On this week’s Special Sauce, Doug Crowell and Ryan Angulo talk a lot about a lot of things, including their cookbook, the aptly titled Kindness and Salt: The Care and Feeding of Your Friends and Neighbors.
I asked them to dissect the unusual title, starting with “kindness.” Doug explained, “It’s a big part of what we do…We try to be kind in everything we do, in our relationships as a staff and also with our customers. So that would have to be a part of our book. That’s our philosophy.”
But what about the salt? Doug said, “The salt is sort of shorthand for just cooking…cooking with flavor and cooking with common sense and cooking with salt, literally…and salt has a double meaning, because sometimes we all get a little salty.”
When I asked about the subtitle, Ryan noted, “That was our working title for the book pretty much since the beginning.” And Doug pointed out, “That nicely encapsulates what we do.”
I wondered whether that philosophy of caring for friends and neighbors extended to their kitchens, where in restaurant culture in general there has long been a traditional of verbal abuse. Does Ryan scream? “No,” Ryan said. “Not at all. Well, it depends, but, I mean, you have to really be doing something like that’s just really idiotic and just not respectful of the food or the restaurant to really make me mad. But on a day-to-day basis, no, I don’t walk around yelling, and I know a lot of chefs do. That’s kind of one of the biggest things I learned from working in kitchens is what I didn’t want to do when I became a chef, and that was pretty much one of them.”
Ryan and Doug also talked about the importance of the person greeting customers at their restaurants. “The person at the door has this dual responsibility. One is just friendliness, but the other one is this sort of mad air traffic control situation where you’re trying to shuffle everything around and make it work and promise people they’re gonna sit down in 15 minutes and they really will or an hour and a half and they really will. I think of that person as being second only to the chef as far as making the whole thing go.”
According to them, one of their door people is from the South, and she has a magic word, a contraction in fact, that has disarmed many a peeved customer, but you’re just going to have to listen to find out what it is.
Ed Levine: Welcome to Special Sauce, Serious Eats’ podcast about food and life. Every week on Special Sauce, we talk to some of the leading lights of American culture, food folks and non-food folks alike.
Ryan Angulo: One thing that Doug makes sure he has at all of his restaurants is dimmers. Dimmers for every light, and that’s like his keyboard that he plays throughout the evening.
Doug Crowell: I spend more time dimming lights than I think than whoever’s managing. Dimming lights and changing the volume of the music is key. We ran around to restaurants all over New York with tape measurers and cameras and stuff and just looked at, I mean, look at Balthazar. What’s the dimensions of these tables? What makes this work? Where are the lights in relation to the top of the bar?
EL: Here back with us are Ryan Angulo and Doug Crowell, chef/owners of two neighborhood restaurants in Brooklyn—Buttermilk Channel and French Louie, and the authors of the cookbook Kindness & Salt: Recipes for the Care and Feeding of Your Friends and Neighbors. So let’s get right into the cookbook. First of all, how did it come about? Why now? And here’s the real question, how much help did you get from your wife, the glorious Laura Tucker?
DC: She basically wrote the thing. Ryan and I took a trip to Japan, and Laura wrote it all down. I’m so grateful to her.
EL: So really though, how did it come about?
DC: How did the book come about? Appropriately enough, in our community. I met the editor while I was dining out and as we were talking about it last time, packed into a tiny New York restaurant, it’s easy to meet someone. The woman sitting next to me at the communal table ended up being the editor for the book, and our agent was dining at the restaurant.
EL: Right, because he lives in Brooklyn, David Black.
DC: Because he lives in Brooklyn, yeah. We would only do business with a Brooklyn guy.
EL: You gotta parse the title. Let’s talk about “Kindness & Salt” as a concept for a book. Let us talk about kindness.
DC: It’s a big part of what we do. It’s an important part of what we do. We certainly couldn’t have a cookbook just like I think nobody should have an experience at our restaurant without feeling touched by a genuine relationship with us, and we try to be kind in everything we do, in our relationships as a staff and also with our customers. So that would have to be a part of our book. It’s part of our, that’s our philosophy.
DC: The salt is sort of shorthand for just cooking-
EL: With flavor.
DC: Cooking with flavor and cooking with common sense and cooking with salt, literally.
