Staying Golden with Chef Jeremy Salamon of The Eddy
Text by Lukas Volger
Photos by Steve Viksjo
Nodding toward the photo of Julia Child and James Beard that’s tacked over the door out to the dining room, Chef Jeremy Salamon issues a prayer to his “food gods” each night before service. It’s just a quick moment of intention, an expressed hope that all goes well. The origin of this habit has little to do with communication glitches, swapped orders, equipment breaking down, or anything that happens in the dining room. Instead it comes from a past job in the kitchen of a large, celebrated New York restaurant where, as a line cook, one of the hazards he dealt with was a fellow cook who’d flick oil from the deep fryer at whomever caught his ire. That’s when he started praying to the food gods—that he wouldn’t go home with third-degree burns. While he no longer contends with hot oil flying at him, the nightly prayer has stuck.
"I was the only gay cook that I knew of,” he said,
“and it was a mentality of this is how you have to be,
this is how you have to act."
The oil-flicking cook is one example of how toxic masculinity—such adherence to often hyper-aggressive performances of “manhood” that it creates, well, toxic environments—expresses itself in the restaurant kitchen. There’s also all the heteronormative mandates about what constitutes male taste and male behavior. It’s so cliche that it seems lifted from a junior-high after-school special, where in Jeremy’s experience any deviation from “acceptable,” say, taste in music or participation in sex talk, would not just draw unwanted attention, but be cause to pigeonhole Jeremy as gay. This culture in some of the kitchens where Jeremy worked was so commonplace that he thought he’d simply have to tolerate it if he were to continue forward in his restaurant career. “I was the only gay cook that I knew of,” he said, “and it was a mentality of this is how you have to be, this is how you have to act.”
Over the past several months he’s been following the revelations of the #MeToo movement with a sense of vindication, even as the lead stories have been focused on the abuse and harassment of women. He believes there must be many stories from LGBTQ cooks that would add to the long-overdue reckoning of the restaurant industry and the culture it fosters. He’s had good mentors and teachers through his career, but if there’s one thing he’s learned from this particular trauma, he says, it’s “how not to run a kitchen.”
Jeremy is the recently appointed executive chef at The Eddy, a 38-seat restaurant in Manhattan’s East Village. Open since 2014, its original incarnation was as a refined neighborhood restaurant serving a Catskills-influenced take on New American cuisine. For two years, Jeremy worked as The Eddy’s sous chef (and before that, had stints in several other New York kitchens, including the queer-captained Prune and Buvette) before leaving the job to visit family in Hungary and explore other parts of Eastern Europe. Upon returning home to New York, he threw a series of popup dinners inspired by his travels, and when the chef position at The Eddy opened up, the success of—and enthusiasm for—those pop-ups led to a job offer.
At The Eddy, Jeremy is ushering in a revamped menu that dynamically alters the restaurant’s DNA. His research in Hungary infuses his local-seasonal menu with flavors and dishes of what he ate there. Part of his mission is to challenge diners’ notions of Hungarian food, going beyond borscht, paprikash, and “lots of meat and fried things.” For him, Hungarian food conjures a landscape with fields of berries and stone-fruit groves, wines made from nuts and plums, a widespread culture of living off one’s own land, and a rich and exciting pastry tradition. It’s no surprise that it’s a much different and more vibrant cuisine than most Westerners’ perceptions of it.
One of the most popular items he’s introduced is langós, a Hungarian, pancake-sized flatbread that’s deep-fried until golden and crisp on the exterior, while flaky and yielding inside. He serves them with a changing cast of accompaniments, like soft fresh cheeses, preserves, smoked meats, or pickled herring. Pork schnitzel is on the menu, too, served with huckleberry preserves and a potato salad threaded with dill; goulash appears as one made with beef cheeks.
Chicken livers—which, along with sweet breads on the menu are a nod to the prevalence of offal in Eastern European cuisines—the are skewered on rosemary branches and served with charred grapes. “I grew up eating chicken liver for every holiday—Passover, Hanukkah, Rosh Hashanah, you name it,” he said, “and it always came with a shot of Manischewitz,” the sweet Kosher wine. “I always think of chicken livers and grapes together.” He calls upon family food again in the sacher torte on his dessert menu, using as inspiration the Austrian (rather than Hungarian) version “ironically favored” by his grandmother—a chocolate torte with apricot, traditionally made from seven or 11 layers, shellacked in marzipan, and served with sweetened whipped cream. (The Hungarian version typically omits the marzipan and cream; it’s a distinction that’s the source of longstanding debate as to which is better.)
