Naomi Pomeroy Interview, Part 2
The boss that doesn’t have to “boss”, dog-eared cookbooks, and the girl who has to share her mom with Beast. A familiar face in the national press, Naomi Pomeroy is a dynamo, garnering multiple culinary award nominations, competing on Iron...
The boss that doesn’t have to “boss”, dog-eared cookbooks, and the girl who has to share her mom with Beast.
A familiar face in the national press, Naomi Pomeroy is a dynamo, garnering multiple culinary award nominations, competing on Iron Chef America and Top Chef Masters, all the while leading her crew through nightly service (whenever possible) at Beast.
Did we mention that she’s also a single mom to a really great kid?
We had lots of questions that Naomi met with thought-provoking responses. Bearing that in mind, we didn’t want you to stuff yourself all at one sitting. Hopefully you’ve already consumed part 1 and are ready for the second half: palate-cleanser, entrée and dessert.
What do you look for when hiring new staff?
(Working at) our place is about removing one’s identity and ego to get to the heart of presenting simple, thoughtful food. It’s not about the show or fluff. It always comes back to the food having its own integrity, just like the people.
My expectation of staff is that they are already operating with personal integrity: tasting things many times before they go out, asking questions if they aren’t clear, (as well as) using a lot of intuition. I need people who are very trained and confident, (who are capable of) a bit of mind reading.
I don’t even tell people when to come into work. I choose people who have a strong work ethic – they boss themselves. They don’t tell me when they’re coming in, they just know when they need to come in.
(Signals back toward her restaurant from the coffee shop) Adrian’s already there butchering a pig. It’s a mess, so he knows it needs to be done before we start prepping for service. No one had to tell him that, he just knows it’s the right thing to do.
I am really looking for people who are going to represent what Beast already is.
In our environment, our guests are there to feel relaxed and comforted, to have the experience of going to their friend’s house for dinner – just go and have a good time, know that the food is coming to them and trust that it will be good, that we’ll help them have a great night without being too fancy. (They know) that we are going to take care of their needs.
Our front of house is different. Our servers are charged with being ghosts, in a way. They don’t do introductions or inject a lot of personality. They don’t take orders – they are guides and interpreters. They present the food I’ve made and the wine we’ve chosen and take care of our guests. (Traditional dining out can be) really overwhelming, and everyone mentions that they are happy to not to have to make a choice as to what’s for dinner.
My whole point is that it comes at us from all angles, from the (choices of what) kind of gas you can select, which toothpaste to pick … there are 15 types of apples at the store right now! (Our daily lives confront us with) so many overwhelming things, what do you do? Sit there and guess? It’s the same thing you do at a restaurant.
My job is to know what’s best right now. I go to the farmers market, pay attention to weather and curate the menu so the diner has a great experience.
Some people aren’t used to our style of service or the food, so there’s a kind of softness the servers have to have (to manage) people’s confusion and expectations.
Most helpful/influential reference books, resources or writers
My mom lived in France growing up and I’ve always had a big garden, so my food was destined to be seasonal and very market-to-table since that’s how we ate at home.
I’m self-taught and in the beginning, I didn’t know technique. All I had to work with was my experience cooking at home, working in a Mexican food restaurant and assisting with some catering.
I was a vegetarian and I read a ton of Alice Waters, The Greens Cookbook and Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. I would read entire cookbooks the way other people read novels. Alice and Deborah’s work led me to Richard Olney’s writing about classic Provencal French cuisine, and they all helped give me an understanding of what flavors go together. All are very produce-focused, which is what I’d say (is a good descriptor of) my food.
My earliest reading was ingredient driven, and then I looked back to classics to learn technique: Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything, and a 1950-something copy Joy Of Cooking which was a great overall book – it’s where I learned how to make a basic hollandaise.
The most important parts of my education were learning about how to combine menu ideas, develop proper technique and then practice making 3 meals a day every day and not make the same thing over and over.
I don’t use recipes except for baking. The three baking cookbooks that have been a huge influence on us are Pastries at La Brea Bakery by Nancy Silverton, The Last Course by Claudia Fleming, and The Tartine Cookbook by Elisabeth Prueitt.
I understand that you’re the proud single parent of a bright, precocious ‘tweener. Not every kid has a busy professional kitchen as their childhood backdrop, much less a nationally-known chef as a parent. Do you think she recognizes it’s a unique experience? What does she like or dislike about her mom’s job?
She hates it (laughs).
She loves the restaurant. Our server Daniel has worked with me for 14 years, so he knew me before she was born and she’s known Mika since she was 3, so she has these brothers and sisters in the restaurant. I know that she feels like everyone’s raising her. She is always texting Mika stuff she doesn’t tell me!
She does not enjoy having a famous mom. She talks about feeling that she wishes that I was all hers. She always lets me know she wishes we could hang out more. I feel that way too. I tell her that I appreciate that she’s making a sacrifice, too.
(However, as parent,) I know that I am much happier than if I had sacrificed what I love for more time in the day. She’s gotten to see me do what I love, and (recognizes) that I get paid for it. I feel like that’s the best example for a kid to see.
Is she showing interest in any part of the industry?
For her 11th birthday in November, she helped me cook at the No Kid Hungry Dinner, a reunion for Top Chef Masters in San Francisco that benefitted the Share Our Strength charity.
When I was first asked to participate, I told them that I didn’t know – it was her birthday weekend and I’d have to ask if she wanted to do it. She’s a sensitive person who cares about other people, so she was excited to do charity work on her birthday by co-cheffing with me in a campaign to end childhood hunger in America.
I’m very supportive of her making some choices that aren’t just focused on her.
And I got to spend time with her on her birthday and do my job for a good cause. Triple win.
Can I use her name for the article?
Oh sure – it’s August. She doesn’t mind it if SHE’S famous (laughs).