EL: But the juxtaposition is unusual, but that’s why I like it. It’s like, because the kindness speaks to the emotion and the salt speaks to the flavor.
DC: Yes, and salt has a double meaning too, because sometimes we all get a little salty.
EL: Right, that’s true. That’s true.
DC: But yes, the kind of salt is referring to the flavor.
EL: Now let’s move on to the subtitle, which is “The Care and Feeding of Your Friends and Neighbors.”
RA: I love the subtitle. Doug came up with that really, like almost instantly. That was our working title for the book pretty much since the beginning. Kindness & Salt came later, but I just think that’s great.
DC: Yeah, and it comes from, if you Google “care and feeding,” I don’t know who did it first, but it’s like handbooks for taking care of pets mostly.
EL: I know, and in fact, it could be the title for a cat hostel.
DC: Exactly. That nicely encapsulates what we do. Care and feeding of our friends and neighbors. Like we said, friends which can be from all over the place, or neighbors from all over the place.
EL: I feel when I go to your restaurants well taken care of, and I don’t even tell you that I’m coming, which apparently Laura says you’re annoyed by but-
DC: Yeah, we wanna know. We wanna make a fuss.
EL: But people do feel well taken care of, and it’s amazing what that does to people. It sort of disarms them and they will tolerate many more things, and I mean that. If they have to wait 15 minutes for a table or if the steak comes out medium-well instead of medium-rare, if they feel well taken care of, it’s okay. If they don’t feel well taken care of, it’s not okay.
RA: That’s very true, very true statement.
DC: As someone, a customer this weekend put a fine point on that. They said, I don’t know, they said, “Oh, you could totally screw this up and we’d still be happy. Don’t worry about it.” You build up goodwill in people. Try not to abuse it.
EL: Sometimes it happens.
DC: Well, you eat at a place 100 times, which hopefully people will at ours, and yeah, they’re not gonna like something.
RA: It’s not a perfect science, cooking, at least not in my kitchen.
EL: How much of the menu changes, like there’s things that you can’t take off the menu, right? Like fried chicken is always gonna be on the brunch menu.
RA: Part of what I think makes the menu successful is that we don’t change everything. That ten years from now you can come back and get that steak frites you really like or that fried chicken that you had, and it’s exactly the same. But then there’s the people that come in more often and just for us personally, just to change things up, we change about, I’d say 35-40% of the menu, seasonally. But it’s that other half that never changes.
DC: That’s why people eat in restaurants. They both want variety and also you go back again and again and again for the same thing.
EL: Daniel Boulud always talks about, I can’t take the potato crusted sea bass off the menu. It’s like, I would love to, but people come and they expect it to be there whether they order it or not. They somehow feel comforted that it’s there.
RA: Yeah, that’s was like when I worked at Picholine, the horseradish crusted salmon, it’s Terrance Brennan’s signature dish. I think he grew to not like it very much, but we always had to have it. Always.
DC: Both Ryan and I have personally prepared. We both worked in that restaurant at separate times.
EL: That’s funny, yeah.
DC: I was on that station making that fish.
RA: We almost crossed paths. He was right before me.
EL: That was a really good restaurant of its time. I’ve heard he wasn’t the easiest guy to work for. Are you guys screamers? Are you a screamer, Ryan?
RA: No. Not at all. Well, it depends, but, I mean, you have to really be doing something like that’s just really idiotic and just not respectful of the food or the restaurant to really make me mad. But on a day to day basis, no, I don’t walk around yelling, and I know a lot of chefs do. That’s kind of one of the biggest things I learned from working in kitchens is what I didn’t want to do when I became a chef, and that was pretty much one of them.
EL: Used to be most of the great chefs were screamers because they learned under screamers and screamers beget screamers, but somehow, do you feel like the tide’s turning a little, or do you still think there’s a lot of screamers?
RA: I think it depends on the kitchen. I think it still depends on the kitchen.
DC: I mean, in our industry and in many industries, the workplace is changing for the best, and I think that’s part of it. It’s a weakness, screaming.
EL: So you, Doug, although you’re trained a chef, you are not cooking at either of the restaurants now, right?
DC: No, no. Never was. It would definitely be a bad day if I am in the kitchen.
EL: Did you feel that it was important that you had training as a cook to be a successful restaurateur?
DC: I fell in love with food and then restaurants and then assumed that I would therefore be a chef and was as far along as culinary school and then cooking at Picholine before I realized that I didn’t like it and never would. I loved working in restaurants and I loved hospitality and I really enjoyed showing people a good time, but I was never gonna like doing that. So I got out, started working in dining rooms.
EL: Were you actually ever the head chef at a restaurant?
DC: No, no. Not close, nothing, only a cook.
EL: Got it. In the book, you talk about the door as almost a metaphor for many things, so talk about the door.
DC: The person at the door has this dual responsibility. One is just friendliness, but the other one is this sort of mad air traffic control situation where you’re trying to shuffle everything around and make it work and promise people they’re gonna sit down in 15 minutes and they really will or an hour and a half and they really will. That’s a really special position. I think of that person as being second only to the chef as far as making the whole thing go.
EL: Yeah, and it’s so hard to find that right blend of air traffic controller and welcomer.
DC: My wife has got it.
EL: Yeah, she has it.
DC: She’s never worked in a restaurant before. She does it at the front of the house every Sunday.
EL: I knew before you even said that that your wife has this.
DC: There’s different ways of going about it and we wrote about two of them in the book about Ellen at French Louie and Jennifer, our partner at Buttermilk Channel.
EL: Yeah, so talk about that. You talk about Ellen. She’s the southerner?
DC: She’s the southerner, yeah.
EL: So she has this very southern notion of hospitality and greeting people.
DC: Yeah, she gets to say y’all, too, which is just a, that’s a special power all in itself. That just transmits something friendly to people.
EL: It’s true, and when people from New York say it, it really sounds lame.
DC: I want to, but it’s totally lame, yeah. No, it’s not ours. But come on in y’all, and it’s like oh-
EL: I tried it for a while. We have a great pastry chef, our pastry wizard, Stella Parks, also known as Bravetart. She’s from Lexington, Kentucky. Nobody says y’all like Stella Parks. Okay, I’m just telling you that right now.
DC: Makes you feel good, right?
EL: Makes me feel great.
RA: You want to give it a shot right now?
EL: I can’t do it. I don’t know if I-
RA: I can’t do it either.
EL: I can’t do it justice. It’s like she’s just got the lilt. It’s the lilt and the way it’s sort of one syllable but it’s kind of two, and it’s kind of weird. So you also talk in the book about setting the stage. What, to you, constitutes setting the stage at a restaurant?
DC: The stage would be the dining room for us, which hopefully is not a stage for much drama, but a stage in that it needs to be set. So we’re talking about lights and music and the things that give people that they want to have when they’re in our restaurant. Just candles alone, which we write about, are a thing that, I think that candles may be like the y’all of ambiance of restaurant dining rooms. They really give you a feeling. There’s a warmth to them and intimacy that they bring in bringing people together over that flickering flame that you can’t get otherwise.
EL: But what’s funny about your restaurant is, like I once talked to Steve Starr about the lighting at Upland, because it’s beautiful. He said, “Oh, yeah, well we hired one of the best lighting designers in Paris to come and do it.” So I’m just guessing, I don’t know this for a fact, Doug and Ryan, you didn’t have the money to hire one of the best lighting designers in Paris, so you just made it up.
RA: Yeah, but one thing that Doug makes sure he has at all of his restaurants is dimmers. Dimmers for like every light, and that’s like his keyboard that he plays throughout the evening.
DC: I spend more time dimming lights than, I think, than whoever’s managing, dimming lights and changing the volume of the music is key. We just, we went, ran around to restaurants all over New York with tape measurers and cameras and stuff and just looked at like, I mean, look at Balthazar. What’s the dimensions of these tables? What makes this work? Where are the lights in relation to the top of the bar?
EL: You are searching for the elements that create magic, which are really hard to identify. There are some concrete things, when you talk about the width of the common table. So you just walk around listening, looking, and lighting-
DC: And measuring, which has a, people get suspicious when you break out a measuring tape. People, I got kicked out more than once. They’re just like what’s, what are you doing there? But how to make a bar that’s nice to eat at? Well, you got to have room for your legs to slide under it, and you gotta have a light where it can shine on your book but not create glare.
EL: This is fascinating. So what’s the magic of 30 inches?
DC: It gives you a little extra space. It’s enough space to work on with food that you’re sharing, but not too much that you start to feel distant from people.
