Growing up in a family of seven generations of chefs, Erasmus "Razz" Kamnitzer of Razz's Restaurant & Bar felt the pressure to go into the family business and went running in the other direction -- at first.
"I went to veterinarian school, and one day I couldn't afford it and went to do what I do best and switched to culinary school," Razz says. "I went from trying to take care of them to preparing them. The irony of the poor beast."
While his chef instinct dates back to birth, Kamnitzer's nickname doesn't: not to childhood, not to culinary school, and not even to his first restaurant.
"My restaurants used to be my last name: Kamnitzer's Restaurant, Kamnitzer's International, Kamnitzer's Terrace," Razz says. "This guy [Bob Schwartz ] thought it was insane that I had to get rid of my name because my name was too hard for anybody to think about."
Schwartz did up business cards and letterheads for Kamnitzer without his knowing, emblazoned with "Razz", Kamnitzer's ponytailed profile appearing in the "a".
"I look at him and I say, 'Bob, my God, thank you, buddy!'" Razz says. "Then my kids even stopped calling me dad and call me Razz."
We snag a coveted seat at the bar and get up-close-and-personal with the man behind the name... and he blows it out of the water. Razz tells it like it is: the best (and cheapest) kitchen knife, the foods he can't stand and the way he takes his scotch.
First thing you do in the morning? I make a cup of tea - Earl grey, sweet - and then pick up the newspaper. And if it hasn't arrived, I pick up a book. There's always one or two or three always laying around that I'm reading.
Favorite kitchen tool? My knife. It's the cheapest knife on the market: a Forschner saboteur. It has a flat side and a scalloped side. It cuts through everything. Is easy to handle. And once it's worn out, I can just throw it away, and I don't have to worry about sharpening a knife. A chef friend of mine gave me a ceramic knife, and it's one of those things that's unbelievable, cuts through anything, but you have to treat it like a baby. That's too much ceremony for me. I don't have that attachment. Once it's reached its use it's time to move on.
Most embarrassing kitchen moment? Not for me, but for a lot of other people there have been really embarrassing moments here. Sometimes feel embarrassed for them! You hear the darnedest things, see the craziest stuff, and get to experience some of the wildest things on the planet. It's unique; it's exciting; it's never the same.
Any foods you just can't stand? Peanut butter. Everything about it: the smell, the texture. I just can't stand it. Pickles. For whatever reason, I just don't like them. And I absolutely, positively, without any doubt hate capers. When I grew up, I had to eat them probably once or twice a week. I always ate them, you never knew where your next meal was coming from, but I learned to hate them. And I don't like lamb shoulder, for whatever reason. I love lamb, but I don't like its shoulder. Nobody can sneak these by me.
Favorite food? Foie gras and sweetbreads.
What's always in the kitchen at home? Heavy cream, butter, tomato sauce, popsicles, and I always have some kind of fruit juice, guava or passion fruit and I love that new pomegranate blueberry one. And Scotch.
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How do you take your Scotch? Here, shaken. Shaken. At home, I drink it on the rocks. In Scotland, neat. If you ask for ice, they'll crucify you.
Best thing you've ever had? We were celebrating a couple weeks ago and I opened a bottle of 1904 Armagnac. It tasted almost like a caramel liquor of some sort, not like a scotch. It was the best thing I've had in my life of anything, period. It was magic from the second it came out of the bottle into the glass.
What would you do if you weren't a chef? I would paint. I used to do oils. Now I do acrylics. And I do a lot of watercolors, but my watercolors are really heavy. I don't treat them lightly; I am rough with them, use them very heavy.