Thursday, August 27, 2009
Interview with Stone Park Cafe
All About Fifth interviewed Stone Park Cafe Chef and Co-owner Josh Grinker about seasonal cuisines, challenging wines and more.
Q: When did Stone Park Cafe open and what made you choose Park Slope?
Grinker: Josh Foster, my Business partner, and I both grew up in Park Slope and our families still live here. We worked in restaurants around the country and around the city before opening Stone Park. We saw how the neighborhood was beginning to change and we saw the chance for a viable opportunity, but ultimately it was sort of a coming home for us.
Q: With your focus on fresh and seasonal ingredients— do you have a favorite season to draw on?
Grinker: I guess my favorite in terms of ingredients would have to be Spring. There’s a brightness and a freshness to Spring that’s unsurpassed, not to mention the psychological sense of re-birth and coming out of hibernation that is palpable in the Spring. That said, Fall is a close second because as things get colder I’m able to start employing many of the techniques that I love to cook with, such as braising, making soups and purees, that kind of thing.
Q: Your restaurant is self-bill as having “interesting and challenging” wines—what is a challenging wine?
Grinker: A challenging wine is one that requires us to think outside the box. For instance, most people associate Rieslings with residual sugar and scoff at its mention, but one of my favorite wines, and one that is very traditional to the region, is a very dry Setzer Riesling from Austria. Challenging can also mean learning to like something that you didn’t think you liked before. I used to drink very fruity, over the top reds. Josh Foster buys our wines and likes wines with that are a little dryer and more complex. As a result, my tastes have been challenged and ultimately changed for the better. Exploring the diversity of wines from around the world and the hundreds, if not thousands of grape varietals can be a very educational process and learning something is always challenging.
Q: What is a like to be a chef/owner—do the roles complement one another or is there some tension there?
Grinker: I love being a chef/owner because of the diversity involved in the job. I can hunker down in the kitchen if I want and concentrate on simple tasks and the creativity involved in cooking and then when I get bored of that there are all the left brain tasks involved in running a business to focus on. I don’t think there’s any tension, really, other than having to deal with the economic realities of the marketplace, but it’s better to have to answer to myself than to have to answer to a boss.
Q: I see that you have been on a cooking show. Do you agree with the recent NY Times article by Michael Pollan these shows have transformed cooking from “something you do into something you watch?”
Grinker: I can’t really comment on an article I haven’t read, but I generally think that cooking shows don’t have that much power to transform anything. I mean, you can watch a cooking show, but ultimately you still have to either make or buy your dinner, so I don’t see how one is a substitute for the other. There are so many other powerful forces that determine how we eat, such as what’s available in the market, how much we can spend, how much time we can spend cooking, etc, that TV is really a marginal factor in determining how or what we cook. Cooking shows are entertaining and mildly educational, much like cookbooks, which plenty of highbrow chefs also bemoan. There is an argument to be made that people should spend less time watching TV and more time socially, with family and friends around the dinner table, say, but in the end you can’t eat your TV.
Q: What are the greatest challenges and rewards of being a small business owner?
Grinker: I will give you a short answer to what I see as a very complicated problem. The system is not set up to support small businesses, despite what the politicians say to the media. The tax system is screwy, insurance is a nightmare and there is a maze of local agencies that make doing business very difficult. Both locally and on a Federal level there are inherent policies that if properly enforced would drive virtually all small business owners in this city out of business. This is a problem, because it means as a business owner you live with constant insecurity. Who knows when a Department of Labor officer will show up at your door and start harassing your employees or a Department of Sanitation officer will cite you for having some windswept papers at your doorstep. Immigration is another huge hurdle. I was a student of labor history in my younger years and owning a small business and employing and being basically responsible for the livelihoods of twenty five people has totally changed my perspective on the issues of advocacy. Advocates and bureaucrats have no idea what they are doing or how their actions impact the economy and ultimately people’s lives.
Q: We would love for some local chefs to share a well-loved recipe of theirs…would you be game down the line to offer something up so folks can try cooking it at home—whether something from SPC or something you might make on your off hours?
Grinker: Sure, tune in next time.
Interview conducted by Rebeccah Welch