EL: Yeah. Keith McNally is a setting the stage genius in the restaurant business. The light itself that emanates from Balthazar in the evening is magical.
DC: He really makes magic, and those places, they look, and they give you the illusion that they’ve been there forever or that they evolved from something else, and they’re in fact created out of whole cloth.
EL: Yeah. It’s true. It’s fascinating, but you do this yourselves. You might’ve brought Laura in or friends, but you didn’t have the money, so you were setting the stage without a stage designer, without anything.
RA: Well, for French Louie we had some help.
EL: Got it.
RA: We had Joseph Folia. He’s a restaurant designer, and him and Doug designed the restaurant together.
DC: That was a game changer. That was real, that was a real luxury, having a real pro who knew what he was doing.
RA: He created lights and light fixtures just for the restaurant from, he even knows metalwork guys and they were created out of brass and it was beautiful-
EL: It’s funny, but you know what, it’s interesting, a lot of diners don’t notice the lighting, and that’s because if it’s right, you don’t notice it, and if it’s wrong, it’s glaring.
DC: But glare is usually the problem, yeah.
EL: Yeah, and so that’s why I asked Steve Starr about Upland and Justin the chef. Similarly, it’s like wow. This lighting is just stunning in here, and Steve’s all, “That’s no accident. That was a very expensive-“
DC: I learned about light from Steve Hanson. He was very serious about the lights.
EL: Yeah, Steve Hanson was a long time New York restaurateur. Now he’s in the hotel business, I think.
EL: You talk about this whole idea of celebration. What do you mean by celebration?
DC: Well, we’re there for you when you’re sad too, but that’s the most fun. I mean, I think for me, birthdays and anniversaries are the best, and it’s such an honor when someone brings you those special occasions. That has so many times cemented our relationship. We had a couple on this weekend who I knew had spent their, they had had their first date at our restaurant. They had gotten engaged at our restaurant. They’d had each anniversary since there. That’s so much fun.
EL: I love that. At Serious Eats, we just had our tenth child born in the 13 years we’ve been in business.
DC: Hey, mazel tov.
EL: That’s pretty cool, isn’t it?
RA: That’s great.
DC: That’s awesome, yeah. We’ve had kids now and marriages, I mean, among the staff and customers. It’s beautiful, and we see, ten years is the lifetime of Buttermilk Channel’s been there, and that’s a significant chunk of time.
EL: It is, because restaurants are almost like websites. It’s dog years, so you really, you’ve been in business 70 years.
DC: Yeah, no, it feels that way sometimes. That’s a chunk of time that in which you can see people go from a dating couple to having kids who, I remember a kid who wasn’t even born when the restaurant opened, but I knew his parents, and he climbed up on the bar and asked me about the cookbook. He said, “Hey, how’s it going along? When’s the cookbook coming out?” I thought, wow. That’s really cool.
RA: That’s kind of funny.
EL: So you do this big brunch business, and you also obviously do a big dinner business. What’s the difference in your minds between what a brunch service is and what a dinner service is?
RA: Brunch is definitely more casual, even though you can have a casual experience at dinner. It’s definitely, I mean, it’s almost like here’s a really fancy diner that’s fun. You can come in and have drinks and kind of fun food. I always think of it as adult kids’ food. I know that sounds weird, but it’s all that kind of gluttonous, fun things to eat and it’s in a pretty casual setting. We play different music. It’s a little louder.
DC: Yeah, brunch is a party. We could play any music at brunch, just as long as, when the room is full. We could play other wild stuff.
RA: Hits from the 80s, old hip hop, whatever you want.
EL: Because pancakes are the best DJ of all.
DC: Because pancakes are at the wheel. It’s a, it really is a party. It’s a cool thing to see, and people come from all over. It’s a time when we meet people from further and further away.
EL: Dinner is-
DC: It’s slower, for one thing. Dinner is a much, brunch is really on fast forward, and dinner is, but dinner, people are having all sorts of different experiences. Brunch is like always a celebration, usually. Every once in a while, brunch is sad, but brunch is generally a celebratory time. People are taking a break from their lives and-
RA: How often do you order an alcoholic beverage at 10:00 AM. Only on Saturday and Sunday at brunch.
