This kid’s about to blow up.
He’s the best new chef in NYC.
And I’m happy to go on record saying so.
At a certain point in New York’s culinary landscape, meals start to run together. And unless you’ve got a ressy at Per Se or Le Bernardin on the books in the next six months, there is little about which to get excited; the restaurants become seemingly interchangeable and the entrees, forgettable.
And then- in one of those blissful New-York-as-fairy-godmother moments of divine intervention- you have one that’s not, and where you least expect it.
Let me introduce you to my favorite chef in New York, Nick Korbee.
Nick is executive chef at TriBeCa’s Smith&Mills, where the drinks are good, the seats are few and the kitchen is very small. So small in fact that it’s just part of the bar, without an actual fire source- just two electromagnet induction burners- and one busy chef on display for all to see. And yet, he makes magic happen.
Well, all the world’s a stage.
After a couple bites of salmon tartare (what prompted me to order salmon tartare after way too many cocktails, I don’t know, but it was so good that it stopped me cold), I fell into deep conversation with the harried chef behind the bar about favorites on the Smith&Mills menu (FYI, that’s the Mussels, Burger, aforementioned Salmon Tartare and Meatballs, for those keeping track), and convinced him to let me sit down with him to talk food and do a tasting of his faves at a later date, one-on-one (or one-on-two, as I showed up with a friend).
The tasting happened and since then, you cannot shut me up about Nick’s cooking, because I simply don’t mask my excitement in any area, especially in regards to food. I find myself stopping near strangers and gesticulating wildly- arms waving this way and that- to emphasize the pleasure experienced at Nick’s hands.
So let’s take a stroll together through the details of this wonderful meal, prepared by Chef Korbee at Smith&Mills for a very excited Girl Around Town.
[Already tired of all these words? Into food porn? Check out the Flickr slideshow to see complete photo evidence.]
A Culinary Agent Provocateur
Understanding the interplay between environmental factors such as seasonality- in pop culture, as much as in food- Chef Korbee is aware of what is ripe for experimentation. He understands context, what is here and now in our physical surroundings, as much as in our social consciousness.
Using not only what motivates him, but what inspires others (be it lyrics in music, faces in magazines, the cut of new clothing and even the voice of particular lifestyle blogs), Chef Korbee grounds his menu choices very much in a time and place of our social awareness, not afraid to use points of reference, both obvious and subversive, in his dishes.
Take pot- for example. The song “This is Life” by Curren$y, with lyrics: “double stuffed…steady paper twisting…smoke from the bone” inspired a summer menu item: the pork blunt, AKA, pork loin rolled with mustard greens, dandelion greens, fennel pollen and sea salt inside. Well done, Nick. We get it, and we like it.
Working within a cooking environment that is limited in space but infinite in possibility, his pint-sized laboratory for mad, delicious concoctions is a stage that showcases, not so much ‘creations’, but that which has been nurtured at the hands of a, well, very proud stage parent. (And I say that in the best way. Really.)
One who knows how to enhance raw materials to the best of their ability, and also when to amp them up with seemingly incongruous accouterments. (Jack Daniels-soaked watermelon, anyone? It’s almost as shocking as, yet certainly more appealing than, lipstick on a four year old. No Toddlers in Tiaras here.) And like any other stage parent, he is fully responsible for the jaw-dropping center of attention hogging the stage, to the awe and delight of audiences. He gladly directs the spotlight on the star in the making- say, a pork carnitas sandwich- though he remains close enough to bask in the well-earned limelight, never actually exiting stage left. Which makes us happy since Nick’s charm is infectious, and more of him in the spotlight is definitely more fun.
When the bells and whistles have been adequately sounded and fall silent long enough for we, his audience, to finally sample that which has been on a journey from inspiration to creation to performance, this chef is seemingly less concerned with the (certain) accolades that will follow for his little show-stopping bundle of joy (say, the carnitas, the salmon tartare, even the burger), and is quite proud for it to serve its core- and albiet utilitarian- purpose; that of a truly satisfying meal.
Now, how many stage parents are really so enlightened and secure? How many chefs, for that matter?
Here we go: Smith&Mills Tasting with Chef Nick Korbee
Starter: Confit cherry tomatoes, sugar snap peas, mint with sherry vinaigrette.
Salad: Brûlée blood oranges, greens (arugula & dill), Maitake Mushrooms, with Meyer Lemon vinaigrette.
Appetizer and side: Burnt corn.
Oh, wait, what’s happening?…
Tah-dah: Pork loin carnitas (marinated in duck fat!) on brioche bun with pickled watermelon rind, jalepenos and cucumber- tossed in homemade BBQ- and topped with shredded Bibb lettuce tossed in Russian dressing.
On the side (Seriously? there’s more? Oh yes…): Mustard-based potato salad and Jack Daniels-soaked watermelon with mint and burnt corn.
Other serious sandwiches on the Smith&Mills’ menu…
Other reasons that Chef Korbee is a GirlAT fave:
1) He studied at Le Cordon Bleu, so, no, he’s not just playing around in the kitchen.
2) ”‘No substitutions’ is an ethos I don’t believe in.” Nick is supportive of food and diet limitations…so much so that when I absentmindedly brought a vegan friend with me to the tasting, Nick whipped up a quick arugula pesto with confit cherry tomato on bread and a couple other non-animal dishes, ASAP. And with relish. (No pun intended.)
3) He shares is food creations inspiration on his blog: http://www.currantsystem.blogspot.com/
My recommendation? Pay a visit to Nick and Smith&Mills before he’s whisked away to TV or being excitedly whispered about, and pawed at, by NYC food snobs.
71 N. Moore Street @ Greenwich (no sign)
New York, NY, 10013
[Want more pictures? Don't forget to check out the slideshow.]
Let’s Be Honest: Smith&Mills’ incognito cool + Chef Korbee’s hip verve paired with serious cooking chops= the perfect environment for Anthony Bourdain to spontaneously appear. This so needs to happen; Nick and I are starting a petition.
Tony, there is a bar stool waiting for you at Smith&Mills.
Oh, By the Way: I haven’t even told you about the dinner Nick prepared for a select group during Fashion Week. Because he loves Girl Around Town so much, Chef Korbee will let GirlAT readers in on the very cool, way-underground supper club that he hosts, with meals that are nothing short of amazing. Email [email protected] with the subject line: ”Secret Supper Club” to get on the list.
Accessorize: Depending on the night, Smith&Mills can feel like a hideout for the hip and trendy, whether it’s some Kings of Leon folk, Katy P & Russell B or an Olsen Twin (I couldn’t tell which). So look good.
Photo credit: All food, Smith&Mills and Nick Korbee photos by Mary Joan Cunningham