Q & A with Jimmy Bradley
With a number of thriving eateries, restaurateur/chef Jimmy Bradley has a keen understanding of the NYC dining scene. Both The Red Cat and The Harrison have succeeded at maintaining their destination status as well as their strong neighborhood followings. “It’s simple. Stand there and do good work,” Bradley asserts in a telephone interview. Before venturing off to open their own respective kitchens, chefs Joey Campanaro, Mike Price and Harold Dieterle have each worked in Bradley’s kitchens and inherited his gimmick-free philosophy.
Bradley doesn’t follow trends, he sets them. He ventured into Chelsea with The Red Cat before it became a prominent art and restaurant scene. “Underpromise and overdeliver. That’s the key to The Red Cat’s success,” he continues. Originally named The Red Cat Food Hall, Bradley opened the spot with the deliberate intentions that diners would have no preconceived notions of what to expect before sitting down to dinner. The Mediterranean-inflected American cuisine showcases peach and pancetta risotto, a grilled pork chop and baked polenta with stewed tomatoes.
In a really great relationship. Totally in love.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
Evel Knievel. It was either him or Miles Davis, but I can’t play the trumpet.
What was your first job in food?
At home, making the raviolis. For pay, though, my first job was working the deli counter slicing kosher pickles at this place called Pic-A-Deli in Philly.
You’ve been quoted as saying your culinary foundation is based on “real food for the real world.” Do elaborate…
I’ve always been drawn to a less is more scenario, so a few ingredients with bold flavors fascinate me much more so than fussy, more fusion-type cuisine. For that reason, I think that the cuisine we provide is an easy one to get behind. And this may seem a little out there, but I want to use Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address as an analogy. 272 words spoken 144 years ago and people still understand the message and talk about it. Now compare that with George Bush’s last State of the Union this past January. Who remembers his points of topic in the 5500 plus words he spoke? I’d rather hear 272 thoughtful, insightful words than an hour long speech with no real end game. Same goes for my food. I’d rather have 4-5 ingredients prepared honestly and skillfully than 10-20 ingredients prepared to please some chef’s overly elaborate impulses.
So do you consider molecular gastronomy “real food”?
It’s not for me to say, but you won’t see me messing around with it.
What called you to leave Philadelphia?
I left Philly for Vail, CO, then to Martha’s Vineyard, then to Telluride, CO and then to NY and honestly, I just came for a looksee; I never thought I would stay.
How did you elect Chelsea for your first restaurant, seeing as you were a bit ahead of your time…?
Our first thought and our first lease we pursued was Byron’s Argentinian Steakhouse, which is now DoHwa on Carmine St. We had a deal on the table and at the eleventh hour, we found the space that’s now The Red Cat, and we thought Tenth Avenue at the time was just a little bit more viable for what we were trying to do. Boy I wish I’d bought both of ‘em.
You opened four notable restaurants in a five-year span, what propelled the momentum during that time?
When I found cooking, I knew I wanted to be the chef and own my own restaurant and my goal was to do it before I was 30 years old. Somewhere along the line, people gave me big jobs and I rose to the occasion. I’ve always been more of a sharer and like to work in a democratic way, so I grew a company and surrounded myself with a lot of very talented people.
There is the recent and exciting news of the arrival of Amanda Freitag at The Harrison. How do you envision the menu changing from its present state? Debrief us on the Mediterranean integration into the menu…
feel like Amanda and I have a very similar culinary style and
philosophy; she’s looking forward to broadening her horizons from more
than just Italian cuisine and I think we’ll strive for a bold, lusty,
soulful menu at The Harrison.
You now have two restaurants: The Red Cat in Chelsea and The Harrison in Tribeca. Is it difficult juggling two lucrative restaurants?
Definitely, but I’ve just brought in a new managing partner, Steven Eckler, whose dynamism will be a great addition to our team, help us be better at what we do, and hopefully lead to new projects in the future.
What’s your favorite dish on The Red Cat’s menu, and why?
Quick Saute of Zucchini with Toasted Almonds and Pecorino. It’s four simple ingredients that make a great dish when combined.
What’s your least favorite dish (and yes, you must pick one)?
Since the day we opened The Red Cat we’ve served Sauteed Calf’s Liver. I love to cook it, but you couldn’t pay me to eat it.
What is your junk food of choice?
Sweet – Carvel Cookie Puss; Salty – French Fries with mayonnaise.
Other than your own, what’s your favorite restaurant in NYC?
What culinary trend do you most embrace?
What trend do you wish would die already?
I don’t care if trends live or die; it doesn’t matter to me because I just don’t go to the places I don’t enjoy.
You published “The Red Cat’ cookbook last year. What recipe should we all borrow from it?
people ask about the chicken dishes at The Red Cat than anything else,
but I think my favorite dish is the sweet and sour mushroom risotto.
What’s next on the horizon for you? Are there any plans for future restaurants? Spill the beans…
Nothing concrete, but Steven and I would definitely like to do something in 2008.
We just read about your recent trip to Italy. Did it inspire any
new ideas for restaurants or collaborations with other restaurateurs? I
love to travel with Jonathan and Joe. I used to work for Jonathan; Joe
used to work for me and Jonathan, and so who knows what the future has
Address: 227 Tenth Avenue, nr. 23rd St.