EL: I was just in Madrid and somebody was showing me around, this guy who runs a food tour company, and at 11:00 AM, we went to a vermouth bar.
RA: Wow. When in Spain.
DC: Yeah, they have vermouth-eight different kinds of vermouth on tap.
RA: Yeah, I like that stuff.
EL: I said, “Why are we here at 11:00?” He said, “Because if we get here at 11:45, we wouldn’t be able to get in.” 11:00 AM for drinking vermouth, and I enjoyed it. Don’t get me wrong, but I mean, it was something. So I want to talk to you about something serious. It’s a little bit of a change of pace. There’s a lot of talk and you read a lot about how hard it is to have a restaurant be profitable. Now there are changes in the minimum wage law. Every restaurateur and chef I talk to basically starts from having a very progressive set of political beliefs, and yet, could it be a game changer for many restaurants?
RA: Definitely for a lot of restaurants. It just officially happened, the end of it, this year, so all non-tipped, minimum wage employees are 15 per hour. Then tips, the tipped wages up to 10, which means they get 10 per hour no matter, what, and then tips on top of that. There’s always been this formula of your food cost is 30% and below, and your beverage cost is 30% or below, and then the x, blah blah blah. We’ve kind of changed our way of thinking about that. We’re like okay, labor is 40-45% depending on the week. How can we adjust the other percentages? Without diminishing quality-
EL: And without raising prices too much.
RA: And without raising prices too much, because we don’t want to be, the prices are gonna go up. That’s uncontrollable, but we don’t wanna be an expensive restaurant. We don’t wanna like, because we’re a neighborhood restaurant. We want people to still feel like they’re getting value.
EL: So is it a dance that you think you can sustain, you can hit that sweet spot?
RA: Oh yeah.
EL: But a lot of chefs and restaurateurs I talked to say it’s cut their margins from 10-4.
RA: We’re in a very fortunate situation that it’s just, like for French Louie, it’s just Doug and myself and our wives. We own the place, so we don’t have a lot of investors saying, where’s my money?
EL: Where’s my return. Got it.
RA: So it’s really, we can make decisions that maybe you wouldn’t be able to make in other restaurants.
EL: Interesting. So you think it’s the ones where they’ve gotten investor money who expect returns and there’s a business plan that they’ve all signed off on, and then if you fall short, that’s when the trouble starts?
DC: It’s become difficult to be that kind of restaurant, but yeah, there are forces that are making it a lot, economic forces are making it a lot more difficult to have a kind of restaurant like ours, a traditional, full service restaurant with a big staff and a big menu. You’ll see fewer and fewer of those for that reason, and it’s because there’s no commercial rent control in the city and rents are crazy. Also now because of these issues with labor cost, and certainly, I think we both, we definitely support the $15 an hour minimum wage is great. You can, in New York City, you can’t necessarily keep them above the poverty line with $15 an hour.
DC: The tip credit for tipped employees, I mean, there’s a pretty powerful movement towards eliminating tipping, which is unfortunately for us, because that tip credit is kind of a subsidy for our business that allows it to be possible, and on the other hand, I think it’s been very good for the employees who are tipped. I think we all, most of us have either been a waiter or bartender or know plenty of those people, and it’s a very efficient way of making a living. Also the bussers and food runners and stuff like that. It’s a very efficient way of making a living while you’re maybe a single parent or you’re studying in school or something like that, and to do away with that, which is, there is a movement in that direction, I think would be very unfortunate.
EL: Yeah, in Seattle, my friend Tom Douglas owns a bunch of restaurants, and it’s very progressive politically. He’s lost a lot of employees. I think he’s gone to no tipping, and people leave because they’re making much less money.
DC: Yeah, I don’t believe that it’s a labor movement for that reason, because I don’t see, the streets were filled with fast food workers striking for a $15 an hour minimum wage-
EL: Right, and we all understand that. Isn’t the problem that we’re talking about is that they’re treating fast food workers the same way that they’re treating tipped workers in restaurants?
DC: I can’t necessarily speak for the whole labor force, but we don’t see them coming out in favor of reducing their income through eliminating tipping. There’s people make some strong arguments that there are, it leaves you open to workplace harassment when you’re working for tips, that you need to put up with this behavior because your income is not guaranteed, and that’s true and should be addressed. But I’d be sorry to see tipping go.
