Despite a six-year tenure as a child actor (he was the fat kid on a Nickelodeon show called “All That”), it would have been a surprise if Shane Lyons had become anything but a chef. Both his parents are food industry vets, and began teaching him how to cook at just three years old. He eventually enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America, his mother’s alma mater, and became the youngest ever graduate at the age of 18. He followed that up with stints as a private chef, then at restaurants like Craft Bar, Café Boulud, and most recently at Momofuku Noodle Bar.
Just recently, Lyons struck out on his own with partner, Nick Iovacchini, to open a sleek-looking Tribeca pub, called Distilled New York. Just what does a Momofuku alum cook at what he dubs a “New American Public House?” Modern American classics, albeit with refined and globally influenced twists. The result is ridiculously good Chicken Wings (dredged in beer and twice-fried), sauced with Gochujang and served with Point Reyes Blue Cheese and Micro Celery, Country Fried Duck & Waffles, and Glazed Pork Ribs with a Watermelon salad.
Who would his dream dinner guest be at Distilled? “Orville Redenbacher,” he says, laughing. “I want him to try our Popcorn.” As for that popcorn (a compelling draw in and of itself), it’s complimentary and seasoned with a tasty blend of brewer’s yeast, garlic & cumin.
I guess it would be single, but I have a girlfriend.
Growing up with two professional chef parents, I imagine that you ate pretty well. But did you ever beg for kid-friendly junk foods, like Mac & Cheese from a box or Lunchables?
I actually asked for Lunchables once and my parents gave it to me once. But that was enough… it was plastic in taste and texture.
What job would you say really kick-started your career?
Working at Sencha when I was 16. It’s a now closed restaurant in Colorado Springs, owned by a chef who previously worked for my parents at their restaurant.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received from a chef friend or mentor?
“Food is not art, it’s craft” from chef Zane Holmquist, who was on externship at the CIA.
What’s been your biggest kitchen disaster?
Driving a knife through my middle finger while attempting to debone a frozen turkey. I wound up bandaging it with duct tap.
What are the most challenging and exciting aspects of running a restaurant in NYC?
Anything can happen at any point in time, so every day is different.
What are your favorite and least favorite dishes on your menu right now?
My favorite dishes are the Sauteed Hearty Greens with a poached egg and sourdough croutons, and the BLT with heirloom tomatoes, basil and bacon. I love the Peanuts, but they are my least favorite to make because they are twice-candied and labor intensive.
How do you think your line cooks would describe your style as a leader?
I hope they’d say that my style is patient and firm, but fun!
What music do you play in the kitchen to get you in the zone?
America, by Neil Diamond.
What’s the strangest item in your home fridge right now?
A jar of salsa my aunt made a year and a half ago. But since she made it, I just can’t bring myself to throw it away.
Are there any ingredients or foods you just can’t bring yourself to eat or cook with?
What current culinary trends do you really embrace, and which do you wish would just die already?
I embrace a “guest-first’ mentality, and steer away from over the top tasting menus.
What has been the proudest moment of your career thus far?
Opening the doors to Distilled, definitely.
Besides becoming an executive chef in NYC (congrats!), what are some of your other top goals as a chef? James Beard awards? Michelin stars?
Basically, my main goal is just to run a successful business that impacts my community, and helps create an environment where people can come to learn and grow and expand their own careers.
You’re on your deathbed. Sex or dinner? And no, you can’t have both!
In that case, I guess I’ll have to say dinner.