Brad Farmerie‘s hands move like a lover’s over the object of his affection: his ingredients. The chef of PUBLIC has long impressed us with his ability to take lists of ingredients that don’t always make our mouths water and turn them into dishes we’re ready to return for the very next night. Through interviewing him for our book THE FLAVOR BIBLE, we caught a glimpse into the unique way Brad thinks about composing dishes and working with flavors — which, fueled by the passion he has for them in his heart, he manages to coax further through the magic of touch.
PUBLIC’s Executive Chef Brad Farmerie
“Our first thought was to do a vegetarian menu, and after a week we’re thinking, ‘We need to go further….’ I challenged [my kitchen team, including chef de cuisine Alan Wise] to vegetarian, and they came back with vegan — and I was like, ‘I love you guys!'”
—Brad Farmerie, on the origin of PUBLIC‘s vegan “Dirt to Fork” menu
The other night, we headed downtown to PUBLIC to experience Brad’s five-course “Dirt to Fork” menu (subtitled “An exploration into earthly edibles”), which is a meat-free, egg-free, and dairy-free effort by Brad and his talented kitchen team.
Yes, it’s a vegan tasting menu — something we’ve been happy to see more and more of offered by fellow distinguished chefs such as Terrance Brennan of Picholine and Mark Ladner of Del Posto in Manhattan and Todd Gray of Equinox in Washington, DC. This month, Aaron Adams — formerly of Portobello in Portland, Oregon (which was once named by VegNews as one of the three best vegan restaurants in America, and featured in THE VEGETARIAN FLAVOR BIBLE) — just opened Farm Spirit, Portland’s first all-vegan tasting menu restaurant, which is already completely booked for weeks.
“[Brad Farmerie] seems to have the je ne sais quois (not to mention the culinary literacy, given his…ahem…excellent taste in books) to make the unlikeliest of flavor combinations meld harmoniously on the plate. We were truly amazed that with so many flavors being juggled in each dish, we never once tasted a discordant note.”
–from our August 2005 blog post on our first visit to PUBLIC
We first visited PUBLIC 10 years ago this summer, curious about the restaurant’s unique global (with an “Australiasian” emphasis) approach to cuisine fueled by Farmerie’s extensive travels, including through Europe and Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Northern Africa, Asia, and New Zealand. You’ll find ingredients rarely, if ever, seen on other American menus.
Astute beverage pairings have always added to the enjoyment of Farmerie’s dishes. The five-course “Dirt to Fork” menu is offered for $65, with beverage pairings (recommended) an additional $55. The beverages span cocktails and wine, and are worth springing for.
Our first was a cocktail that consisted of components representing all of the elements featured in the vegan tasting menu — including flowers, fruit, pollen, roots, sap, and seeds. It was a bright start to our evening.
The spread for our bread? Whipped avocado was accented by salt, cilantro powder and tomato powder.
Course 1: FRUIT, NUTS, SEEDS: Charred papaya with pine nuts, pecans, coconut, sesame and pumpkin seeds. This dish was brilliant in its creativity — being unlike any other papaya dish we’d ever tasted — and its “familiarity,” with the fruit + nuts combo combined with spheres of cool coconut being reminiscent of a savory ice cream sundae.
Course 2: NIGHTSHADES, OIL, FERMENTATION: Chilled eggplant soup with black garlic, sago, and mint. Texture-wise, our vote was split: Karen thinks she’d have preferred the soup a bit thinner, to enhance its contrast from the sago (large tapioca-like pearls). Andrew suggests simply calling it and/or thinking of it as a savory “pudding” instead of soup. Strictly flavor-wise, we both agreed this dish was unusual, exciting, and delicious.
Mid-dinner, we had an opportunity to visit the kitchen, where we were able to watch Farmerie plate our next dish.
Course 3: ROOTS, WEEDS, ALLIUMS: Confit burdock root with sunchoke, onion, claytonia and upland cress. Perhaps the most gorgeous dish of the night, we loved its clean, “unadorned” flavors, including that of the burdock itself, which tasted like the intersection of artichokes, nuts, and potatoes. We did find ourselves wishing for even more of the delicious onion “jam” upon which the sliced root sat!
Course 4: BARLEY, OCEAN, YEAST: Soy barley croquettes with toasted yeast broth, seaweed salad, and samphire. Hands down, this was our favorite dish of the night, the perfect crescendo to our tasting menu. Tofu + barley were blended and seasoned, and deep fried into savory and very crunchy croquettes. Seaweed in yeast broth added lots of umami to the dish. No need to crave crabcakes if these are an available option!
Course 5: SAP, POLLEN, FLOWERS: Maple sherbet with rice milk panna cotta, lavender foam, and fennel pollen. We loved both the lightness, and the range of textures in this dessert: creaminess, crispiness, crunchiness. Maple is one of our favorite flavors, and this maple sherbet was a perfect summer expression.
PUBLIC executive pastry chef Brian Yurko describes the dessert course in the video below:
Ten years after our first visit, we were thrilled to see Farmerie’s vision and execution continuing to evolve by leaps and bounds — healthfully, sustainably, and deliciously. Indeed, we found ourselves falling in love with PUBLIC all over again.
Flavor Pairings & Affinities
PUBLIC is at 210 Elizabeth Street in Manhattan, and at public-nyc.com.