Shaun Hergatt is either brave or crazy. This Australian chef dared open SHO amidst the economic recession, in the heart of Wall Street
nonetheless. While critics were busy declaring fine dining dead, he defied the odds, receiving a Michelin star and two stars from the New York Times. Hergatt’s Financial District eatery is still going strong, due in large part to his, innovative French-Asian cooking.
“When you fuse the techniques and creaminess found in French cooking to the Asian flavor profile, you get a fusion that just works on the palette,” Hergatt explains. But he readily admits a soft spot for comfort food. When he’s craving Southeast Asian on his night off, Hergatt dines out at Nha Trang (one of our favorites, too) located in Chinatown.
What was your first job in food and what did you learn?
When I was 17, I did a four-year apprenticeship at a fine dining establishment in my hometown of Cairns, Australia. The apprenticeship taught me classic French and Asian cooking. It allowed me to explore everything from braising meats to integrating spices.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I have always wanted to be a chef, ever since I was a kid cooking traditional pastries in the kitchen with my Finnish grandmother.
You once said cooking professionally is an “unfortunate passion.” What do you wish you were doing instead of cooking and what are the downsides to being a chef?
I love what I do and if there was something else that I wished I were doing, I would have done that instead. But the long hours are the toughest part, without a doubt.
What do you like best about being a professional chef?
The creativity in creating a dish that not only has a beautiful aesthetic, but also has a balanced flavor profile. Food is such an important part of life and culture, so it’s very rewarding to cook for people and to satisfy customers.
You’re known for using French technique to achieve Asian flavors, a style of cooking that’s become more common lately. Why do you think these two seemingly different cuisines fuse so well together?
French cooking is very technique-driven and Asian flavors are very tasty and light. When you fuse the techniques and the creaminess found in French cooking to the Asian flavor profile, you get a fusion that just works on the palette.
Despite the recession and a bit of a foodie backlash against fine dining, SHO Shaun Hergatt has been extremely successful. Why do you think fine dining is here to stay?
Quality products are always sought after, as human beings will always be fascinated with the idea of eating luxuriously.
What dining trends are you tired of?
Chemical gastronomy and haute comfort food
Describe your ultimate three-course meal at SHO.
For an appetizer, I would order a 64 Degree Egg with Uni, Caviar and Gold Leaf. For the main course, it would be the Slow-Roasted Maine Lobster with Garlic Chives, Bitter Melon and Coconut Crème. And for dessert, Tryptique au Chocolat with Satsuma Sorbet
Where do you go for traditional Asian food in New York?
A Vietnamese restaurant called Nha Trang on 87 Baxter Street.
New York and your home country, Australia, both have great Asian restaurant scenes. But how are the two scenes different?
In Australia, the ingredients for traditional Asian cuisine are a lot more readily available. And the quality of the ingredients is much higher because of Australia’s proximity to the Asian countries.
What advice would you give someone looking to break into the restaurant business?
Be prepared. You will be working long hours and you have to deal with a lot of people and personalities. But if you have the passion and ambition, you will succeed. Just make sure that you also learn to find balance with your personal life along the way, because if you let the business consume you, it will do just that.
SHO Shaun Hergatt
40 Broad St. #2
Phone: (212) 809-3993