Blue Ribbon’s Comfort Food with Good Technique

The saying that you should only eat in a Chinese restaurant where Chinese people are eating is a cliché. But it's hard to dispute that a restaurant filled with great chefs is going to be top-notch. When Eric and Bruce Bromberg opened Blue Ribbon Brasserie in SoHo almost 18 years ago, the brothers kept the restaurant open late. Soon Mario Batali and Jean-Georges Vongerichten were dropping by after work. They came for the bistro-style food, like the now-famous and much-copied marrow bones served with toast. Next the Brombergs opened Blue Ribbon Sushi, then Blue Ribbon Bakery and a handful of other New York restaurants. Now they have written the Blue Ribbon Cookbook: Better Home Cooking, filled with unpretentious dishes like fried chicken and steak and eggs. (Try out some of the recipes they gave us: Garlic Dill Pickles, Sautéed Calamari with Parsley and Garlic, Doughnut Muffins, and New York Strip Steak with Caramelized Shallots.) We talked with them about how they got here.

Garlic Dill Pickles

Sautéed Calamari with Parsley and Garlic

Doughnut Muffins

New York Strip Steak with Caramelized Shallots

Was it hard to adapt the Blue Ribbon recipes for the home cook?

Bruce: Not really, because our recipes are pretty simplified to begin with. Our approach is to take away unnecessary steps.

Eric: The bread recipes were probably the hardest, because we were baking them in a huge wood-fired oven at Blue Ribbon Bakery.

When you opened Blue Ribbon Brasserie, did you try to source ingredients locally?

Bruce: We tried to make everything ourselves, from the pickles to the smoked salmon. We like projects.

Eric: When we were kids, our parents took us to Tabachnik's. It's a deli in New Jersey. They had barrels of pickles and all homemade everything. That made an impact on us.

What are your favorite dishes from the cookbook?

Bruce: The bone marrow with oxtail marmalade. We learned that from the Le Récamier [restaurant in Paris] staff meal. Every time I eat it, I'm amazed at how delicious it is. At the time we brought it out, it wasn't elegant enough for a fancy French restaurant in New York, nor is it totally casual. We bridged that gap: took stuff from fancier places and brought it down.

Eric: It wasn't an overnight sensation. People would order it, and it would show up just this bone on a plate. People were grossed out and sent it back.

How about you, Eric? Favorites?

I love the shrimp Provençal, because that was probably the first really special cooking dish we learned from a chef in the [French] town of Venasque, where we were spending the summer. There was this restaurant there, Les Remparts, where you could see the kitchen from the dining room. The dish was flambéed, so when they cooked it you could see a flash of light. We were young and were like: "Oh my God!" We finally got up the courage to ask if we could go into the kitchen and watch the chef make it.

There's something called "breakfast salad" in your book. What's up with that?

Eric: It's for days you don't want eggs, pancakes, bacon, but want something lighter. It's like the classic lunch salad frisée aux lardons, but without the bacon. And in this case the egg is fried, not poached. Fried eggs are easier to make when you're still bleary-eyed. The yolk breaks; it makes a dressing.

Why don't you ever see eggs poached in red wine in the States? I had that in Paris, and it was so good.

Eric: It's in our book! In our steak and eggs recipe, it says you can poach the eggs in wine if you want.

What's the main thing you want people to know about your cookbook?

Eric: If you read the book and cook through it, it teaches you so much technique. Once you can cook through this, you can cook anything.

Bruce: We set out to write a cookbook for home cooks. This is not a show-off kind of book. No tweezers needed.