EL: Yeah, and people have had mixed success and Danny Meyer is doing it now, I guess, with more and more restaurants, but he’s acknowledged that it’s cost him business.
DC: Yeah, I’m sure it has.
RA: It’s cost him employees, too.
EL: And lots of, a huge employee turnover.
DC: There were restaurants, yeah, in that company where they were making a lot of money, and they can’t possibly make that much money once the playing field gets more leveled or once they’re no longer making gratuities.
EL: So now it’s time for the all you can answer Special Sauce buffet. Who’s at your last supper? No family allowed.
RA: Chef-wise, I’ll take Anthony Bourdain. He can come back and sit at my table.
EL: Okay, all right.
RA: Do Mike Patton for a musician, but he loves-
EL: Who is Michael Patton?
RA: He’s a-
EL: I mean, I’m pretty, I was in the music business for a long time.
RA: He’s most well known for being lead singer of Faith No More.
EL: Ah, okay. All right.
RA: But he does a lot of other things, too.
EL: Okay, all right. Keep going.
RA: I’ll throw John Zorn in there too, because he’s fun-
EL: John Zorn. We’re getting pretty idiosyncratic there. Who else?
RA: This looks bad. This looks bad.
DC: Dead or alive? You said, those are the rules?
EL: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
DC: Anyone living or dead-
EL: It could be Joan of Arc, I don’t care.
RA: Joan of Arc. How about Molly Ringwald?
DC: Yeah, no, she’s-
EL: Molly Ringwald?
DC: She’s very charming.
RA: She’ll bring a nice 80s perspective to the whole-
EL: Joan of Arc could bring cake.
DC: You just, maybe it was a beautiful table. I was sorry we couldn’t do family members, because there’s some people I’d really like to eat with there.
EL: But we had to eliminate that because everyone-
DC: Yeah, because that’s too, sure.
EL: I would like to have your wife at my last supper.
DC: That’s a great call. That’s a great call. I thought George Saunders, who we make reference to in that book. Also, he’s got some perspectives on death.
EL: George Saunders, wow, man. That is some literary cred, man, you just got yourself. That’s good.
DC: He would, it’s gonna be a pretty dark meal, and I’m gonna need someone to give me a perspective on what lies ahead.
EL: What are you eating? What would you guys be eating at this last supper?
DC: It’s pizza, yes.
DC: We’d be eating pizza. It’s the last time I’m gonna get to eat pizza? I’m gonna eat pizza.
EL: All right.
RA: Pizza would definitely have to be-
EL: Would you like pizza from Razza?
DC: I opened a can of worms with you. Can you consult on my pizza?
EL: Yes, I would consult on your pizza.
DC: I mean maybe a buffet. I might want a regular New York slice. I might want a Sicilian in there. I might want the Neapolitan as well.
EL: I would definitely consult, like gratis, I’ll come up with a pizza menu for you.
DC: It’s an important meal.
EL: You’d have to have Chris Bianco’s pistachio nut, red onion, and parmigiano reggiano pizza called the Rosa.
DC: Is he in Arizona?
DC: Does that mean my last meal on this world would be in Arizona.
EL: No, we’re gonna get Chris here.
DC: Thank you, Chris.
EL: Chris is gonna be here, we’ll find him an oven, he’ll make you a Rosa. It’ll change your life.
DC: There we go, right?
RA: I’m picturing this being an all day meal.
EL: Yeah, of course.
DC: I’m gonna drag it out, yeah.
RA: And since I was just at Barney Greengrass, can we start with some smoked fish?
EL: Of course. Are we talking sturgeon or salmon?
RA: I mean, if it’s from Barney Greengrass, it’s gotta be sturgeon.
EL: I agree. I agree. I agree. So what do you both cook, and this, you can answer individually, when there’s nothing in the house to eat? What will there always be that you can rustle up?
RA: Oh, I don’t cook anything. It’s saltines, hot sauce, butter, and mackerel. Canned mackerel. That’s always in my house. Can I age myself?
EL: So a tin of mackerel? All right.
RA: Saltines, butter’s essential, and some hot sauce.
EL: I love that, and you Doug?
RA: I can make a whole meal out of that.
DC: Yeah, we’re both eating oily fish. For me, it would be a meal you can entirely make out of a bodega and stuff in your pantry, like linguini with anchovies, capers, olive oil, red pepper flakes.
