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Q & A with Laurence Edelman

Thumbnail image for Laurence_02[1].jpgLaurence Edelman was destined to work with seafood.  His first
job was shucking oysters at the legendary Cooter Brown’s in Louisiana. 
But who could pass up the opportunity to learn from veteran chef, Lidia
Bastianich?  So Edelman moved to New York to train at Felidia where
he learned the art of pasta and Italian cooking.  But he discovered his real passion, American cuisine, while working as sous chef at The Red Cat.  It was there he first met Jimmy Bradley, a partnership that would eventually bring Edelman to The Mermaid Inn.

Upper West Side clam shack became a neighborhood fixture practically
overnight.  The menu is filled with clam shack classics, such as the
lobster roll with fries and the shrimp po’ boy. Meanwhile, Italian
flavors are brought over from his training at Felidia. A saffron-spiced
squid ink risotto is with saffron and piled with cuttlefish,
and homemade spaghetti is topped with salad, scallops and mussels.

I am engaged, getting married next year at the Mermaid Inn.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
I really don’t know yet.  When I was a kid, it was either a National Geographic photographer or a chef.

What was your first job in food?
I worked at Cooter Brown’s in New Orleans shucking oysters – Louisiana wild oysters, which are not at all fancy.

What fish do you enjoy cooking with most?
None really. They’re all pretty much the same in that respect when it comes down to cooking them.

What did you learn from working with Italian ingredients at Felidia?
I learned how to deal with myself in a tense environment – a madhouse with limited staff. I also learned how to make fresh pasta.

How have you integrated your work at The Red Cat into your cooking at Mermaid Inn?
I learned how to manage people, the administrative side of kitchens. I make myself available to inspiration because things change so rapidly. Stamina is also necessary, and you need consistency as well to run a kitchen. Quality must always be consistent.

What differences do you notice between the UWS Mermaid Inn different from that in the East Village?
Our clients are different and our summers are much busier. We’re steady and busy all year round as well. People have been living up here for 10-20 years, whereas I think the East Village is more transient. Menu items like the lobster roll and the iceberg wedge are the same.

Tell us about the Mermaid Inn’s raw bar.
I just love raw shellfish. I try to always have six oysters available. I like to use local oyster farms and fish purveyors, and always try to make it interesting. I always have a NY Patron-Saint-Blue Point Oyster from Widow’s Hull. Oysters are number one for me, and clams are great as well.

Do you fish?
I have. I loved it. I did it in the Florida Keys three years ago. I always had terrible luck but that was a good day.

How do you feel about Mermaid Inn being named Best Upper West Side Restaurant by Time Out Magazine?
I try to ignore it. I can’t lie and say that it didn’t make me feel great, but I can’t let that affect what I do. At the end of the day, it’s back to work.

How have recent economic problems affected the restaurant?
Hard to tell. It’s the first year of business and I’m happy to say that we’re still doing well. People can afford to eat here during the week. I hope ingredients don’t rise in price, but I’m definitely not willing to sacrifice quality for cheaper costs.

What draws you toward such classic dishes as the lobster roll or the fried clams?

What draws you toward such classic dishes as the lobster sandwich and fried clams?
Being an American cook, you hear how European food is better. So I love to find Americana dishes that take people back to their childhood. As we get older these dishes will find their place in history.

Give us some tips for selecting fresh seafood.
Well, oysters definitely have to be alive, and should be filled with brine. If an oyster’s dried up, it’s not so hot. With something like squid on the other hand, it depends on how big the pieces are, say for our risotto. The slices must be incredibly thin in order to be tender.

Which culinary trends do you embrace?
I try to stay away from trends. I get my inspiration from old, classic recipes, and then make them available by modernizing them.

Which culinary trends do you wish would just die already?
When one person makes something great and then all of the other chefs become copycats.

Do you have a favorite dish at the Mermaid Inn?
Everything on the menu gets a lot of attention. The squid ink risotto is great though – it’s super traditional with cuttlefish and saffron. It’s soul-satisfying.

What is your least favorite dish (and yes, you must pick one)?
I’ll put my most favorite dishes on the menu, and then the problem is that within a few weeks I don’t like them anymore. I grow tired of dishes quickly. But the green salad, the whole roasted fish, lobster sandwich, and calamari are mainstays.

Any new projects on the horizon? Spill the beans…
I’m pretty excited about my honeymoon! But yes, I am content with what I have now. Maybe there will be a Mermaid Inn cookbook – we’ll see.

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