Interview with New York Rising Star Chef Bryce Shuman of Betony

by Mary Choi
February 2015

Mary Choi: How did you first get into the industry?
Bryce Shuman:
When I was in high school, I loved acting and performance. I went to a performance conservatory during my senior year in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I auditioned for many schools for college and granted I did get into good schools, but not the ones I really had my eye on. As an 18 year old kid I was pretty full of myself and decided to take a year off to gain life experience. Instead of going to acting workshops and doing commercials, I really got into jungle music and DJ-ing. I really needed a job.

Growing up, we always ate dinner together at the house. My responsibilities were to set the table, make the salad, and other things to help prepare the meal. I really loved being in the kitchen. My mom was a cultural anthropologist with a focus in nutrition, so we were exposed to a lot of interesting things growing up.

I started to realize that cooking was a lot like performing—it’s the same sort of feeling I got as being on stage. It was a performance, but with a sense of giving. So I started washing dishes in Greenville, North Carolina, where I met my wife Jenn, who was a waitress at the time. I worked there for two years and pretty much became the chef de cuisine. I then decided to either seriously pursue acting or cooking. I chose to cook and moved to San Francisco to attend culinary school at the California College of the Arts. I moved before Jenn did, and I was staying with a buddy, pretty much sleeping on a bed of wine corks. When I told her she was outraged and mailed out an airbed for me. My roommate and former classmate Brett Cooper and I worked together for Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski at RUBICON. In the summer of 2007, I started at Eleven Madison Park at the fish station and worked my way up to sous chef and stayed for about five years.

MC: Who would you say is your most influential mentor?
BS:
Daniel Humm and Stuart Brioza. I learned so much from them and Chef Humm gave me so many chances to grow. He was constantly pushing me to do more than I thought I could do. He also taught me that if you really want something and you push hard enough, there’s no reason why you can’t achieve what you set out to do.

MC: What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve had to deal with at Betony?
BS:
That’s hard to say, there’s a challenge everyday as a chef. There have been problems that we thought at the time were insurmountable until we actually tackled it head on. Eventually they became silly worries of the past. You’re constantly problem solving. I’ve learned that as long as you stay organized, you can push through most anything. Seeing the system at Eleven Madison Park and the Union Square Hospitality Group structure, I learned a lot about their business model and growth. I always like to face challenges like a surfer catches waves. You can choose to ride out the big waves or you can let it engulf and plummet you. The only constant thing is the waves, waves like challenges will always come.

MC: How are you involved in the local culinary community?
BS:
We work with No Kid Hungry and C-CAP, they promote chefs and we support them since it’s for a great cause. We did a tasting event this year with Anita Lo and we’re always up for helping out other chefs to do the same thing.

MC: Where do you see yourself in five years?
BS:
Yeah, we’ve got our hands full here with the restaurant. It’s like a constantly evolving Rubik’s Cube. We are all pushing and holding responsibility to be better, maybe someday we’ll expand.