Eric See of Ursula
Photos courtesy of Ursula

Resy QuestionnaireNew York

20 Questions with Ursula’s Eric See

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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 spoke to Eric See, the chef and owner of New York’s Ursula in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn.

The Resy Questionnaire

1. Favorite thing you’ve ever cooked?

A New Mexican-style breakfast burrito. It’s the reason for the season; the reason I am answering these questions today. It’s also been a really fun, challenging, and sometimes frustrating discourse in the way that we interpret regional cuisines, culinary history, and identity. We can go down that rabbit hole in another segment.

Ursula's breakfast burrito
Photo courtesy of Ursula
Ursula's breakfast burrito
Photo courtesy of Ursula

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

A bowl scraper. The elation of getting to get everything out of a bowl, or Cambro [insulated container] with such ease and no waste is incredible. If I had a shitty day all day, at least I know I got all the pancake batter out of that bowl.

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

Obviously New Mexican red and green chile. Garlic powder is an unsung hero. Reem Assil did this spice blend collab with Burlap & Barrel called Khalta Hara, blending chiles, cinnamon, cumin, black lime, coriander, and cardamom that I have literally put in everything. So maybe I would take that and some lard or duck fat and call it a day.

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

I’m not usually a “just a slice” type because a carnal feeding frenzy takes over for more pizza. So, I would say that Juliana’s (the OG Grimaldi’s spot) still has my heart. The service is always great, it’s an incredible pie, and tourists still flock next door not knowing the real tea on the family drama.

5. Favorite cookbook?

This isn’t a one book answer. Elizabeth Falkner’s “Demolition Desserts: Recipes From Citizen Cake” and the late, great Gina DePalma’s “Dolce Italiano: Desserts From the Babbo Kitchen” were both quintessential to my pastry identity becoming realized early on. But, Karen DeMasco’s “The Craft of Baking” is so full of real and really good recipes to use, and I still reference it regularly. When I worked in experiential events and catering, Bompas & Parr was always my inspiration. That said, the Lil Deb’s Oasis cookbook, “Please Wait to Be Tasted,” is the culmination of everything I want in a cookbook and all of them I have referenced. It’s gorgeous, it’s sex, it’s sexy, it has a distinctive POV, it’s Queer, and their food is incredible, so the recipes are legit.



6. Your drink of choice?

Mezcal, neat. Or a great daiquiri.

7. Favorite food movie?

“The Menu.” I love horror flicks. And what’s scary is how relatable that movie is from every perspective. The part where he hated John Leguizamo’s character for wasting his one day off by having made a terrible movie had me cackling.

8. Which industry people, living or dead, would you love to cook for or have over for a dinner party? 

I can’t reach back into the ether of historical characters in the industry with unabated excitement. I appreciate their contributions to what we now know, but it’s the people I cook with now that I would want at my dinner party, who inspire me currently. Even James Beard himself, while having an inspiring legacy, I would need to have a serious conversation with before we could sit at the same table.

It’s people like Mavis-Jay Sanders, Jess Tell, Bleu Adams, and Luna Vela who are the bastions that fight for our communities’ right to exist and thrive who I want to have over for a dinner party. They are friends who are the culmination of everything we have learned from the past, from our mentors, and who represent the hope for the future in the industry, and without nearly enough recognition.

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

See above! And my dishwasher, Maria.

Ursula staff
Celebrating with staff from Ursula. Photo courtesy of Ursula
Ursula staff
Celebrating with staff from Ursula. Photo courtesy of Ursula

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

Celele in Cartagena. I love the care for and preservation of coastal Indigenous Caribbean foods that chef Jaime [Rodriguez] takes. There were so many different flavors and textures to experience, and the plating is stunning. The service there is also so kind and informed.



11. Your greatest professional achievement?

I’ve never had generational or individual wealth and don’t have any investors or a business partner, so being a small restaurant owner in New York City, for five years, is certainly it. I don’t think that people, from consumers to employees, understand what it takes to operate a small business under the pressure of the myriad regulations and obstacles from landlords and lawmakers in this city, the effects it has on your physical and mental health, or how isolating it can become … not to mention all during a pandemic!

12. What single dish best describes your personality?

A pavlova. Just enough structure to hold its shape, enough beauty for a façade, but so damned seasonal and delicious.

Cosme meringue
The signature corn husk meringue, or pavlova, from Cosme in New York City. Photo courtesy of Cosme
Cosme meringue
The signature corn husk meringue, or pavlova, from Cosme in New York City. Photo courtesy of Cosme

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

Florent, in the Meatpacking District, 1992. I’ve always been in wonderment of New York City in the ’80s and ’90s and Florent was pinnacle Queer food at the time. Or I would want to eat at Gramercy Tavern during Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course era.

14. Your favorite meal from childhood?

My parents worked a lot to take care of us, often both with two jobs. My dad used to make spaghetti with ragú and ground beef and that cheap parmesan with the green label, and my mom also used to toast macaroni pasta in oil and then add tomato purée and hella cheddar cheese to it. These meals I remember and love most because they were indicative of two parents who were raised as products of American industrialism who loved their kids so much and were doing the best with their time and money to take care of us. Otherwise, anytime my grandma made red chile and pork pozole.

Ursula dish
Photo courtesy of Ursula
Ursula dish
Photo courtesy of Ursula

15. What is your wish for the restaurant industry?

Better care and attention to and/for mental and physical health. That’s on a personal and policy level.

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

The top of this year came with some new health issues that are mostly due to me not caring for my physical and mental health, so I wish I could be better at setting boundaries for myself and the work I am willing to take on. In the restaurant, I do feel like I am good at being understanding, empathetic, and not being reactive at work with my team and setting boundaries for them. I just need to do it for myself.

In the kitchen, I do what I know how to well … but everything else I wish I knew better. I’m from a landlocked state, which, culinarily, is known for slow braised or fried things, and I ended up opening up a restaurant after a 10-year career dedicated to pastry, so I would love to get to be more acquainted with open-fire cooking or with more seafood.

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

Mexico City or Manila for sure. But I kind of want a do-over of Barcelona or Sevilla. I went when I was 17 to both. I had packed my own cereal boxes and had just worked at Johnny Rockets. My culinary bar was so low and I was on a tour with 20 high school graduates looking to be drunk because we were “legal.” I missed out on so much. I love paella so much and I could spend every night in a basement watching flamenco.



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

Dessert. The culmination of a meal where you can see if the restaurant actually cares about the whole experience. And while all of these can be great individually; if I see a combination of three of any of the following on a menu — crème brûlée, panna cotta, flourless chocolate cake, bread pudding, sticky toffee, or beignets — then I probably won’t order.

Crown Shy dessert
See often can’t say no to desserts at the end of a restaurant meal, but he does avoid certain ones. Pictured here is a dessert from pastry chef Renata Ameni of New York’s Crown Shy. Photo courtesy of Crown Shy
Crown Shy dessert
See often can’t say no to desserts at the end of a restaurant meal, but he does avoid certain ones. Pictured here is a dessert from pastry chef Renata Ameni of New York’s Crown Shy. Photo courtesy of Crown Shy

19. What do you value most in restaurants?

A sense of self. In its food, its staff, its design, and its community.

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

My mom’s tacos.

 

Ursula is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner Wednesday through Saturday and for breakfast and lunch on Sundays.


Follow Eric See on Instagram.


Deanna Ting is Resy’s New York & Philadelphia Editor. Follow her on Instagram and X. Follow Resy, too.