Despite his laid back demeanor, Sam Talbot is one busy dude. He recently launched a new project out at Surf Lodge in Montauk — a stationary food truck — and of course, there’s his new unnamed seafood restaurant in the much delayed, crazy looking Mondrian SoHo, which is creeping towards a late fall opening. We recently caught up with the former Top Cheffer at a cooking demo, where he was working in support of Truvia —an all natural zero calorie sugar substitute — to find out what else he's got in the pipeline these days:
How’ve things been at Surf Lodge this summer? Really good. This is our most successful season yet, we’ve trumped the other two, by a landslide. We’ve had a really good response as far as food, but the overall vibe is really coming through. We also opened up a food truck last week. So, we’re doing Hawaiian plate lunches in the parking lot, some lobster roll-type stuff, it’s still in the works — it’s a baby, brand new.
Are you serving items from the Surf Lodge menu in the truck? No, the truck is its own entity. It’s a small space, not a lot of room in the refrigerator, it kind of is what it is. But in Hawaii, when the surfers get out of the water, they eat something called a 'Hawaiian plate lunch,' it’s literally, coconut rice, macaroni salad, and some kind of teriyaki beef or chicken, so that’s what we’re doing.
When you’re not at Surf Lodge, where are you eating in Montauk? Duryea’s — it’s very simple food, like oysters, steamed lobsters, grouper. It has probably one of the best views in Montauk, you can bring your own beer. It’s cool man. And if I’m not there, I like to just grill, right there in my front yard. Nobody’s going to grill better than me in my yard!
What’s going on with the restaurant in the Mondrian? The project has had some delays. Almost two years now, delayed, you know. When I did the James Beard dinner two weeks ago, we handed out menus, it’s previewing in November, so hopefully we can stay close to that. We’re going to have great nightlife, but more importantly, we’re going to have a wonderful restaurant. Featuring — I’m a seafood guy — seafood that’s as sustainable as I can possibly get it. We're going to team up with, not only different fisherman, but also some shared agriculture farms, and try and work with some local farms here, to do a greenmarket menu, etc.
This will be your second big hotel project. What are the benefits of opening up a restaurant in a hotel? There are a lot of costs that are incurred by the hotel itself, and if you’re in a hotel, there’s always a customer coming through, so there’s always bodies in the building. It’s kind of a wave of the future to have the restaurateur and the hotel team up, because you have this whole package all in one, because you don’t even necessarily have to leave the property. If you have great nightlife, great food, and a comfortable bed, you really don’t need anything else. It’s such a cool neighborhood down there because it’s not SoHo proper, and its not proper Chinatown, it’s right on the cusp. So in my menu I can give a couple nods to Chinatown, I could do the American fare, it’s a really good epicenter.
Where are you in terms of menu development? I do tasting constantly, and the menu’s pretty developed. We’ll know more in the final stretch, 30 days out, in terms of the seasonality and availability of the ingredients, but I have a lot ready to roll out. Any items from Surf Lodge? There are some certain tweaks. Maybe something like the scallops could end up on the menu, the crowd pleasers, I think that makes sense.
You got your start as a chef in Williamsburg many years ago. What do you think of the neighborhood now? Well, I live there. I think there’s a lot of great potential to start restaurants there, and it’s kind of becoming a spot. I think its great. When I was there, there were only Thai places. It was only Asian places. It’s definitely more diverse, you can get great BBQ, you can get great cheeseburgers, you can get great eggs in the morning, simple little coffee places, I think its huge.
Any favorite spots in the 'burg? I like Walter Foods, I like Dumont Burger, what else? There’s this little place on Grand Avenue, I forget the name of it, this little Middle Eastern place, I get falafel and shawarma, and all that kind of stuff. Also that place Doner on Bedford. I like to keep it simple, if I’m not cooking.
Aside from the Mondrian project and everything going on at Surf Lodge, what else are you working on? You know, I’m trying to work on a book, but slowly. I’m trying to put the whole thing together, but it’s basically about my lifestyle as far as diabetes and cooking is concerned. So, it would be a lot of recipes and facts on a diabetic’s life — how to travel, how to wake up in the morning, what happens if you’re working out, and all kinds of things. Not even dietary things — having syringes, walking through an airport in Brazil — how to explain that. And then, really about my lifestyle, with the ocean, with yoga, with aromatherapy, all of these things that incorporate to my overall wellness. And I’d like to be able to reach out to mothers of diabetics, or diabetics themselves and friends of diabetics, maybe just give some advice on how I went from 11 to 32 being diabetic, being on a TV show, traveling the world, cooking, and I think I really have some good tips to offer. The kinds of things that you should do, and the things that you shouldn’t do.
Do you keep up with Top Chef or is it a bit too close to home to watch? It’s not that its too close to home, I’m just not home at Wednesdays at 10 o’clock. I don’t know what chef has time to sit and watch it each week, I’m also not a big TV guy, I’d rather be outdoors. Especially in Montauk, if I’m near the ocean, I’d rather be at the beach, surfing. So, I haven’t had a real chance to watch it.
Do you keep in touch with any of the other former contestants? Yeah, I go to a lot of the food and wine festivals, so I see them, and I meet the contestants from other seasons at the events. But I still speak to Harold Dieterle, I speak to Marissa from my season, and Tom, and Gail — I see Tom and Gail all the time.