The young chef who trained alongside Daniel Humm at Eleven Madison Park is rocking high, so high you’d probably forgive a little cocky swagger - especially from a chef who likes to play Blues guitar, DJ Jungle music and create out of this world hot-dogs with the famous Drum and Bass producer Dieselboy - yet there’s none, none at all, he’s calm, humble, knowledgeable, without ego and truly engaging.
You notice it when he speaks about his recent Food & Wine award: “It’s amazing... growing up, Food & Wine magazine is one of those things that you aspire to happen in your life. It's awesome, I’m flawed, ever since I wanted to be a cook it was something that I wanted to happen. It’s a very surreal experience.”
Brought up in North Carolina, Shuman was given an early education in world flavours thanks to his mum who had a degree in nutrition. She worked as a cultural anthropologist studying different cultures through the way they ate. As a child, the chef says he would be taken on some of her amazing adventures, "We spent nine months in the rain forest of Costa Rica, a small island in Crete for a few months and we lived with the Inuits in the Arctic when I was a little kid for well over a year, she used that experience as the basis for her doctorate... She taught me a lot of the importance of finding good food.”
Good food for Shuman is simple food. You see it on his menus, simple plates and simple explanations with an overriding focus on flavour - a factor too often overlooked by chefs these days. His roasted chicken is raved about and The New York times critic Pete Wells loved his short rib cooked in melted fat, he's a chef who truly appreciates the pursuit of flavour. Just watching him taste Italian hams and salami on a recent visit to Milan I saw it, the spark in his eye, the excitement that not every person displays when they encounter a great, new or surprising bite. He has it.
The techniques he employs to obtain the intense flavors at Betony are far from simple, but he's definitely a man who wants a ‘pie to be a pie’, and a proud pie at that, after all, what's better than a great slice of pie? “We could do like an apple pie dish, make an apple gel, apple foam, apple powder, apple panna cotta, this and that, arrange it all beautifully on the plate to make it look like a skate park and people are going to take pictures”, he smiles, “it will be all over Instagram, it will look beautiful and it might taste alright but, you know what, no one is going to think about that dish in a year, it’s not going to last…You know what dish lasts? The apple pie... what is more simple than a slice of apple pie?”
“Simple combinations are enduring, they last as years and years go by. So how do you create the apple pie?” He says this is the question he asks to all his chefs, “how do you create a dish that endures for years and years?” It seems such a simple question but it's a difficult goal to set, a pursuit that more chefs should undertake, too often food is made to look good with flavours forgotten.
Even Shuman’s latest creation, a fun and far-out hot-dog produced alongside his now friend and former DJ idol Damian Higgins, the aforementioned Dieselboy, is packed with flavour: “Were going to put it on the menu on the first or second week of April and it’s coming together. It’s called the Demi-Dog. I’m brushing the bun with beef fat and I’ve got a stencil that’s like a lightening bolt and I’m dusting zatar on the bun. So there’s a zatar lightening bolt on the side, like coming from above, the Demi-Dog.” He laughs, it’s a fun project but you can bet they won’t forget the taste, “there’s yogurt, crunchy grains, some Indian lime pickle and some sprouts on top’ and that’s before they've focused on the meat, “Damian is coming to the restaurant next week and we’re going to work on the dog.”
And what about his own apple pie, has he found it? He laughs,”I’m still searching, I’m not there yet but some day.”
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