EL: That’d be a total umami bomb.
DC: Oh yeah, and the more anchovies the better.
EL: Do each of you have a guilty pleasure that you’ll own up to on Special Sauce?
RA: Like weird things that we like to eat that we won’t tell anyone?
EL: Yeah, like Bugles or-
DC: Oh, Bugles are fantastic. Fritos, are they the ones that are really good?
EL: Yeah, but you don’t know, I just brought up Bugles, but the fact that you love Bugles really says something.
DC: Yeah, they’re beautiful, or there’s certain places where the American food industry has really worked some magic. What even is a Trisket? How do they make that, with like a dough loom? It’s like woven dough, but that’s wonderful.
EL: It’s pure genius.
DC: But that’s not guilty. Guilty, I feel like ketchup is a guilty pleasure.
EL: I know, but-
DC: Because it’s so weird. It’s so weird that we even have that in our restaurant.
EL: But do you-
RA: It satiates our need for blood.
EL: I hope you guys serve Heinz ketchup, but do you make your own?
RA: No, Heinz.
EL: Thank you, because by the way, you can’t do any better than the Heinz.
DC: But isn’t that weird? It’s like high fructose corn syrup. That’s a strange thing. That’s when you can feel guilty about it, because it’s weird, but it’s delicious.
EL: So what’s on your nightstand right now, Doug, book-wise?
DC: I’m reading stories by, William Trevor stories. Great old Irish writer.
EL: Beautiful writer.
DC: I’m also reading Philip Pullman. So like YA fantasy.
EL: And your wife is publishing a YA novel.
DC: She is. All the Greys on Greene Street comes out in June, and it’s the most exciting thing that’s happening.
EL: Coming to a bookstore near you. What about you? What’s on your nightstand?
RA: Nightstand, I have this new cookbook about robata grilling that’s sitting there. Well, we just went to Japan, and we’re going back, so I’ve been on this Japanese kick-
EL: Oh right, because we didn’t even talk about this, but you opened up a Buttermilk Channel in Japan.
RA: Yeah, that happened.
DC: They love fried chicken, too. They’re crazy about pancakes.
EL: They’re crazy about? And how long has it been open now?
DC: Since October, beginning of October.
EL: And it’s going great?
DC: It’s going great, yeah. I see it every day on Instagram, and we have-
EL: That’s awesome.
DC: We have shaky Skype meetings and-
EL: How often do you guys have to go over there?
DC: We’ll be back in April.
EL: Got it, and you go for a couple of weeks?
DC: Yeah, we’ll be there for two weeks.
EL: Fried chicken has become the favorite Christmas meal in Japan. Did you have a big run on fried chicken? Were you open Christmas?
DC: We actually are responsible for that phenomenon. No, we’re not. KFC is credited with inventing a phenomenon of fried chicken Christmas there.
RA: I just read that recently. It’s like a big thing, and I was wondering if there was gonna be a, I didn’t hear, did you hear anything? That it was exceptionally in demand?
DC: It’s a big holiday for them. There’s two weeks, Christmas, New Years of big holiday time there, and yeah, there was a lot of fried chicken sold. But I think the specific tradition is in buckets, is getting that bucket of chicken and bringing it home, and we don’t have that.
EL: You don’t really want to eat your fried chicken at KFC.
DC: You don’t eat at KFC, yeah. You gotta take it away.
EL: Yeah, you gotta take it away.
DC: Or maybe in Tokyo, maybe the KFC may be beautiful. I didn’t see one. 7-11s are lovely there.
RA: 7-11s are great.
EL: So what’s the most influential book that you’ve ever read? It could be about cooking or food or it could be just about anything.
RA: Cooking-wise, that one that came out, The Perfectionist. Think about that one a lot.
EL: Oh, that was about the three star Michelin chef who committed suicide when the Michelin folks demoted him to two stars. I think the chef’s name was Bernard Loiseau.
DC: Loiseau, yeah.
EL: That was a powerful book, actually.
RA: Yeah, that was a good book.
EL: Yeah. Very sad. What about you, Doug?
DC: Fiction, it would be fiction maybe?
EL: Yeah. Yeah. Fiction is good.
DC: I’ll take Portrait of a Lady.
