Telly Justice, the executive chef and owner of HAGS in New York.
Photo of Telly Justice and of interiors by Seth Caplan, food photos by Dillon Burke, all courtesy of HAGS

Resy QuestionnaireNew York

20 Questions with HAGS’ Telly Justice


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 Telly Justice, the executive chef and co-owner behind New York’s thrilling HAGS, a queer restaurant making strides in the fine-dining space.

The Resy Questionnaire

1. Favorite thing you’ve ever cooked?

French fries. When I met Camille [Lindsley, HAGS’ co-owner and sommelier] in 2015, her favorite food at the time was French fries. She had just come back from Amsterdam and frites were a new nostalgia thing for her. So, one day, I spent the better part of my shift making fries for staff meal. It was my way of flirting, I guess. And it worked! We started dating not long after, and in our eight years together, I’ve had the great honor of cooking her many plates of fries. It makes me feel young and in love again, every time.

The bar and dining room at HAGS in New York.
Photos by Seth Caplan, courtesy of HAGS
A table at HAGS in New York.

2. Kitchen tool or equipment you couldn’t live without?

My Searzall. I know for many well-equipped restaurant kitchens, the Searzall might feel like a bit of a toy, but HAGS is so small that we get great use out of handheld equipment, and the tool really carries its weight. I can tuck it under the pass and bring it out for torched desserts or to crisp the skin on mackerel without losing much space. It makes us a more flexible kitchen.

3. What pantry items would you bring on a desert island?

Ok, I’m going to give away the HAGS flavor profile here: I couldn’t cook my food without sorghum syrup, Cobanero chile, golden sesame oil, chile vinegar from SOS Chefs, and a nice Dijon mustard. My palate tends toward sweet and spicy, and these flavors really do the trick!

4. What’s your favorite place to get a slice in New York?

I love L’Industrie! They’re the nicest people, and they make maybe the best slice I’ve ever had. Their sandwiches are what really haunt me. I’d also be remiss not to mention East Village Pizza. It’s a block south of HAGS and they have kept me alive with their late hours, very commendable slices, and warm hospitality.

5. Favorite cookbook?

A Very Serious Cookbook, the Contra and Wildair cookbook. It’s no secret that I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing at HAGS without the influence and mentorship of Fabián von Hauske and Jeremiah Stone. I’ve looked up to them for a long time and I believe they really accurately portrayed their food, and themselves, through that book.

As a pastry chef, I would also have to say that Fancy Desserts by Brooks Headley also changed my life in a lot of ways. Being his neighbor now in the East Village, it’s cool to see him from time to time. He’s an awesome neighbor!

6. Your drink of choice?

An iced matcha Americano from our neighbors, La Cabra. They do it so well, and it feels like such a treat to go visit them.

7. Favorite food movie?

While it isn’t a “food movie” per se, the movie that had the biggest impact on my cuisine was probably Hook. There is this one scene where the Lost Boys have an imaginary food fight and the food looks absurd. Gooey, sticky, neon-colored. I try every day to make my plates as playful as the food in that scene.

8. Your ideal dinner party guests, dead or alive? 

There is no one I love cooking for more than queer, and especially trans, line cooks. Coming up in this industry, I didn’t have any trans chef role models to look up to. It touches me in a really emotional place to be in a position to feed young trans folks starting out their careers. I would choose to feed them over any famous chef any day of the week.

9. What restaurant industry person do you admire the most?

I really like the people that quietly do the work that really means something personal to them, whether they are getting attention or not. I think that Mike and Shyretha Sheats, of the Plate Sale (and soon Mule Train) down in Georgia are the most inspiring people I’ve met in this industry. They have such a vision for the work they want to do within their community, and for their family’s future. And their food, beverage, and hospitality is some of the best I’ve ever had.

10. The greatest restaurant experience of your life so far?

Camille took me to José Andrés’ Minibar in D.C. for my birthday a couple years ago. I’ve never had so much fun eating food. I still remember every single bite and every server, some of whom have even become good friends of ours. I remember every drop line, every joke, every surprise. It was a truly perfect meal.

11. Your greatest professional achievement?

Opening HAGS! We always say that getting open was the dream, everything else is icing on the cake. And it’s true. I never thought I would get a chance to do something like this and I’m grateful for it every day.

12. What single dish best describes your personality?

13. If you could go back in time, which restaurant would you dine at?

I would love to go back to the early days of Chez Panisse. Alice Waters is such a legend in our industry and there is such a mythology to the scene she cultivated through that space.

Photo by Dillon Burke, courtesy of HAGS
Photo by Dillon Burke, courtesy of HAGS

14. Your favorite meal from childhood?

I didn’t have a very culinary upbringing, but every year for my birthday, my parents would buy me a chocolate silk pie. It’s the height of nostalgia for me, and I have been known to put iterations of it on menus from time to time.

15. Your wish for the restaurant industry?

I want to see more restaurant concepts operating with a free or sliding-scale food program. Even just one day a week, like we do with our Pay What You Can Sundays, can make huge differences to your block and your community. It’s possible, and it’s becoming a more and more necessary endeavor.

16. What do you wish you did better? What do you do well?

Better: I wish that I was better at granting myself rest. I am a workaholic like so many chefs in this industry. I’m working on it, but it will always be a challenge to overcome.

Well: I think that I have a talent for having fun with my food. I don’t set out to impress or intimidate with my cuisine. It’s super fulfilling to feed folks food that makes them smile or laugh.

17. If you could eat through a city for a day, where would you go?

I love New York City, I think it’s the best food city in the world. But besides New York, I think New Orleans is the most exciting food town for me. Every time I go, I am overwhelmed by how much amazing food there is to eat.

18. The one thing you can’t resist splurging on when you go out?

I will always get dessert. And because I’m almost always with Camille, that means we will almost always get dessert wine, too. Splurge on the sweet stuff, you deserve it!

19. What do you value most in restaurants?

I think that a good restaurant is one that is in touch with its immediate community. Its block, its neighborhood. I like a chef that stocks the community fridge at the end of a week, or lets neighbors use the bathroom, or hand-shops ingredients from the old shop on the corner, or comps as many meals for neighborhood seniors as they do for influencers and journalists.

20. It’s your last meal on earth, what are you eating?

My last meal is one that I’m cooking, and we’re sharing it. So the real question is: what do YOU want to eat?

The front door at HAGS in New York.
Photos by Seth Caplan, courtesy of HAGS
Tables at HAGS in New York.

HAGS is open for dinner reservations Wednesday through Saturday from 5 to 10 p.m. with a three-course ($85) or five-course ($145) menu. Every Sunday, the restaurant offers a “pay what you can” menu from 5 to 9 p.m., first come, first served.

Noëmie Carrant is Resy’s senior writer. Follow her on Instagram. Follow Resy on Instagram and Twitter, too.