bacon.” Can you think of a few exceptions to the rule?
I’d have to really think about it, I’ll tell you that much. If you have a dish that’s missing fat, bacon is a great go-to, because it will always pull out that umami flavor.
While some bacons are obviously better than others, you don’t think of bacon as having a variable flavor profile. It’s basically fatty and salty. And yet, you do bacon flights. What factors do you think really distinguish one bacon from the next?
There are tons of things, like the woods you smoke with, the length of your cure time, and the meat that you use, because if you don’t start with a good product in the first place, there’s nowhere you can go from there.
You also do bacon and beer pairings. Can you give us a few examples of how or why certain bacons pair particularly well with specific beers?
There’s nothing that cuts the fat of bacon better than bourbon and beer. It’s a pairing made in heaven; you can pretty much put any beer with any bacon and you’ll be ok. But there are ways to take it to the next level. We made a Lamb Bacon the other day, which is best paired with a beer that’s equally abrasive, like a Bass. But if you have a more delicate Applewood or Cherrywood Smoked Bacon, you want your more run-of-the-mill IPA’s that aren’t quite as aggressive.
Is there any reason for vegetarian diners to come to BarBacon?
You can always omit the bacon in each dish if you really want to, or swap in veggie or turkey bacon. Not that I expect vegetarians to be my core customer base.
What’s your own, go-to order at BaconBar right now?
I always get my wife’s favorite sandwich, which is named after her; Shani’s BLT. It has Neuske’s Applewood Smoked Bacon, Bibb Lettuce, Organic Tomato, an Organic Sunny Side Up Egg, Avocado, and Extra Virgin Mayo on Amy’s Bread Ciabatta. But that might just be because I miss her. We just had a baby and she didn’t want to raise a child in NYC, so she moved to Westchester and now I have to commute. And of course, I wind up spending most of my time at the restaurant.
If you were to open another restaurant centered specifically around another ingredient or dish, what would it be & why?
Finding something that no one has done yet in this industry is next to impossible! I really love bread… I’d like to see a similar concept to what I’m doing now, with more of a bar setting but revolving around bread; like Tartines and such.
Hell’s Kitchen is not traditionally known as being a dining hot spot, and yet, there have been some great openings in the last couple of years. What particularly excites you about having a restaurant in the area?
It’s growing; I’ve seen it myself over the last five years. And I can’t help but think that it’s only going to get bigger and better. There’s only so much space to develop in NYC, and the evolution of Hell’s Kitchen, which has been so long coming, is finally here. And the restaurants that are opening up are a reflection of that.
And what are some other places you like to eat in Hell’s Kitchen, besides your own, of course?
I enjoy Medi, and Esca is the fine dining mecca on the strip. I order bread from Amy’s, and am also a frequent customer there in my own right.
Obviously you embrace the single concept trend. What are some other restaurant trends that you really embrace, and which do you wish would just die already?
I spent most of my life in the world of fine French dining, and to be honest with you, I really prefer the bistros. I like a lively scene and not white tablecloths and things of that nature. What I attempt to embody in my restaurant is what I tend to seek out in other people’s restaurants as well.
What do you like to do and eat on a day off?
I think you probably need to eat pizza once a week in order to call yourself a New Yorker. But I try to switch up my eating patterns as much as possible because that ends up inspiring the menu at the restaurant.
You’re on your deathbed; sex or dinner? And no, you can’t say both!
I’m choosing sex, I’m not going to lie to you.