Chefs spend all week planning and overseeing the execution of elaborate dishes for the pleasure of the dining public. We have often wondered, what do chefs cook, eat and pour on their days off? In this series, Chefs Cook at Home, we visit the personal kitchens of some of our favorite chefs, to see—and taste—what they're up to in their downtime.
"A typical Sunday off starts with my 3-year-old son Pierce jumping on me, telling me to get up and make him breakfast," says Matt Lambert, a New Zealand native now living and working in New York as chef and co-owner of the Musket Room, whose cuisine and wine list reflect his Kiwi heritage and extensive fine dining experience. "Later we'll go to the park or walk over to Randall's Island, and get back home in time to watch a football game and cook dinner. The easiest thing is to get a side of salmon or a bone-in prime rib, and make a bunch of easy sides to go with it."
Lambert began his restaurant career at the age of 14, washing dishes in his native Auckland, then became an apprentice to restaurateur Garry Bates at 16. He completed culinary school in Wellington and cooked at Red and The Grove, both in Auckland, before moving to Connecticut with his wife, Barbara, a native of that state. He spent two years cooking at John's Cafe in Woodbury, then made the move to Manhattan, working his way through a variety of leadership roles in the kitchens of the esteemed AvroKO group before opening the Musket Room in 2013 with Barbara, who manages the restaurant, and partner Jennifer Vitagliano.
As for day-off wines, Lambert stays loyal to New Zealand, most often opening a Millton Chenin Blanc or a Wither Hills Pinot Noir. "As a young man, my introduction to better wines came from drinking New Zealand Pinot Noir, which formed the basis for how I evaluate the genre," explains Lambert. "I like Pinot Noirs from Oregon, and Burgundies, but they don't smell as big and friendly and familiar to me. With California Pinot Noirs, the smell is really big in the glass, but to me, they don't taste as much as they smell." The red fruit and strong herbal character of a New Zealand Pinot Noir makes it a great match for the recipe below, with its infused herbal aromatics and the contrasting sweetness and salt from the cure, the honey glaze and the seaweed accompanying the kale.
Recipe adapted from Matt Lambert, executive chef and co-owner of The Musket Room, New York
Matt Lambert's Wine Pick: Wither Hills Pinot Noir Wairau Valley 2011 (88, $23)
Wine Spectator Alternates: Amisfield Pinot Noir Central Otago 2011 (92, $40)
Framingham Pinot Noir Marlborough 2012 (90, $30)
For curing the salmon:
Combine the salt, sugar and citrus zest in a bowl and mix well. Distribute the mixture evenly on the flesh side of the salmon, wrap with plastic and refrigerate 8 to 12 hours to cure.
For roasting the salmon:
1. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Rub the salmon gently to remove as much of the cure mixture as possible.
2. In a small saucepan, combine the honey, fennel pollen and coriander seeds and warm gently over medium-low heat.
3. Arrange the sliced fruit, fennel, herbs, lemongrass and ginger on a sheet pan and place the fish, skin side down, on top. Roast in the oven for 5 to 6 minutes, then brush the fish with some of the honey mixture and return to the oven for another 5 to 6 minutes, at which point the fish should be medium-rare.
4. Remove from the oven and brush again with the honey glaze. Remove the skin, cut into even portions and serve hot, with the kale. Serves 4.
For the kale:
1. In a large sauté pan, warm the oil over medium heat. Add the garlic cloves and cook, turning once or twice, until lightly browned. Add the kale and cook until wilted, about 3 to 5 minutes.
2. Stir in the seaweed and cook for another 2 minutes. Stir in the vinegar, season with salt and remove from the heat. Serve hot, alongside the salmon.