Scott Schroeder sits down for Ten Questions with George Sabatino
Please welcome the newest member of Team Meal Ticket, Scott Schroeder. He's taking time off from SPTR and ABS to interview chefs about town right here! First up: Stateside's George Sabatino.
Scott Schroeder sits down for Ten Questions with George Sabatino
Note: Ladies and gentlemen, please give a big round of applause to the newest addition to Team Meal Ticket, illustrious guest blogger Scott Schroeder. Scott's going to be taking time off from South Philly Tap Room and American Sardine Bar every so often to interview noted chefs around town. We're certainly looking forward to Scott's unique brand of rogue journalism. First up he's chatting with Stateside's Best of Philly winning George Sabatino.
Get ready for tales of boxed mac and cheese, the parallels between working in a kitchen and being in a band and Sabatino's top 7 places to eat.
Name: George William Sabatino Jr.
Birthplace: Hamilton, New Jersey
Position/Location: Chef, Stateside
SS: You're a failed musician turned chef. Do you draw any similarities between the two?
GWS: I guess it is the same type of thing but I'm much more comfortable doing this because I don't have to travel somewhere for it. I kind of miss playing music but I don't miss going, setting up all my gear and having three people show up. The creative outlet still feels the same though.
I'm gonna be really honest. I liked being in bands. I wasn't super successful, I did some small tours and when I was young it was cool to get all fucked up all the time and go away. But I think what I got the most tired of was dealing with peoples personalities, that would either make or break a song or the band itself. I loved the camaraderie of bands but I also didn't like everyone's input all the time. I think the creative process is kind of the same to me in the kitchen except I'm the boss now.
SS: Multi-part question: I noticed in the summer that tree branches seem to hang lower during the night when the sun isn't out and higher during the day especially when it's sunny and warm, almost like they're reaching for the sun. Have you noticed that? And if so, do you have any idea why? And if not, do you believe me?
GWS: I haven't noticed it. I have no reason not to believe you. You're an asshole.
SS: I feel like you straddle modern food and comfort food. Is that your take? How do feel about the two?
GWS: I think I have a true passion and an undying sense of wonder, I want to know as much as I can. I buy all different books and I have some chemicals downstairs. But, I've never used a vacuum sealer, never sous-vide anything, I've never had the ability to. That doesn't mean I haven't read a fuck ton about it.
I also want the plates to look beautiful and I think there's a place for modern technique with that. The corn ﬂan we have on the menu isn't a ﬂan, it's a panna cotta set with agar agar. Two years ago I didn't even know that could be done. I think that's part of the adventure, ﬁguring out how to do something and how to do it right. That ﬂan, the ﬁrst fucking 15 times I tried it, it looked like shit and it tasted like nothing. And then once I ﬁnally ﬁgured it out... I love that part of it.
At the end of the day though it's on a plate with roasted garlic aioli, corn pickle and hearts of palm. I don't ever want it to be about the technique more than it's about the way the ﬂavors make you feel. For me in the summer time, fucking corn and aioli... you know what I mean?
I like it hidden too. I always say our food is deceptively simple. Some things take like three days to hit the plate. Some things I don't want people to know that that's what I'm doing. I just want people to get it and feel happy about it. I think to have some dishes that are a little more forward thinking, plated beautifully and still have things like house smoked bacon with clams! Straddling the two is fun.
I do look forward to taking it a bit more modern. Then I think about the things that I'm good at, and If I keep pushing myself forward in those, then I could probably just leave the modern shit to the guys that do it. For me it's about staying excited. I have this fear of at some point owning a restaurant and the food not being relevant. It's one thing to hold onto a tradition and do something the right way, but it's another thing to not be experimental and try to push yourself.
SS: Your ﬁancé has a son named Jett who has a blog called Tasty Sausages. His rating system for restaurants is based on a sausage count that seems to have no ceiling on the amount of sausages a restaurant can get. Are you going do anything about that? Are you guys suggesting anything about it? Or, are you just going to wait for him to give you like 1,000 sausages when he does Stateside?
GWS: No, he's not. First of all, we're not ever gonna let him do Stateside. I'm not gonna let him do it. I mean, he named the blog after the food here so... he's not allowed to. If he comes to eat here it's not as a critic.
We try not to inﬂuence him whatsoever though. We help him when he has a thought and it gets confused in his head. We help him word somethings, sound it out if you will. And we do keep kind of suggesting that there should be a limit. But, it's up to him, dude. It's his world, man, we're just cooking in it.
SS: What is your ﬁrst childhood experience with you actually cooking? And did you like doing it?
GWS: First cooking experience would be mac and cheese out of a box.
No, I fucking hated it. When I was 18 or 19, I had two younger brothers that I would babysit. I would only be allowed to cook shit in the microwave for them if they got hungry. I couldn't turn on the stove. My mom wouldn't want me to boil water. Fucking hazardous! So when I told the whole family that the music thing wasn't working out, and I was going to Philadelphia to cook, they looked at me like, are you a fucking dickhead or what?!?
SS: You have earplugs, your ﬁancé has earplugs, and it seems like about 95% of the staff at Stateside has them as well. Why?
GWS: Right. Well. It was actually required on the opening staff.
But that being said, there's a ton of change over happening so we had to loosen our standards. So you're probably going to see less earplugs over the next couple weeks. You gotta do what you gotta do.
SS: So this is your ﬁrst chef job. I think it's going amazingly well from any standpoint and you've received a great amount of well deserved recognition. Now, you're a chef with a name in Philly. What do you like about it? Like for me, it's getting free shit!
GWS: Yeah, I love free shit! I think for me it's the arrival of being on a level with my peers. I feel like I've arrived. I love the amount of camaraderie that it's brought as well. At the end of the day, it just feels great to have people like what you're so passionate about.
So, I'll say the friends that I've made, you included, and the free shit dude!
SS: 7 Top Ten favorite places to eat in no particular order whatsoever and your favorite cheesesteak?
GWS: Nam Phuong (1100-1120 Washington Ave.), David's Mei Lei Wah (1001 Race St.). If it's ordering in Chinese food, it's Golden Empress (610 South 5th St.) on South Street and South Philly Taproom (1509 Mifflin St.), I have to say.
SS: Thank you. You don't have to say that
GWS: No, cause we eat there all the fucking time man. (laughing) And uh, Sardine Bar (1801 Federal St.) too but the South Philly Taproom is my go to. Le Virtu (1927 East Passyunk Ave.), Pumpkin (1713 South St.) And then I think one of my favorite places to eat is Matyson (37 South 19th St.). I think what Ben (Puchowitz) is doing is fucking amazing. Even before the whole “Round Eye Guy” noodle thing came along. He's one of my favorite chefs.
Dude, I don't eat cheesesteaks, man.
SS: What's your dream retirement look like? What are you doing at the end of everything?
GWS: I want to own a farm and make bread, butter and cheese to sell. I want my dogs, my girl and my kid. She wants some horses or some shit like that so we'll work on that. If I could do it over again, I would cash this in and be a killer bread baker. I fucking love that.
SS: Two part question: how do you think I did? And you're at such a very high popularity point. Do you think I'm kind of immediately jumping the shark by making you my ﬁrst interview?
GWS: No. Well, I think you did good. It made sense for you to do me ﬁrst because we can talk but I'm sure someone will probably say you are (jumping the shark).
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