CHEF OF THE YEAR Q & A: NAOMI POMEROY
You just celebrated the one-year anniversary of Beast. What’s changed since you first opened?
Not much. It’s all been honed a lot. It’s way less harebrained and crazy.
Your insistence that everyone eat from the same six-course menu, with no substitutions, actually seems like a great way to reduce the craziness of being a chef.
That’s key. It’s wonderful to be a calm chef. It’s practically unheard of. We work long days. But anyone in the service industry will tell you that the constant “Can I have this instead?” or “Why don’t you have that on the menu?” takes away from the love you had for the product in the first place. To create something for myself has made me happy. It’s like being in a relationship. You can’t make someone else happy unless you’re happy. So I took that and applied the concept to my restaurant. If I didn’t totally love going to work every day, then I’d just quit.
And yet there are only two of you in the kitchen at any time.
Mika Paredes [her sous-chef] is my sidekick and best friend, something that comes along with spending 15 hours a day together. We also added another person—Emily Cafazzo—in the kitchen, who used to work at Gotham Building Tavern. She’s really talented and young and spritely.
How is it, trying to balance being a single mom and running your own restaurant?
It’s wild. But it’s like, you close your eyes and just jump and you know the universe is going to catch you. It just keeps working out for me. Emily sometimes takes [my daughter] August after she’s done; Beast’s landlord, who lives upstairs, takes care of her; or Micah Camden [co-owner of Beast, and of neighboring restaurants Yakuza and DOC], my ex-boyfriend, picks August up from school. And she often spends time in the restaurant with me. I’m lucky to have a daughter everyone wants to spend time with.
Sounds like a really modern family.
It is. It’s that whole “It takes a village” thing, even though that sounds clichéd.
You’ve run some controversial ads for your restaurant that portray you hugging a dead pig to your chest. How have people responded?
Some people write or call and say it’s beautiful. Others have called us murderous jerks. I had one person write saying he was the biggest pork fan but the picture was disgusting. I understand how, when you are a vegetarian, it can be hard to be bombarded with images like that. I was a vegetarian for seven years, so I know. But, at the same time, it’s like, Hey, people, meet your food. Every animal product you eat was once alive. If you’re uncomfortable with that, I respect that, but you shouldn’t be eating it.
Aside from the pig controversy, how are things going for you two years after you and your ex-husband’s Ripe Restaurant empire imploded and all your restaurants either closed or were bought out?
It’s something that still has airtime in my head. And it’s in the form of a lesson.
What’s the lesson?
Don’t bite off more than you can chew if you don’t want to choke on your food.