After two years of elusive city permits, endless recipe testing and agonizing construction delays, the team behind Blackbird and Avec is on the verge of opening this year's hottest restaurant-provided it doesn't kill them first.
The chefs are talking in the prep kitchen in Blackbird’s basement. They’ve waited patiently for the dinner team to clear out and have now taken over their preferred corner. Until the Publican’s kitchen is ready, Huston and Wu-Bauer are culinary nomads, seeking out places and times to cook and taking whatever they can get. Sometimes they cook together at Kahan’s house; they cured their bacon and guanciale in the kitchen at the Violet Hour.
Wu-Bauer cuts into a boudin blanc, one of the sausages the Publican will make in-house. He picks up a slice and pokes it with his finger, tears it in half and rips off the casing. Finally, he starts chewing. “Delicious” is the word he uses to describe the flavor. But as he pokes and eats more of it, he deems the texture all wrong. His tune quickly changes. “It’s trash,” he says, and throws the whole batch in the garbage.
Huston, meanwhile, doesn’t flinch. A month away from the biggest gig of his life, he’s calm and patient. He’s known for being like this—a chef who doesn’t degrade his coworkers, a boss who doesn’t yell. Kahan cites this demeanor as yet another reason he hired Huston. What Kahan couldn’t have known at the time was how useful Huston’s patience would be as he waited for the restaurant to open.
But Huston does get a little animated when he talks about the menu for the Publican. The goal is for the dishes’ preparation to change, drastically, every day, and people have been telling Huston it’s just not possible. He doesn’t like hearing that. “People do it,” he says, citing the restaurant scene in San Francisco. “You just do it.” Behind him, Wu-Bauer is mixing another batch of sausage and nodding. He is the consummate wing man, a scrappy loyalist. And of the three chefs, he’s the only one who isn’t worried about what people will say about the food.
“I’m not afraid,” Wu-Bauer says. “We know that we’re going to be under the microscope from the very beginning. We know that the food is going to be pretty hard to understand. So it’s like, Let’s go. We know what’s coming to us. We know it’s going to be busy. Bring it.”
Check out the other sections in our 2008 Fall Preview: