Chef Justin Bazdarich of Speedy Romeo – Brooklyn, NY

April 2013

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 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
own restaurant.

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.