“We’re going to force him to eat some blood sausage. That’s what friends are for, right?” Behind the line, a cook nods, and Chef Brad Farmerie of Public restaurant gets back to the business of garnishing entrees. He stacks a few slices of house-made boudin noir on a small bread-and-butter plate, sending it out to a former sous chef who happens to be visiting from England. Farmerie, who turned 34 last week, presides over the eclectic kitchen of Public Restaurant on Elizabeth Street, which at times resembles a cabinet of curious chutneys: the chef is known for pairing proteins with unusual spices and condiments, like wattle seed and aleppo pepper. Far from creating slapdash fusion cusine, though, Farmerie experiments with each of his ingredients until his finds a flavor profile that works. He frets over the quality of his galangal; worries about the subtlety of vanilla in his foie gras ballotine. He is also the rare chef who always keeps some braised pork belly on hand for an impromptu amuse bouche, but also strives to make his vegetarian plates vegan, and more importantly, to make sure that they taste good.
Public has a secret, sort of, called the Monday Room, an adjoined mini-restaurant behind the hostess stand, a annex with upholstered leather chairs and a well-thumbed dimmer switch. It’s more private than Public, featuring a full-time wine steward and a menu of Farmerie’s concise, tricked-out small plates, like smoked New Zealand venison carpaccio with licorice pickled onions. Gothamist has the chance to speak with Farmerie last Friday night.
How long has Public been open now?
3 ½ years. The Monday Room opened last November.
People seem to know Public, but not a lot about The Monday Room.
It’s such a small room that we don’t really tell anybody about it. It’s taken them this long to even really figure out that it’s there. We get all kinds of customers in The Monday Room- that’s why we started this kind of strange reservation system where people can tell us how long they’ll want the table for, because they know if they’re only there for a few glasses of wine, it might be an hour. For the whole experience, it might be a little longer. It’s a pretty comfortable room- once you’re in, it’s hard to get out.
So when people call for reservations, you ask them how long they plan to stay?
Yeah. Everybody thinks it’s a little bit weird, but we like it. It’s kind of like an icebreaker.
How many people do you have working in your kitchen?
It’s 12 or 14 chefs. During the evening shifts we have about six people, including myself, doing about 250 covers, and another 50 or so for The Monday Room.
Public has a wine program- it was reported a few weeks ago that private wine lockers at Bar Boulud are going for $1250 a month- what’s the one at Public about?
What we do is have a wine mailbox program where people become members for 6 months to a year. It’s $50 a month. For that fee we put an interesting bottle of wine in every month, and the customer has a key to unlock the box. Usually the wine would be on our list for $85 to $90- it’s preferably one that’s special, or one that only restaurants can get, or one that we’ve bought at auction- something they wouldn’t normally be able to get their hands on, or something going in a funky direction. We also invite them to special tastings and events. We actually invited all of our mailbox program members to come eat for free at The Monday Room when we first opened. A lot of what we do at this restaurant is trying to build a community of like-minded people who are interested in trying new wine, trying new food. We have about a hundred members.
And Saxelby Cheesemongers runs the all-American plate Monday Room?
Yeah- I met Anne Saxelby not too long before the Monday Room opened, and I just thought she had really cool ideas, a great spirit, and a great palette. Just on a whim, I asked her if she’d be interested in “curating,” for lack of a better word, our cheese plate. Because she’s into it all the time, what she does is keep it fresh, keep it seasonal, and keep it interesting. She’s always finding new stuff for us. In The Monday Room, it’s all American cheeses. At Public we have a British and Irish cheese plate. We’re big on cheese.
Where do you go out to eat?
I’ve been exploring Brooklyn. We’ve been poking around Carroll Gardens. A lot of what I eat is late night after-work stuff, so I’ll still go to Blue Ribbon, or Momofuku. What I really like is downstairs at Peasant, though. Everything Frank DeCarlo does is awesome. It’s less formal down there- it’s charcruterie, pizza. What I really like about Frank is that he built the place with his own hands. We’d see him pouring concrete downstairs during the day and upstairs cooking at night. He’s a wild guy.
You don’t seem to follow food trends with the food at Public and the Monday Room. A Public plate is different than most anything you’d find at other restaurants, because it’s not fusion, and it doesn’t really fit within the boundaries of any particular ethnic or national cuisine. Can you talk a little about what interests you a chef?
Well, we’ve been doing a lot of curing. Last summer we were getting into different types of fennel pollen. This [Farmerie pulls a jar of what looks like brownish capers off a shelf] is something we're using a lot of now, very hard to get, cooked Sansho berries. They have a fruity flavor, kind of a soy sauce thing going on, but the best part is the finish, it’s numbing like Szechuan pepper, so the whole thing has a kind of long flavor profile.
Recently we’ve been working with some Australian ingredients, like the bush tomato. Wattle seeds, too. They’ve got a real coffee, chocolatey flavor- it’s real toasty, so it goes with either pork belly, duck, venison, but we’ll use it in desserts as well. Usually when we get culinary school externs, we send them over to Kalustyans and say, “bring back something you’ve never used before.” Sometimes it’s something we’ve never used before as well.
You’re from Pittsburgh. How did you become interested in all these kinds of exotic spices and stuff?
My mother was a great cook, so while she didn’t necessarily inspire certain dishes, the always-trying-new-things part of it is inspired by her, I think. When everyone else was eating fluffy white Wonder Bread, we always had pitas, and flatbread. My grandfather’s from the Middle East, and growing up, we were always trying different things. That what I try to get people to do here.
So what’s your comfort food?
Plain pasta with olive oil and parmesan cheese, and Maldon salt. Give me those three things on plain pasta and I’m happy. I’m simple when I cook for myself. Probably every cook says that.
Monday Room food, as seen in the Public kitchen. Top to bottom: Glazed eel with pickled bean sprouts and soft boiled quail egg; Dashi custard with lobster and lime. Public food: mini white anchovy with quinoa croquette and saffron aioli.
The Monday Room
10 Elizabeth Street