Bill Peet has done just about everything from washing dishes to cooking at Cafe des Artistes, and even Lutece before the legendary French eatery closed years ago. But a lot has changed on the dining landscape since the chef first began cooking in 1972. During his thirty-seven-year career, Peet opened his own restaurant in Westfield, New Jersey that managed to draw critical attention and monthly visits from my family growing up. He’s also served as the corporate chef for all twenty-six restaurants of the ARK restaurant group.
These days, Peet’s the executive chef at the new Patroon 2.0, where he’s revamped the menu and introduced some terrific dishes, like dark beer-braised short ribs with polenta and glazed carrots as well as pan-roasted halibut with roasted corn chowder. He’s also reworked the rooftop bar menu, which newly offers angus prime beef sliders, pigs in a blanket, and vidalia onion rings.
My wife Anna and I are married 29 years, and we are together since high school. We have 2 great sons, Will 24 (he is a manager at Angelo & Maxie’s Steakhouse in NYC) and Tim (he is graduating from The University of the Arts in Philadelphia next month, an Industrial Design major).
What did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was very young I wanted to be a professional baseball player, astronaut, fireman, etc. All the choices a boy would make around 1969. I was about 13 when I realized I wanted to be a chef. My mother worked at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. The CIA had just moved from New Haven, Connecticut. She was a secretary to the vice president, Joseph Amendola. Mr. Amendola loved to take me around the school and show off the different kitchens; he was a baker before coming to the school. I was bitten by the cooking bug, 1972.
What was your first job in food? What did you learn?
My first job was as a dishwasher in 1973, 14 years old. It was at a catering facility (Inwood Manor in Teaneck, NJ) doing many banquets – the plates never stopped coming. It was crazy, but I loved it. I loved the stress and energy. I learned a sense of urgency, and to tell you the truth I have used it every day in the kitchen since then.
You were the Chef de Poissonier at Clos Normand, so I assume you’re well versed in seafood. What’s the secret to cooking seafood? Other than Patroon, what’s your favorite seafood restaurant?
For me, the secret to cooking seafood is taking your time and using your senses. Cooking on a gentler heat and paying attention to the protein are key. My favorite seafood restaurant is Oceana; the chef Ben Pollinger is a very talented chef and a great guy.
You also worked at the illustrious Lutece as the pastry chef. Why did you decide to focus on the savory side of the menu? Do you ever offer up opinions or creations to the pastry chef at Patroon?
I actually worked at Lutèce for 15 years, starting as a line cook and working my way up to Sous Chef. I left a few months after André Soltner sold the restaurant. I have always been on the savory side, but a well rounded chef needs to be familiar with the pastry kitchen. We didn’t have a pastry chef at Lutèce, but preparation of the desserts, ice creams, sorbets and any other pastry need became part of my responsibilities every day.
I actually ate at your restaurant in Westfield, NY called, La Petite Rose? What was that experience like and how long was it open? What was the hardest part of opening your first restaurant? Would you consider opening another restaurant again?
La Petite Rose was a great experience, professionally. We received many accolades from the press and the community, and I’ve built many lasting relationships from the 2 years we were open. The hardest part was that the restaurant was a little more than an hour away from my home, I ended up sleeping there 3-4 nights a week. I would consider opening another restaurant, this time I would go into it with partners. La Petite Rose was just my wife and I.
You have cooked everything from traditional French to Asian-Latin to contemporary American. How would you describe your style?
I have a solid foundation in Classic French Cuisine; it lends itself to any kind of cuisine. Patroon is an American Restaurant and I am using all the cooking techniques I have used throughout my career. It doesn’t matter where you are if you know how to cook – it is just different ingredients.
You were also the corporate chef for all twenty-six restaurants of ARK restaurant group. Why leave for Café Des Artistes and what was that like?
I wanted to get back into the kitchen, as a corporate chef I didn’t have a kitchen of my own and I felt out of touch with my love of cooking. Also, I was traveling a lot, my boys were in high school and I felt I was missing out.
You’ve been in the restaurant industry for 37 years. What is the biggest change you’ve noticed in the restaurant industry since then? Do you see it as an evolution or a devolution?
One of the biggest changes in our industry is the celebrity chef. It has its pros and cons. The role of a chef has been glamorized in the last 15 years and it has brought a new found awareness to the restaurant industry. So many people are watching all the cooking shows, buying kitchen gadgets and cookbooks, buying and using very diverse foods. It is very positive for restaurants in general. But with that being said, too many kids are getting into this business for the wrong reason, to be a celebrity chef. Only a very few ever realize that dream, the rest have to make a living. Students come out of school looking to be a sous chef or head chef right away. They need to work their way up from being cooks, making mistakes and honing their skills. There are too many chefs out there who don’t have a good foundation to build from. How can you teach your kitchen staff how to do something if you have never done it yourself?
What is your favorite dish on the menu at Patroon?
My favorite dish on my menu is The Dark Beer Braised Short Rib with roasted corn grits and glazed carrots. I actually take 1 ½ portions of short rib, bone it completely and roll it so it looks like a Filet Mignon. I use Anson Mills grits and add roasted corn kernels to it. It is the ultimate comfort food. Believe it or not I sell more Short Ribs in the summer months than during the winter.
Which is your least favorite (and yes, you must pick one?)
My least favorite dish…is the Chilled Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail. I just don’t like it but I can’t take it off the menu, the customers want it. Now I am poaching it in beer just to get some flavor. I do like shrimp, so I came up with offering it as Chilled or GRILLED. The grilled shrimp has so much more flavor.
Where do you like to go for a great meal in New York City?
When I go out, I like to go to a small Italian restaurant on 14th Street, Crispo. It is owned by a chef friend of mine, Frank Crispo. Really great neighborhood restaurant, great comfort food, comfortable atmosphere.
Any new projects on the horizon? Spill the beans…
We are working on renovating our rooftop bar. Last year we lost out on a good portion of the spring/early summer because of the rain and cold weather.
Address: 160 East 46th Street, btwn. 3rd & Lexington Aves.
Phone: (212) 883-7373