Interview: "Next Food Network Star" and Culinary Bad Boy Justin Warner, Executive Chef and Owner of "Do or Dine"
"Whimsical" is one of those words you hear thrown around alot, either perjoratively or patronizingly, in regards to young chefs trying to make a name for themselves in a culinary pantheon inundated with worthy choices. Rising star (more of a meteor, really) Justin Warner's Do or Dine eviscerates the easy trappings of that word. It's a restaurant whose menu is equal parts elegant and madcap, with high-minded ingredients like perfectly fried frog legs paired with a bombastically (and deceptively) low-brow spicy Dr. Pepper glaze in Mr. Warner's Leap Year Special-- which won't be available for much longer.
Fortunately for all of us, the same can't be said of Mr. Warner's restaurant, which has all the staying power of the brownstones that make Bed-Stuy so beautiful-- or of Mr. Warner himself, the impossibly young chef who won America's hearts and stomachs (along with his own cooking show) on this most recent season of Next Food Network Star. Here's what he had to say to us about cooking in Bed Stuy, never working for anyone ever again, and how to make espresso aioli.
FoodNRecipe's Anthony Smith: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us, Justin.
Justin Warner: You're welcome.
AS: Your resume is one of the most impressive of any twenty-eight year olds I know. What's it like being the youngest cook in your echelon?
JW: It's cool to be where I am when I am, but the best part about it is to be when I am where I am and to know that there is so much more that I can learn. I just got a head start. I've been in this business since I was 14 or 15, I think, and I really just got a head start.
AS: When did you realize that you wanted to own your own restaurant?The second I had a boss tell me something I didn't want to do. And when did you realize you could turn that dream into a reality?
JW: When I cooked on 24-Hour Restaurant Battle.
AS: What attracted you to the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood?
JW: I lived here. My friends lived here. We still live here. And we are still hungry.
AS: In which ways is your menu influenced by the neighborhood?
JW: People in this neighborhood like to have fun. We try to make fun food.
AS: In which ways is there some dissonance between what you're trying to do and what the neighborhood is known for?
JW: I'm sure on paper yes, but really, no. This is just a couple of dudes sweating to make a living and make people happier about their daily life while we're at it.
AS: What does it mean to you to be a part of the upswing of the Brooklyn eating scene?
JW: That's pretty charitable. I think it's cool that we've reinforced BK as a sort of DIY if-you-build-it-awesome-they-will-come sorta place.
AS: Is there a dish you've been tinkering with that hasn't come together just yet? If so, what is it?
JW: Nothing comes to mind. Escargot to Hell was a short-lived dish. It might come back some day.
AS: What's the dish of yours that everyone should try when ze comes to visit?
JW: The Leap Year Special. It will be gone for four years after this year.
AS: Your menu draws some aggressive influences from all across the board (Japanese, molecular gastronomy, etc.) Which movement or cuisine would you point to as your strongest stylistic influence?
JW: Japanese Cuisine has a broader spectrum of flavors, and especially textures, so I like it the most.
AS: Now that you've gotten a lot of attention on the national scale, have you noticed a difference in who's coming in to your restaurant?
JW: Defs. Especially on weekends. We get a lot of people who are here on vacation and DOD was on the to-do list.
AS: What's the farthest anyone's come to see you?
JW: Hard to say... Japan maybe?
AS: Are there any plans to open a second restaurant any time soon?
JW: Don't tempt us.
AS: Now that Brunch has been stricken from Do or Dine, what are you planning to do with Dor or Dine's Sundays?
JW: Just offer more of the same. It's better that way. And it's a pretty ringing endorsement of what we do, given that what we do is not similar to most other restaurants.
AS: Lastly, would you be willing to share your recipe for your espresso aioli with our readers?
JW: Get some wasabi powder. Add freshly brewed espresso with a whisk until it is no longer pasty or granular. Dilute with kewpie mayo.
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