Last May, Barbuto in New York’s West Village neighborhood closed. 15 years ago, Chef Jonathan Waxman opened the restaurant in a former garage, and ever since, it’s welcomed visitors to a cozy environment and delectable dishes that made the restaurant a true destination. For many reasons, the space was considered a fixture in the lively local area. Although Waxman still has Jams at 1 Hotel Central Park, when Barbuto shuttered, those that knew its unmatched charm were disappointed.
Recently though, we joined Grey Goose and some special invitees at Empire Diner to enjoy a one-night-only pop-up return of Barbuto. The four-course feast featured some of Waxman’s classics—like the roast chicken with salsa verde and his famed kale salad—paired with cocktails—like the Winter Star and Boun-tea-ful Punch—crafted by renowned bartender A-K of Existing Conditions.
The night also celebrated the launch of the Holiday Dinner by Grey Goose pre-made meal kit, equipped to feed 8 people. Comprised of ingredients to make Waxman’s and A-K’s signature dishes and drinks, the kit is available for purchase through the end of the year and can be purchased online on Cocktail Courier. For each purchase, Grey Goose will also donate $20 to Meals on Wheels America to support its mission to end hunger in America.
In the bustle of cooking and holiday cheer, Whitewall caught up with Waxman to hear more about this partnership, how he originally got into the culinary industry, and what he’s eating over the holiday season.
WHITEWALL: Let’s rewind the clock a bit. When did you know you wanted to be a chef? How did professional journey with food begin?
JONATHAN WAXMAN: Well, it’s weird. I was a musician for a long time (I played trombone) and when the bands I was in would go on tour, the food was so crappy on the road. Restaurants were terrible—they were expensive and disgusting. So we decided to rent an apartment and I would cook. And one day one of the hangers-on goes, “Ever thought about cooking? Becoming a chef?” I had no idea what he was talking about.
And then I was playing in Hawaii, and the band broke up, and all my friends who were surfers said, “You’ve got three options if you want to stay in Hawaii. Find another band (which was impossible), sell drugs, or work in a restaurant.” So, I worked in a restaurant.
I was 23. And I think it was very lucky. I worked in Hawaii and then went back to Berkley and got a job as a Ferrari salesman. The first thing the guy told me was that I had to by a pair of Gucci shoes. It was 1974! I had long hair and a beard, and they were telling me these shoes were $100! Back then? Wow.
But the woman whose husband owned the car dealership said, “You talk about food all the time. Have you ever thought about taking a cooking class?” So, I took a class with a woman named Mary Risley in San Francisco and I loved it. And she, unbeknownst to me, signed me up for a cooking class in Paris. We had lunch and she told me she signed me up, and she said, “Look, I don’t know if you want to do this, but I really think you could become a chef.” I honestly had no clue.
WW: What was it about French cooking that hooked you? Was it technique, ingredients, tradition, or something else?
JW: I was transported to another land. Everything about it was amazing. I used to live in this neighborhood where there were wild door hanging by their hooves; their nostrils steaming from the cold. There were Brussels sprouts in piles as high as you could stand. The smell of the apple and the grapes… And I could only afford really cheap restaurants, but they were super good. Everything about it was amazing. But the most amazing thing were the chefs I worked with; my teachers. They were fantastic. They were so funny and goofy and loved what they did. They were like little kids; happy in their careers in a way that was just magical.
I felt very lucky when I got back to America, because I worked at Domaine Chandon first and then I worked at Chez Panisse. So, I’m lucky.
WW: And now you’re collaborating with Grey Goose. How did this specific collaboration for the holidays came about?
JW: When they approached me, they wanted to go a “Friendsgiving” and they had me at “hello” because Thanksgiving, to me, is the most important holiday of the year—for a lot of reasons! I’m an old Berkley boy, and when I went to work at Chez Panisse, all Alice [Waters] talked about was people breaking bread together to learn about each other. Food and ceremony were so important. But it was also friends meeting family, family meeting friends. It was all about people getting together. And when I translated that to the Barbuto sensibility, we took that and added a party element to make it fun.
So, when Grey Goose asked, it was a no-brainer. This has been my exact philosophy my whole life, and I love Grey Goose. I love the idea of every day being the most fun you can have, because who knows what’s going to happen the next day.
WW: What do you think is the special ingredient to making a gathering successful and fun?
JW: I grew up in a household where my parents had a cocktail every evening at 5:00 p.m. My father had bourbon; my mother had vodka. So, when I was old enough to drink, it was so fun to go make them drinks. I made my father his Manhattan, and my mother her martini. And then we’d sit down and have dinner. And they were always in a good mood! It clicked over the years, when I was in the restaurant business. I didn’t want to eat at church or the library. I wanted to throw a party. And hello, there’s the Grey Goose component! And at Barbuto, we did a lot of mixology; using infusions like the rosemary elixir we’re using tonight. These are the types of things that expand your universe.
WW: What do you typically make at home for the winter holidays? Do you make what you used to serve at Barbuto, or what you make at Jams?
JW: I go to my friend’s house in Summit, New Jersey, and we usually do turkeys on the rotisserie, a turkey in the oven, and this thing called a fuckaduckit—a capon stuffed with a duck stuffed with a pheasant…and chorizo. Cooked with a green egg.
And then I do the kale salad, the turnips and carrots we’re getting tonight, the JW Potatoes we’ll have tonight, and then I do five different kinds of potatoes—fried, mashed, etc. Then, I do swiss chard, wilted greens, a soup, a yam salad…it goes on. I’m insane.
WW: Do you ask people to help or do you insist they relax?
JW: I make everybody cook! Everybody has their own little task. I’m like Santa and his elves, and they love it. They all get to participate, and they all get to enjoy the fruits of their labor, which is what I love.
WW: What do you eat when you’re not in the kitchen?
JW: As I get older, I think about my health more. I still love going out to great restaurants and having great meals, but when I go home, I eat kind of vegan. Except I use butter. [Laughs]
Last night I had Romanesco roasted with sprouting broccoli, onions, garlic, and breadcrumbs. It was really good. My wife and I have a deal—she goes shopping at the market in the morning, brings it home, leaves to do yoga, I cook, she comes back and we eat together, and we sit down and watch The Durrells on PBS.
WW: What’s next for you?
JW: I just finished the Barbuto cookbook with Abrams. And there may be a silver lining with Barbuto… That’s all I can say.