GrandLife Interviews: Chef Sam Mason
We got him talking tattoos, home cooking, heroes, and what he finds romantic. And we also got the scoop (no pun intended) on his upcoming ice cream company. Hint: it involves the term “udder to cone.” Now we KNOW you want to read on.
GrandLife: You’ve worked in some pretty major kitchens–how did all of that come about?
Sam Mason: I owe a lot to Jean-Louis Palladin, who is and always will be one of best chefs to walk this earth. He was revered. It brings tears to people’s eyes when they hear he’s passed away. He was like a father to me and that was how I ended up in kitchens like Laduree and Ducasse.
GL: You own two bars in Brooklyn and you have a mayonnaise company. Explain.
SM: The mayonnaise company–I never really saw that coming. My partners approached me through a third party, we sat down and they started talking about a condiment. I wasn’t at all interested. But by the time this duo got done with their spiel, I was totally sold. It still, to this day, blows my mind. We’re doing super well, we’re getting ready to expand. In the new year, I’d like to move our operations to Bushwick, to some sort of large warehouse. There’a big building in Bushwick and it’s a real community-driven, artisanal place where you can rent out zones. Right now, It’s a tiny operation. I make every jar of mayo. Since we’ve been open, I’ve made every jar.
GL: Wow, that’s a lot of mayo-making. How long does that take you?
SM: I’m probably there 6 hours a day, 5 days a week.
GL: What’s your favorite mayo flavor?
SM: We have 30. They rotate, so there are always 10 at once. There’ll probably be 50 soon. Favorite right now? Rosemary.
GL: How do you come up with the flavors?
SM: Seasonality is a large part of it. And i’ve been doing customized flavors for people. We have 30-40 stores that sell it in the city plus national and international stores.
GL: How do your bars figure into the picture? Are you involved? Do you hang out at them?
SM: Lady J’s is my baby. I bartend there Thursday nights. It allows you to know what’s broken, say hi to the regulars. I think when you get to be super absentee it just loses something.
GL: You show old motorcycle movies there and there are bikes lined up out front. Do you ride?
SM: I used to and I’m buying a bike in the spring. Motorcycles are a very romantic thing for me. Or having a bar with motorcycles lined up in front of it. I just love it. When I walk up, I just smile. Some are beat up, some are beautiful.
GL: What do you do in your spare time?
SM: Spare time? What’s spare time? Well, I just signed the lease on the ice cream shop. Oh, I have an ice cream company. We have a new lease in Williamsburg kind of on the water. We’re one of only a handful of people in the state who actually pasteurize and make their own ice cream. The only other one I know besides us is Ample HIll in Prospect Heights. It’s all pasteurized in house–it’s all, for lack of a better term, udder to cone.
GL: Wow, what’s it called?
SM: Odd Fellows. We’re opening in early spring.
GL: Who are you doing it with?
SM: It’s me and a new partner–really great guy, family guy. He was a friend of one of the waiters at WD-50, so I’ve known him for a long time. He’s a finance guy. He actually approached me with it because he’d always wanted to do ice cream, oddly enough. But it’s really exciting, we’re really shooting for the stars with this one. It’ll be more than retail, it’s wholesale; hopefully national distribution eventually.
GL: What kinds of flavors will you have?
SM: I’m incorporating some of the quirky stuff I was doing at WD-50. Interesting flavors. Cedar, cornbread. Ice cream cakes. We’ll have a whole cotton candy program that’s going to be kind of wacky. And I’d like to eventually turn Odd Fellows into a soda shop as well. It has a lot of legs.
GL: Did you have to do a ton of research on how to pasteurize?
SM: Oh yeah. I mean, it’s not rocket science but the equipment looks pretty intimidating. Kettles, and thermometers, and probes, those little reader seismograph-looking things….you’re like “What the hell is that telling me?” Both of our operations and our ice cream shop are overseen by the agriculture department so we jumped through those hoops, and we’re licensed through Cornell…it’s a whole different animal.
GL: Who are your heros in the industry?
SM: Wylie’s always going to be a hero. He got me back on track. Before I started at WD, I’d pretty much given up on all of it. But he dragged me out of “retirement.” There’s this Sicilian ice cream guy, Angelo Corvito, and I’d love to hang out with him, and pick his brain for around 7 years. He’s a genius with the frozen thing. He might be THE ice cream master. And Jean-Louis will always be my biggest mentor slash father figure.
GL: What’s the deal with your tattoos?
SM: They’re all artist-based. For the most part, I usually don’t have a lot of influence on them. I start with a concept and then they draw them up. It’s one of those things where you don’t want to give too much criteria. Like Chris O’Donnell–he’s one of the best and you want it to look like his work.Tomorrow I’m getting a full chest, which is exciting, but it’s not gonna be a good day.
GL: What are you getting?
SM: I haven’t seen it yet. It’s an eagle. I asked for something a little traditional, something romantic, 1950s-ish. But yeah, it’s going to be bigger than I want, probably.
GL: What do you cook to impress a date? Do you have a girlfriend?
SM: Hmmm…well WHEN I have a girlfriend, or when I cook at home it tends to be really simple. It’s like angel hair and shrimp. Mozzarella and basil. A lot of white wine. Roasted pork loin. I try to cook at home every night.