EL: Portrait of a Lady.
DC: Yeah, sure. I’ll take Portrait of a Lady. I think both these books showed us directions not to go in. How not to lead an utterly miserable life.
RA: Yeah, yeah pretty much.
EL: So who’s had the greatest influence on your careers?
RA: For me, it’s Mike Fennelly. He’s a chef that I worked for, my first job in San Francisco. I’m still friends with him to this day, like 25 years later.
EL: Does he still own a restaurant there?
RA: No, now he lives in Maine. He’s an artist. He was a chef and artist. He does a lot more painting now. I think he does, he just opened up like a café in his backyard, because that’s what he does called Wabi Café. But he was the most influential. He just taught me like a very, I don’t know, very nice way of cooking.
EL: What about you, Doug?
DC: I never worked for Danny Meyer, but he put into words through Setting the Table a lot about hospitality and sort of kindness and compassion that we strive for in our restaurants. He put that very eloquently into words in that book, and that was a big influence on me.
EL: Yeah. That’s a great book. You know, where I was looking for books that would be like mine, I of course thought of Danny’s book and then, I love that book and I love how personal it was and I love the fact that he says, “I didn’t interview anybody else for this book. These are my thoughts and my feelings,” and he also gets very personal about his family. So there are elements of that in my book, but there wasn’t any book out there that was going to be like mine. It’s one of those things, when you open a restaurant or when you write a book, you actually don’t know what it’s gonna be until you’re done.
DC: Yeah, I mean, and you can’t have two versions of an idea about what it’s going to be.
DC: I think all authors talk about that. There’s an element of unconscious, of some-
EL: It’s weird, and I had no idea, because at first I thought I was gonna write a prescriptive business book, but then your wife laughed at me. She was like, “No, no. Your book would be how not to run a business.” So there’s like-
DC: She tells it like it is.
EL: So then it’ll be like, okay, so and then at the end I said, “I finally just realized what the book was about.”
DC: Which is?
EL: The book is about a guy who had a crazy idea who had some rough moments growing up and went from surviving to thriving through achieving a near impossible dream.
DC: Hey, fantastic pitch. I’ll take it.
EL: It’s my elevator pitch.
DC: What’s your most influential book?
EL: I’ve never had anyone ask me that before, even though I ask everybody else that question. I know, there’s a book that I love that a lot of people don’t even know about, written by Ron Suskind, a beautiful nonfiction writer, called A Hope in the Unseen, which is about a kid who graduates from a high school in one of the worst neighborhoods in Washington, DC. He goes to Brown on a scholarship and what he encounters. It is such an extraordinary book. It’s such an inspirational book. Really, I will tell you if my book, now that it’s over, if it would be the closest thing to A Hope in the Unseen, just that movement from surviving to thriving that is in my book is also in that book. If you ever get a chance to read it. It’s still in print. It’s called The Hope in the Unseen.
DC: Hey, I will now.
RA: That’s got some Rhode Island references. That’s nice.
EL: Yeah, yeah it’s got a lot of Rhode Island references. All right, so last question. It’s just been declared, and in your case, it’s Doug and Ryan Day all over the world. What’s happening on that day?
RA: Please don’t tell me there’s fried chicken being eaten everywhere.
EL: I didn’t say that. I did not-
DC: We’re in charge of the world on this day?
EL: Yeah, you’re in charge. Everyone does what you think they should be doing.
RA: I’m not prepared for that question.
DC: Everyone shuts off their phones.
RA: Oh, that’s nice, yeah.
EL: That’s good. Are they cooking? Are they eating? Are they playing?
DC: Everyone is eating pizza with Henry James, what did we say? With George Saunders and the guy, and John Zorn.
EL: I love it. All right, man. Thank you so much for sharing your Special Sauce with us, Doug Crowell and Ryan Angulo. Do pick up a copy of their much more than a cookbook, Kindness & Salt: Recipes for the Care and Feeding of Your Friends and Neighbors. If you find yourself in Brooklyn, you could do far worse than breaking bread at either Buttermilk Channel or French Louie. You’ll be greeted with kindness and your food will be properly salted. Thanks gentlemen. So long, Serious Eaters. We’ll see you next time.
DC: Thanks, Ed.
RA: Yeah, thanks a lot, Ed.