20 Questions with Bar Beau’s Gemma Kamin-Korn
In the Resy Questionnaire, we play a game of 20 questions with the industry folks behind some of our favorite restaurants. What’s your most memorable restaurant experience? Your favorite food movie? What restaurant would you want to time-travel for?
In this edition, we talk to Gemma Kamin-Korn, the executive chef behind Bar Beau, a delightful hidden kitchen and cocktail bar in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
The Resy Questionnaire
1. Favorite thing you’ve ever cooked?
Scallops. Not the first time I cooked them at home, or even the first time I cooked them at work, but the first time I cooked them well. When I mastered exactly how high the heat needed to be on my sauté pan, when I should lower the heat, how much pressure to apply, and for how long to get good pan contact to promote an even sear, it was a triumph. They turned out exactly the way I wanted them to, and it wasn’t in any way accidental. And it helps that I love to eat them as well.
2. Kitchen tool or equipment you couldn’t live without?
The obvious answer would be a good, sharp chef’s knife, but if I had to choose a legit tool, it would probably be a very specific medium-sized flat spoon. They are nothing special, unlike a Kunz spoon, but they are extremely versatile and could be used as a spatula, peeler, and of course, spoon.
However, my hands are my most important and essential tool. In my course of training and cheffing, contrary to the way I was instructed, I have often told cooks that the best tool are one’s hands. I’ve watched cooks struggle to plate dexterously with a spoon, unable to grasp an item well with tongs, or to finagle a spatula under something, and my slightly humorous solution is to just pick it up with my clean hands. No fuss, no muss, and all the finesse and tactile sensitivity needed for most situations. It is a little savage by some standards, but it gets the job done well and expediently.
3. What pantry items would you bring on a desert island?
Maldon salt, Kraft macaroni and cheese, green Cholula hot sauce, nice olive oil, and coffee.
4. What’s your favorite place to get a slice in New York?
My childhood favorite pizza joint, Napoli, from where I grew up in Queens. It has been there for at least 30 years. It’s not different than any typical slice joint, but they have the perfect hint of sweetness in the sauce, the right amount of crust with a good bit of crispy snap, and everything is assembled in the ideal ratio.
5. Favorite cookbook?
The Professional Chef by the Culinary Institute of America. I don’t have any formal training as a cook, and for a very long time (even still occasionally), I felt inadequate, as if I was operating at a deficit. This book helped me fill in gaps when I needed to, and was my base knowledge bible for my first few years on the job.
6. Your drink of choice?
I don’t have a favorite drink per se, but I gravitate towards a specific profile. Tequila, spice, citrus, and fruitiness are almost always what I want to be drinking. The So Sorry cocktail at Bar Beau is a great example.
7. Favorite food movie?
Is it wrong to say The Silence of the Lambs?
Also, Ratatouille. It is just so adorable.
8. Your ideal dinner party guests, dead or alive?
None. I would be so intimidated to offer legends anything I created, it would be my worst nightmare. If it were a potluck, perhaps, I would love to eat the food of Lidia Bastianich, Jacques Pépin, Julia Child, Thomas Keller, Nobu Matsuhisa, Jiro Ono, and so many more.
9. What restaurant industry person do you admire the most?
Of course, I admire great chefs like Grant Achatz for his skills and triumph over adversity, or José Andrés for his humanitarian aid contributions and culinary prowess.
But I truly admire cooks like my own and so many more, who wake up early to prep and cook for breakfast and lunch, and then commute to another restaurant to do it all over again for dinner service. My admiration isn’t aspirational, but that of gratitude. On a personal level to my own guys, but in general, to folks who bust their a** to make ends meet and act as the backbone of the entire industry.
10. The greatest restaurant experience of your life so far?
Having an objectively lackluster meal at a Michelin-starred restaurant. As a chef, recognition and praise are what I find validating. I don’t ever feel fully satisfied with a dish until at least five people tell me it’s good. Even then, there’s still a difference between good and good enough. But to eat somewhere considered to be very good and have the feeling that I could be doing that, it reassures me that I’m not bad at what I do, just because I lack the recognition or esteem.
11. Your greatest professional achievement?
I’ll let you know when it happens.
12. What single dish best describes your personality?
An anchovy Caesar salad. A little stinky, a little cheesy, a little heavy sometimes, but still bright and refreshing, with a little tartness and funk. Generally likable, but occasionally objectionable.
13. If you could go back in time, which restaurant would you dine at?
I would want to eat at Noma in the period from 2010 to 2013, when they first popped up on the States’ culinary radar. They had only two Michelin stars at that point, but they had found their rhythm after being open for a while.
14. Your favorite meal from childhood?
Anything takeout. My mom was a mediocre cook.
15. Your wish for the restaurant industry?
I wish our wages and benefits would better reflect the central role we play in people’s lives. The innate structure of how a restaurant works — a small establishment in particular — makes under compensation “necessary.”
16. What do you wish you did better? What do you do well?
I wish I was a better technician. I love to play with flavors and textures, and sometimes the technique and precision of preparing an item becomes secondary.
I am a good organizer. I can tell you what equipment should go where in a kitchen, set up a station well with efficiency and intuition, and rearrange and consolidate a lowboy or walk-in like nobody’s business.
17. If you could eat through a city for a day, where would you go?
Los Angeles. I’ve been a few times, and have some favorite spots, but I’ve never had enough time to go to all the places I’ve wanted to try.
18. The one thing you can’t resist splurging on when you go out?
It will sound crazy, but a salad. When most people go to a restaurant, a salad is the least exciting item on a menu. Sometimes, they get thrown on to appease vegetarians and vegans, or fill a historical niche. I cannot fully enjoy a meal without some fresh foliage to accompany all the other delights. And even when I know the salad is a simple throwaway item, with a silly marked-up price, I still need to have it.
19. What do you value most in restaurants?
Attention to detail.
20. It’s your last meal on earth, what are you eating?
I would have such decision paralysis from wanting to eat EVERYTHING and having to choose only one thing that I would probably have a meltdown and end up eating a granola bar and some random leftovers from my refrigerator.
Noëmie Carrant is a Resy staff writer. Follow Resy on Instagram and Twitter.