Chef News

Harold Marmulstein of Salty Sow in Phoenix on Cooking at the James Beard House (Again) and What Phoenix Does Better Than Austin

Harold Marmulstein Executive chef, partner Salty Sow 4801 East Cactus Road 602-795-9463

It's not every day a chef gets to cook at the illustrious James Beard House in New York City. But in a few weeks, chef Harold Marmulstein will cross the country to present his food at the famous house for a second time.

The first time around, the chef says, he applied for the opportunity, and he went out to New York to cook last February. This year, the foundation invited Marmulstein to come back, and he's preparing to present a five-course "spring-inspired" farmhouse menu on May 7.

See also: Casey Hopkins-Johnson of Welcome Chicken + Donuts on Her Favorite Doughnut, Her Feelings About Krispy Kreme, and the Restaurant's Next Collaboration (Hint: Butterscotch Pudding)

"We were always warned how small the kitchen is, how small this is and that," Marmulstein says. "I think people are just used to big kitchens. Coming from my [tiny] Austin restaurant, the [Beard House] kitchen was huge."

Still, cooking at the house requires lots of planning. Chefs aren't allowed into the kitchen until 8 a.m. the day before the dinner, and they are asked to prepare three- to five-course dinners for up to 80 people. It's no easy feat and requires that most of the prep work be done off-site.

What's more, chefs featured at Beard House dinners have to supply their own food, wine, staff, and travel accommodations. Marmulstein estimates it costs between $20,000 and $25,000 for the restaurant to send him and his staff to cook in New York.

So why do it?

"It sets you apart from the rest of the pack, as far as a consumer's viewpoint," Marmulstein says. "It legitimizes what you're doing."

This year, the menu includes seasonally influenced dishes that highlight Salty Sow's American-gastropub cuisine. There's Scotch eggs with Creole remoulade; zucchini Parmesan soup with basil pistou; and a rich bone-in filet mignon with foie gras, morel mushrooms, and bone marrow red wine sauce. The wine pairings will include selections from Napa Valley, as well as an Austin-made beer and wine.

Leading up to the New York dinner, Salty Sow will host two James Beard House Preview Dinners on April 1 and April 15. The dinner costs $75 per person and reservations can be made by calling 602-795-9463.

Marmulstein splits his time between Phoenix and Austin, where the original Salty Sow restaurant is located. Both restaurants come from the same Phoenix and Austin-based restaurateurs behind popular spots such as Roaring Fork and Hopdoddy Burger Bar; they also founded Eddie V's and Wildfish restaurants.

But despite living and working in Texas and Arizona, Marmulstein is an East Coast guy. He grew up in upstate New York and learned to love food early in life because his father owned a wholesale and retail bakery.

"As soon as we were old enough to pack rolls, we worked," Marmulstein says. "So I've always been around it."

After high school, he headed to the Culinary Institute of American at Hyde Park. After graduating, he spent time working and owning restaurants in Atlanta and Baltimore, including Dick and Harry's Restaurant, which he ran with his brother for 10 years.

Salty Sow in Austin opened in 2012, and the Phoenix restaurant recently celebrated its two-year anniversary. But owning and operating several successful restaurants and cooking at the celebrated Beard House not once, but twice hasn't gone to the chef's head.

"At the end of the day, I'm a cook," Marmulstein says.

What restaurants are on your list to visit during this trip to New York?

I'd like to go to . . . I can't think of the name right now, but it used to be Corton. It's a new place now and I can't think of the name. I'd like to go there. [The restaurant is Bâtard.] We went to The Breslin and The Spotted Pig last time; I'd like to go back to The Breslin. I thought The Breslin was outstanding. Spotted Pig was very good, but I prefer The Breslin. They're both the same owners.

I went to a fabulous Korean two-star Michelin restaurant, Jungsik, which was really outstanding. Really innovative. I'd like to get some good Italian food, 'cause I miss that. I'd like to get to Chinatown if I can, 'cause I miss that. But I don't know if I'll make it there. I'll probably end up going to whatever the popular restaurants are, but you know, we're going to go to places that do similar stuff to what we do. But you know, I think wherever you go, it's always good. And I'd like to go back to Eataly. We had a great time.

If you were asked a third time would you go again?

Absolutely. You know, it's a fun thing to do. It gets you out of your kitchen and you're able to do R&D up in New York, which is nice. I can see new things and different things and meet new people. And I've got some friends up there. A good friend I worked with for many years is the executive chef at The New York Palace [hotel] so, I get to see him when I'm up there.

If you had to recommend a local chef who should also be cooking at the [James Beard] House, who would it be?

I would say, you know, [Kevin] Binkley, from Bink's. I like his food a lot. In Austin, I would probably say Bryce [Gilmore of Barley Swine] -- well, Bryce already goes and cooks there.

How are the Phoenix and Austin food scenes different?

I gotta be very careful with the words I choose here [laughs]. Austin is kind of more of a bohemian city. So, kind of, the funkier the better in Austin. Austin goes for more the middle parts, the icky parts, as I call them. You know, the bone marrow and the liver, the heart, and things like that.

Out here, it's a little more mainstream. We do offer some of those things, like the bone marrow, but they're not as popular as in Austin. More the innards and the hearts and liver and bone marrow -- things like that in Austin do well. Out here, it doesn't quite do as well. We have an audience here that appreciates that, but it's not in our wheelhouse as much as it is there.

If someone from Phoenix is going to Austin, what restaurants do they have to hit?

Well, I have to say the Roarking Fork [laughs]. I would say Odd Duck, Barlata, Franklin's Barbecue, and probably Uchi or Uchiko.

Does Franklin's really live up to the hype?

For the brisket, yes. I think his brisket is as good as the best. It's excellent. I end up going down to Smitty's [Market] in Lockhart, personally. I like Smitty's. I'm not going to wait in line. I mean, at [Franklin's] you gotta wait in line forever. But you know, Aaron [Franklin is] a real nice guy. We trade back and forth. He's a big fan of when I do head cheese or pig face sausage in Austin -- out here it won't sell -- but I'll do that in Austin and he loves that stuff. I'll bring it down to him, and every once in a while, he'll show up with brisket or some ribs.

Does Phoenix have barbecue that's worthwhile?

I don't know. I'm sure [there is], I just don't know. But being from New York and the East Coast, you know, and a Jewish boy, Chinese food is number one on my list. And they don't have good Chinese food in Austin. At all. So I go down for dim sum a lot, down to C-Fu or to Phoenix Palace.

You also have good Italian food here. They don't have good Italian food in Austin.

Check out our past Chef and Tell interviews with: Casey Hopkins-Johnson -- Welcome Chicken + Donuts Robert Nixon -- Geordie's Steak Chris Schlattman -- The Upton Joey Bruneau -- Nabers Cory Oppold and Juan Zamora -- Atlas Bistro Natalie Morris Luis Milan -- Sol Diablo Cantina

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Lauren Saria
Contact: Lauren Saria