Much of the joy of this blog comes from celebrating what makes New York City so great, so iconic, and so innovative. Looking into the food culture of New York, you see the essence of the city come to life. People flock from all over the world to call this city their own and weave their unique perspective into the mix. There's a feeling of contagious innovation.
Our first chef, Chef Lucas Billheimer, embodies that spirit of the city. He holds steady to his roots while evolving into a New York icon, helping to make New York even greater. He has brought his knowledge, simplicity, love for nature, and thirst for innovation to his two restaurants on the Upper East Side—Parlor Steakhouse and The Writing Room.
Meat Manhattan: Chef Lucas Billheimer, Executive Chef of The Writing Room & Parlor Steakhouse
I’m from Colorado—beef country. I grew up amongst cows, not that we owned them but I had several friends who did. So I have pretty good knowledge about steak, beef in general, the industry, and beef making. I came out here to the East coast to go to cooking school. I went to the Culinary Institute of America about 13 years ago. And then boogied back down into the city and started working.
I met Sue almost right away when I was at Park Avenue Café, working for a guy named David Burke. And I’ve been involved with her pretty much ever since in various capacities. I opened Parlor almost 9 years ago which is freaky. I’ve been pretty much using Sue almost exclusively the entire time. Time after time I taste out against her. Every three months I compare her prices and quality to other meat purveyors and never have really gone away from her.
One takeaway trick to make steak perfect every time:
I’m going to say good old fashioned salt. That is the one. I prefer kosher salt. You can get a little bit more coarse like sea salt as long as its not too big. You’ve got to remember that 70-80% of it falls off in the cooking process, but without salt, you don’t pull the natural flavors out. You can over-salt, but if you under-salt, you are losing a lot of the flavor.
The only other one is just buying the highest quality that you can possibly get your hands on.
Favorite cut of steak and why:
Definitely ribeye. In beef, for me personally, and all food, fat is flavor—without a doubt. I’ve found that New Yorkers don’t eat a huge amount of beef because there’s a huge amount of fresh fish, great farms all around, but by and large, if people are going to eat beef, they’re going to go for the best possible thing they can get their hands on. For me, that’s ribeye. It is the “King of Fat” in all beef cuts without a doubt.
Favorite thing to do in NYC after work:
When I stay uptown I always go home and cook at home, have some cocktails, barefoot, listening to music. When I go out, it’s almost always downtown. I go pretty much all over the place. I do hole-in-the-wall bars. There’s a very large amount of late night dining down there. I prefer smaller places like Jeffrey’s Grocery, little guys that serve good, simple food late. That’s what I go for.
First thing you do when you walk into the kitchen at work:
It’s really uninteresting, but the first thing I do is look at the level of sanitation.
If you could guess, what’s the next hot thing in cooking:
The next hot thing in cooking…I’m going to have to say, following the trends and the way the industry is going,is probably going to be a departure from main plate items that have always been there. Like for beef, for example, I see less focus on filet mignon, NY strip, ribeye. I think people are going to start focusing on new and different stuff. Part of that is price point oriented and part of that is creativity oriented. You’ve got a lot of really talented people and the numbers are growing. They don’t want to do the same old thing that has been on the plate. I see them searching out, talking to people like Sue, saying let me see what you have, let me come work with you for a little bit, let me see what you’ve got laying around, see if it’s something I want to play with. That’s pretty specific to New York, but I see that everything is evolving very quickly with what goes on the plate both with technique and ingredient. I think that it’s going to keep going that way.
3 things in your kitchen you can’t live without:
Cast-iron skillet. I’m going to have to put something on top of that—literally—because I live in New York and we have the smallest kitchens ever. The little grease guard that goes on top of skillets. That’s a combo right there.
I really like my broiler. You know how some ovens have the broiler on the bottom. Sometimes you just can’t get the color you want in the pan without making your sock drawers smell like seared beef. Broilers are really good with that.
The next thing is definitely going to have to be a good set of knives—a real set of knives. None of this drawer full of odds and ends stuff.
Favorite music to cook to:
Right now, I go a little folksy, modern folk not classic folk. I’m from Colorado but have lived in New York for a long time, so music like The Lumineers who started here but moved out to Boulder, and stuff along those lines.
Favorite part about your job:
The creativity for sure. And the level of quality ingredients that are available here. That’s partially due to geography, partially due to the fact that New Yorkers demand better quality, fresher, more unique ingredients than anywhere else in the country.
What’s in the Chef Lucas cocktail:
I like my cocktails stirred and boozy. So I’m a big Bourbon and Rye fan. I make my own bitters, so there’s always a good amount of those. I like Amarro’s or European style bitters.
One big ice cube. I pay a lot of attention to thermodynamics of chilling the cocktails, which would be like crushed ice versus one big block of ice, and all of the area in-between.
And whatever my fiancé wants.
Butter or cream:
Red or white wine:
Red. Well, it depends on the season. Red when it’s cold, white when it’s hot.
Mets or Yankees:
Who are they?
Best thing to cook for your significant other:
Chicken wings. She loves them. We are very yin and yang when it comes to food. She loves good food, knows good food, but she’s just as happy going to a bar with killer chicken wings and nice martinis.
If you weren’t a chef, what would you do instead:
I’d be a people person, or I would grow food.
If you could cook with one person, who would it be:
My Aunt Betty. We're a family of restaurant people. My uncles own restaurants, my grandmother owned restaurants, but my Aunt Betty—my Grandmother’s sister—was the person that started it all in my family. I have some of her recipes in both restaurants.
If you could describe your cooking style in a few words, what would they be:
Simple, scratch (as in scratch cooking), seasonal
If you could describe The Writing Room in a few words, what would they be:
That’s a tough one. It’s pretty complex. It’s not just a simple restaurant.
I would probably use all three of those words I just used, but also “great downtown restaurant uptown.”