Chef Q&A: Patrick Rodemeyer, Fishtail

July 31, 2013 5:45 am Last Updated: September 8, 2015 7:36 am

Patrick Rodemeyer, executive chef at David Burke Fishtail, is from Detroit, Mich. Previously he was chef de cuisine at David Burke Townhouse. He also worked as a chef on special projects at other David Burke restaurants, at Bloomingdale’s and at Kitchen.

Epoch Times: What did you want to be when you were growing up?

Mr. Patrick Rodemeyer: I didn’t understand what an archaeologist did, so I was convinced I wanted to be an archeologist, to dig up dinosaurs all day. I started watching “Indiana Jones,” and I was like, wait a minute, where’s the dinosaurs? And there were no dinosaurs. So I was like, I don’t want to do that. I was infatuated with dinosaurs when I was a kid; I thought they were really cool. That’s what I wanted to do.

Epoch Times: What is one of your significant childhood memories of food?

Mr. Rodemeyer: Holidays, easy. Just the experience, it’s really similar to what we do. You prep all day and then you do service. You get up early. You season the bird and put it in the oven like Thanksgiving. Just the experience of working with my mom and whoever else was around, that really resonated with me, and it taught me how to be really organized in the kitchen.

My mom was a very frugal cook. She wasn’t a gourmand by any means, but we ate well. She had this dish called “Chicken Jolly Roger” and I have no idea why. It was basically a baked chicken pilaf. It was freaking awesome.

It wasn’t a paella, but it got that crispy rice crust at the bottom of the casserole that you get in paella. As a kid, I remember thinking, I don’t know how you did that but I want that.

We were never poor growing up, except when I was really little, but we were never like the Trumps, living it up. I had three siblings, so for a while we had to feed a family of six on a single income while my mom was off work raising kids. And she was awesome at it.

We had to go to the grocery store, we took turns, and she taught us how to plan it out using the circulars. Obviously this was almost over 20 years ago, but she would feed a family of six for a week for $200.

I can’t get in and out of C-Town for me and my girl and our baby for less than $150. And I cook at home once a week, to put it into perspective—if I cook at home.

Epoch Times: What is your approach or philosophy to cooking?

Mr. Rodemeyer: One of my biggest rules is ask questions, and the biggest question is why? Why are you doing that? Why are we cooking something a certain way? Why is that on the plate?

I have worked for some really talented people, but there were times when I felt that we were just putting things or doing things because it was hip. We’re gonna sous-vide this. Why are we sous-viding this? Because it’s sous-vide, or are we sous-viding because that’s going to make it better? [Editor’s note: Sous-vide is French for “under vacuum.” It’s a method of cooking food in airtight plastic in a water bath for longer than normal cooking times.]

Why is that on a plate? Is it because everyone is talking about it on a particular food blog, or is it going to enhance the experience of eating something?

A good example is the Greek yogurt they just brought out, we came up with a dish yesterday. I’m like, this is cool, but it’s astringent, I want just a kiss of fat. It’s a really healthy dish. It’s Arctic char, beets, and quinoa. Greek yogurt just goes across the board, it will add richness, it’s trendy, it’s healthy, it’s good, let’s go.

Pan roasted Arctic Char with golden beats, quinoa, and greek yogurt. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)
Pan roasted Arctic Char with golden beats, quinoa, and greek yogurt. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)

That’s something I ask a lot of myself and my sous, is why. Why are you doing that? Why do you want to do that?

Everyone is going to say seasonality, but I think hyper-seasonality is ridiculous. I’ve worked for people who say, ‘That’s not available for another three weeks.’ Also for the whole hyper-local thing, another chef once had a quote, ‘Hey, I can pick purslane from the cracks off the sidewalk of my restaurant, and that doesn’t get more local than that, but it doesn’t mean I should.’

I can get a fig from Southern California that is far superior than any that grows on Long Island, and this is just an example, why would I buy a Long Island fig? I understand the green footprint, but be reasonable. Don’t run pumpkins in the middle of June and don’t sell Chilean sea bass. Those are two of my tenets, you could say.

I just try to be realistic with the seasons. I do work closely with two different farmers who do happen to grow the best stuff. If it’s not good, I don’t buy it from them.

Their donut peaches are out of this world, their beets are out of this world, and their greens are out of this world.

I go to the farmers market when I can, which means about twice a year. Farmers email me what they’re picking, and that’s the next best thing for me. I live at this place. They pull up to the restaurant. They’re an old mom and pop couple and they’re amazing.

Epoch Times: What’s your current favorite ingredient to play with?

Mr. Rodemeyer: I have a current favorite ingredient that I suck at: chilies. I think I’m a little behind the curve, and I’ll admit that. I know Mexican is peaking especially with what Alex Stupak’s doing, and I know April Bloomfield opened a taco restaurant.

But what I’ve learned is, there’s just an incredible depth to what they can do. I’m at an American restaurant. I work for a chef who made a name making American food. But I still found a way to incorporate five different chilies on my menu, and you’d never even know it. I like that a lot.