“We didn’t want to be a Hungarian restaurant,” Jeremy said, but he won’t rule out the idea entirely.
Such dishes are balanced by what Jeremy describes as modern American and French-influenced fare, tethered always to what he can source at the local farmers market. These modern American dishes take shape, most memorably, as vibrant vegetable dishes, like his boiled, then char-grilled, beets that are smashed and marinated for two days in a mix of honey and sherry vinegar, or an ethereal beer-braised kabocha, served with maple sabayon and fried shallots. Olive oil-poached scallops are soft as butter, served with charred scallion and Meyer lemon.
“We didn’t want to be a Hungarian restaurant,” Jeremy said, but he won’t rule out the idea entirely. He’s inspired by the foods of the East Village neighborhood where The Eddy is located (Polish, Ukrainian, and Indian restaurants have had a historical stronghold there), which he believes helps the new identity make contextual sense. And he’d like to pay homage to Little Hungary, a formerly vibrant Hungarian enclave of New York’s Upper East Side that’s now whittled down to just one block. “To bring some of that spirit back would be really cool.”
Jason Soloway, the owner of The Eddy and its sister restaurant Wallflower, says that when he steps back to evaluate what’s going on in restaurants in New York and, generally, across the United States, he sees a “contraction into what’s safe and what’s well-known” for neighborhood spots like his. There’s an explosion of fast-casual chains serving comfort food on one end, and on the other, fine dining restaurants that open at hotels, where the financial cushion allows a buffer for serving more challenging fare. This leaves “the middle,” as Jason describes it, often catering to the lowest common denominator in order to stay afloat: pasta, bistros, burgers.
So it can be a gamble to offer a menu that doesn’t fall directly in line with the familiar formulas, but right now The Eddy is eager and willing to invest in Jeremy’s vision. Jeremy’s “deep personal connection to each dish that he makes” excites Jason, and he’s emphatic in his confidence in Jeremy’s talent and passion. But a balancing act is necessary. “We want to embrace what Jeremy’s bringing to the table, we want that to translate to as many people as possible, but we also want people to be happy”—and to return often. Jeremy’s up for the challenge.
As he continues to tweak and finesse—he’ll unveil the spring menu at the end of April—he works hard to keep pace with the learning curve of the role. Much of the minutiae of running a small restaurant requires skill sets fully separate of cooking: from being the resident painter, plumber, and repairman, to building a team and figuring out what kind of leader he wants to be.
Having been the only gay person in a restaurant kitchen, he wants to be part of what he calls an “open kitchen,” one (similar to MeMe’s Diner in Brooklyn) where everyone is granted license, safety, and support to simply be themselves. He speaks with cautious confidence about what this kitchen looks like on a granular level: primarily, it’s characterized by the elimination of ego, with no hierarchical hazing rituals, where there’s not just a culture of openness around sharing ideas but opportunity in it for everyone to do better work, and to be a kitchen and restaurant where “everyone’s on the same playing field, everyone’s equal.”
“I think I lead quietly,” he said, “by example, but also by over-communicating.” This may sound like a contradiction, but by communication Jeremy means relationships rather than transactions. Even if part of the learning curve in the industry has been finding out that kindness doesn’t always achieve the desired result, he believes in using it to reshape the ecosystem of the kitchen. “When you work in a big restaurant group, 50 people on the line, no one gives two shits about your day,” he said. And so one practice, simple as it may sound, is just checking in regularly, ensuring that the connections formed in the kitchen are meaningful ones.
There’s a photo of the the Golden Girls—Dorothy, Rose, Blanche, and Sofia—taped in the kitchen near that photo of Julia Child and James Beard, and scrawled underneath is the phrase “STAY GOLDEN.” This has worked its way into their kitchen rituals, with “stay golden!” now functioning as something of a salutation for the team and a cheeky reminder to keep it light. Making space in the professional kitchen for such flourishes—“I don’t know how to describe it, I don’t want to be kitschy and say that it’s a lot more fun. But there’s not as intense of a feeling as what I had in these other kitchens,” he said. “If you want to be whipped with oil, there are plenty of other places out there that do that.” But not at The Eddy. ///
The Eddy is located at 342 East 6th Street in New York City. For more information and to view their current menus, visit their website.