Justin Bazdarich’s childhood in Kansas City, Kansas, was always centered on food. And though he briefly flirted with a future in product design as a student at Arizona State University, he fell back on cooking when he realized college life wasn’t for him. What Bazdarich did pick up in college was best friend and fellow food lover, Todd Feldman.
The pair dreamed of opening their own restaurant one day, but before Bazdarich had his own place, he would spend years opening restaurants for Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. The young chef moved to New York City in 2001 to attend the French Culinary Institute and scored an internship at Jean Georges. In three years, he grew from intern to sous chef and then worked as opening chef at Perry Street. Two years later, Bazdarich signed on as a chef trainer for Vongerichten’s Culinary Concepts, launching 15 restaurants in far flung locations, including Istanbul, Qatar, Cabo, and Las Vegas.
Returning to the States in 2010, Bazdarich teamed up with Feldman to build a business in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn. Before opening Speedy Romeo, Bazdarich learned the art of wood-fired cooking, working at Roman’s under Chef David Gould. He and Feldman also traveled in Italy to learn the traditions of Italian butchers, chefs, and pizzaiolos. Speedy Romeo launched in late 2011 with Bazdarich cranking out pizzas from a wood-burning oven and steaks and dishes from a wood-fired grill.
Why: I lost a family member to cancer.
About: The American Cancer Society is a nationwide, community-based voluntary health organization dedicated to eliminating cancer.
Chef Justin Bazdarich of Speedy Romeo – Brooklyn, NY
Dan Catinella: What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?
Justin Bazdarich: I started in 2001. I pursued the restaurant industry because it combined all of my interests. If you think about it, a restaurant combines architecture, art, industrial design, interior design, food, and making people happy. All of these things are exciting and fulfilling for me.
DC: Where have you worked professionally as a chef?
JB: I started my career at Jean Georges at the Trump International Hotel. I worked in the Nougatine as a line cook, then worked as a line
cook for Jean Georges, and then became sous chef there. I was taken out to be the sous chef and open
Perry St.in the West Village. There I was promoted to chef de cuisine for two years. I was then taken out to work for Culinary Concepts as the corporate trainer. I
opened 15 restaurants around the world for Jean-Georges, including Hawaii, Qatar, Istanbul, Atlanta, Georgia, and Las Vegas. After that I left to open my
DC: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
JB: Cook food that people can eat every day. Not some hydrocolloid fantasy. That’s bullshit.
DC: Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring cooks?
JB: Yes. And I recommend interning at a higher-end restaurant to get your foot in the door. I attended The French Culinary Institute, and reached out to Jean-Georges in my first week at school, which helped me obtain a position there.
DC: Do you hire cooks with and without a culinary school background?
JB: I hire both cooks with and without culinary school backgrounds. If you’re willing to learn, I’ll hire you.
DC: Who are some of your mentors? What have you learned from them?
JB: Gregory Brainin, the head corporate chef for Jean-Georges. The most important thing I learned from him was how to create a dish using textures, ranges of flavors, and to impart excitement. Jean-Georges taught me that being a chef is more than being able to cook great food, but is about operating a successful business.
DC: In which kitchens have you staged? Which experiences were the most influential? Do you take stagiares in your kitchen?
JB: My most inspirational stage was at Ferran Adrià’s El Bulli. I am always open to taking stagiaires in my kitchen.
DC: What question gives you the most insight to a cook when you’re interviewing them for a position in your kitchen? What sort of answer are you looking for?
JB: I ask them where they see themselves in five years? I’m looking for someone who wants cooking to be a career, not just a job.
DC: What advice would you offer young chefs just getting started?
JB: Learn as much as you can on how to cook, but also learn as much as you can about how to manage.
DC: What’s your most indispensable kitchen tool? Why?
JB: A clean, dry towel, so while cooking you have zero hesitation to move and cook as fast as you can.
DC: Where do you like to go for culinary travel? Why?
JB: I enjoy travelling to costal areas, like Naples and Istanbul. Croatia, for seafood and local flavors.
DC: What trends do you see emerging in the restaurant industry now?
JB: Simple foods that are easy and approachable such as barbecue, ramen, and pizza.
DC: Which person in history would you most like to cook for? What would you serve?
JB: I’d love to cook a wood-fired, Provel cheeseburger with Speedy Sauce for Elvis Presley.
DC: Who would you most like to cook for you?
JB: I’d love to eat at one of Chef Jacques Pépin’s summer Hampton blowouts.
DC: What does success mean for you? What will it look like for you?
JB: Happy customers, repeat customers, regular customers. Building relationships with customers and becoming an institution.