Pasilla, guajillo, chipotle, jalapeño, and cascabel chilis; I’m always looking for ways to sneak them in. If you ate my scallop dish, you’d have no idea that there are four different chilies.

They’re not there to make it a Mexican dish. I find that by adding a guajillo chili to your corn purée it goes through the roof.

And by adding chipotle to a little vinaigrette of huitlacoche, which is Mexican corn smut … it adds a hint of smokiness, and you don’t think it’s chipotle vinaigrette. It’s all about proportion and balance.

If I could go back 10 years and still make the same money I’m making now, I’d go work at a few good Mexican restaurants.

Epoch Times: What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever seen happen in the kitchen?

Mr. Rodemeyer: I’ve been pretty lucky. I’ve never worked for any shouty chefs. I’ve never worked for anyone with a serious temper. Thankfully that rubbed off on me, I’m not really much for yelling.

When I worked at a restaurant as a cook, one of the new guys put a burning hot plate in the window, later that night the chef called him around the other side of the pass and put a burning cast iron plate on the kid’s hands. And he’s like, ‘Don’t ever burn me again.’

Good, bad, or indifferent, the kid took it. There was no HR. I don’t know what I would have done.

It wasn’t third degree, but it was pretty gnarly. It left a mark. I’m sure it’s gone by now. It’s a true story, by the way.

I saw a guy sear a cut on a flat top once. He cut his finger real bad and just went like that and cauterized it.

We’re pirates, man, it’s a different world.

Epoch Times: When you’re not cooking, what do you enjoy doing?

Mr. Rodemeyer: Hanging out with my kid. I have a two-track mind. Rock ‘n’ roll and food. I love rock ‘n’ roll and by that I mean all music, almost to a fault.

Another big thing for me which most chefs would think is preposterous, is I firmly believe in music in kitchens, especially during prep.

I have an intern that stands out; he’s young. He gets excited because we’ll have theme days. This past Sunday was SoCal punk rock. The week before was reggae, the week before was Pink Floyd, the week before that was the blues, the week before that was outlaw country. Like everything.

We eat out a lot. I have a lot of chef friends. I invite them into my home and I go visit them to hang out.

Most important is hanging out with my daughter. Life sucks when you go two or three days without seeing the whites of your offspring’s eyes, and that happens. I’ll wake up, she’s in bed. When I get home, she’s fast asleep. It sucks. You get used to it because you have to, but it doesn’t get any easier.

Diver scallops, corn chow chow, and huitlacoche. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)
Diver scallops, corn chow chow, and huitlacoche. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)

Epoch Times: What’s an underrated/under-the-radar restaurant in NYC?

Mr. Rodemeyer: If I could give a nod to anything, it would be to my neighborhood, Astoria. I think Astoria is on the rise, which is exciting and scary.

Queens Comfort, which does gnarly comfort food, it’s got a southern kick to it. Real homey, BYOB.

Queens Kickshaw. They have a great program there. Great beer list. The BBQ joint on 30th Avenue Bareburger.

Astoria in general is getting this influx of talent.

I’m not going anywhere, but if I were, I would open a restaurant there.

Epoch Times: What trend do you find overhyped?

Mr. Rodemeyer: I do think it’s waning, but the whole molecular [gastronomy] thing. I got way into it, I don’t want anyone who sees this to call me a hypocrite, but I think it’s time to let go. There are exceptions to that rule, and Wylie Dufresne without a doubt is one. Because he asks why. It comes back to that.

Epoch Times: What current trend do you find worthwhile?

Mr. Rodemeyer: I think New York’s always done this, but I think there’s been a resurgence. I’m not a native New Yorker, we established that. Maybe this is naive, but I hope I’m right. I think there’s a renewed focus on the regionality of all Asian cuisine, but particularly Chinese cuisine. You’ve got Hunan, there is a prominent restaurant serving Hunan cuisine.

You’ve got the guys at Biang! and Xi’an Famous doing food from the region of Xi’an. You’ve Danny Bowien doing this Sichuan thing, I guess. And you’ve got Cantonese. But there’s a recognition that it’s not just Chinese food. It’s freaking awesome. I’m thinking about going to Xi’an Famous tomorrow to get cold skin noodles and a lamb burger.

I’ve eaten at Danny’s place numerous times and it’s never disappointed.

Mexican food too, but the problem is that there’s only a handful of people doing it well. There have been people who have been doing it well for a while. Sue Torres with Sueños, she’s not new. It’s an established restaurant. Alex Stupak opening Empellón, and then opening the second Empellón.

The guys at Carbone are trying to do it with Italian. You’ve got Michael White putting emphasis on that. This is a melting pot of the United States. It’s supposed to be, and I think it’s being recognized again. Fusion was so big, and it’s still out there, but we’re not in your face about it.

One thing I love about the city is you can transport. One minute you’re at Macy’s, the largest department store in the world, the next you’re in the middle of Korea. You can’t do that in very many places.

This article appeared in our New York Summer Dining Guide, 2013 Special Edition. To see the complete summer dining guide as a pdf, click here.