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Greg Baxtrom from New York's Olmsted looks to the past and considers the future

Chef | September 25, 2020

Photo by Marcus Nilsson

It’s fair to say a lot has happened since we last visited Greg Baxtrom at Olmsted, his restaurant in Brooklyn, New York. In early March, Olmsted was an ambitious yet approachable culinary playground with a thriving urban farm in the backyard. It raked in awards, received strong reviews and managed to be both a local restaurant and one that drew diners from across the US for dishes like carrot crepe with clams and sweet potato and sea urchin pierogies.

Olmsted then (credit @olmstednyc)

Six months later, Olmsted has morphed. The interior is a soup kitchen under the World Central Kitchen banner and the private dining room is a grocery store. The yard is now #olmstedsummercamp, a social-distance-friendly destination for fried chicken and ribs.

Olmsted now (credit @olmstednyc)

Across the road, Baxtrom has turned his Asian fusion Maison Yaki into a rolling pop-up for Black-owned food businesses. “The Black Lives Matter protests came right by here,” says Baxtrom. “I asked myself what I have to offer beyond the ability to make an omelette. It’s my network, it’s the people I can put together. Why not let this place be a platform for other chefs?”

Lani Halliday at Maison Yaki (credit @maisonyaki)

The pandemic has given just about every chef in the world cause to question the kind of food they cook and the environment in which they create. Funnily enough, the wagyu striploin dish Greg presented us in March was at that time a nod to his past. Fast forward six months and it may also be a signpost to his future. “It’s a dish I used to make at [three-star] Alinea when I was the meat cook there,” he says. “Wagyu is wrapped in potato strings, fried to medium-rare and seasoned with all-spice, clove and cinnamon salt. It’s served with glazed potatoes, pistachio puree and thyme flowers.”

Photo by Marcus Nilsson

It wasn’t a dish that fitted in the original Olmsted but COVID has prompted a rethink. “I’ve been contemplating whether this is the time to do something different when we reopen,” says Greg. That might mean creating more space between tables and turning a cosy dining room with a bar into a fine dining restaurant. “Olmsted was small but it was a beast and we worked our asses off to make sure it was busy,” he says. “But if people are going to be uncomfortable in crowded rooms then we need to look at how to space people out and that’s likely to be fine dining.”

Photo by Marcus Nilsson

He’s unlikely to do potato strings framing fried striploin but the menu will inevitably be fancier than the casual fried chicken and glazed ribs he’s serving in the Olmsted backyard right now. “My vision of the culinary world is irrelevant right now,” he says. “It’s about creating menus that are comfortable for my staff to execute, and feasible for us as a business.”



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