Christophe Hille, 39, is the founder of the East Village's Northern Spy Food Co., where there's often a line out the door for good reason. The focus on local, seasonal fare is a natural outgrowth of Hille's commitment to food politics, which he tweets about almost as often as what's on the menu.
I saw your tweet today about finding gum stuck to the bottom of your tables. I can't believe people still do that.
Just this morning I had to fix a table and tighten the bolt on the stem, so I flipped it over and discovered three or four pieces of gum stuck to it. I glanced around and there was gum under every single table. For some people, it's just how they roll.
You give out paper napkins, right? It's not just because everything in your restaurant is cloth.
Yes, we give out paper napkins where they could put their gum. I don't understand it, unless we did something wrong to them and this is fair retribution. It's amusing. It's not the end of the world. I don't want to express too much disappointment in my customers.
I also saw a tweet about that cookbook ghostwriting scandal and how Gwyneth Paltrow had fired back on GOOP. You wrote "Really, Gwyneth, no one cares. Trust us."
I thought later I should have quoted Shakespeare: 'The lady doth protest too much, methinks.' I'm not opposed to her writing a cookbook but I am opposed to her being so defensive about having a ghostwriter.
You got a new chef, Hadley Schmitt, last year. Have you changed?
Me personally? I've changed a lot for the better. As for the dinner menu, we've changed about two-thirds of it. The template has stayed the same: roasted chicken, pork, lamb, seafood.
Your restaurant has done more to popularize kale than any I can think of (the kale salad with roasted kabocha squash, toasted almonds and raw milk cheddar is a must-have). How many pounds do you go through a week?
Ten cases, which works out to about 120 bunches of kale. Somehow we inadvertently became kale's best friend. At the Greenmarket we'll load it up in our cargo bike along with 60 pounds of whole striped bass.
That's a lot of cash you're putting out, since the farmers generally don't take credit cards. Do you have to go to the bank all the time to get cash since most of your customers pay with credit cards?
Yes. And I find credit card fees especially galling. We pay 2.6% or 2.7% in aggregate to credit card companies each year. That worked out to $46,000 last year, someone's yearly salary. We also used to pay the credit card fees for our servers' tips but that changed in 2011 when the New York State Hospitality Wage Order went into effect. Look it up. It's really exciting reading. Before 2011 we had been paying $150 a week to the credit card companies to subsidize our waiters' tips. It adds up.
Did your servers complain when they had to start paying out 2.5% of their tips to credit card companies?
Not a peep. They do fine.
I try to leave tips in cash because of that.
I've become more conscientious of using cash myself when I go out, especially at smaller retailers. Otherwise we're just sending money to people who don't need it.
You're known for hosting events like the annual Big Beef Dinner. Have you rethought beef since Frank Bruni's confession he's developed gout, partly from eating too much red meat?
No, but I could never eat or drink on the level Frank Bruni used to. Gout is a misunderstood disease, partly because you have to have a genetic predisposition for it, like kidney stones. If you happen to combine high uric acid levels with being the New York Times food critic, you've got a problem. I'm not a doctor but it's not necessarily a worry for everyone.
Another of your tweets championed egg yolks, in reference to people who only want egg whites.
I love egg yolks. Egg whites are good for other uses -- meringue, stiffening mohawks, making drinks frothy. We'll make an egg white omelet if somebody requests it but I think they're silly. Egg whites are flavorless, have no personality. I don't find them to be appealing conceptually.
In another tweet you cited an article on the historic merits of cooking and how we evolved as a species because of it, as opposed to relying on raw food.
I don't have a beef with raw foodists but I'm a student of food history, studying for a Masters of Science at NYU. People contort history to suit their agenda, as if there was some original Edenic time when humans only ate raw things. It's all mythology. You wouldn't be able to have your raw food website if not for the early discovery of cooking food, which caused our brains to enlarge. Fire and cooking is intrinsic to human culture. Thinking that we should go back to eating raw food, as nature intended, is a distortion of historical record. You've got to get your facts straight.
Anything else on your mind?
That I'm probably going to regret this.
You haven't said anything that bad. I think you'll come off as wry.
Rye is really good. Hadley uses a lot of rye grains in our dishes.
Do you like rye whiskey?
I'm not a whiskey drinker. I'm really into good sherry these days. I go to Tinto Fino / on First Avenue and found some sherries that are just outstanding, with unreal aromas. The Wellington Palo Cortado is gorgeous, freaking awesome. The Barbadillo Obispo Gascon with steak is a match made in heaven. I would never drink anything else but sherry with a steak.
Are you working on a cookbook?
No, but it might be fun to do. Or maybe a book of tweets.
Northern Spy Food Co.
511 E. 12th St., (212) 228-5100
Above: Christophe Hill. Photo by Annekke Schoneveld.