A Quick Bite with Greg Baxtrom of Olmsted
Even on a cold winter day, Olmsted’s back garden is alive and well. Varieties of kale flourish, quail (including two named Gary and Lucy) coo in a coop, and a greenhouse is prepped for future gardening experiments.
Standing here, it’s easy to validate why Bon Appétit has called this place “a Brooklyn neighborhood restaurant that’s unlike any other Brooklyn neighborhood restaurant.” Olmsted offers diners something different — a vibrant setting that rivals many upscale culinary establishments — but take a look at the menu and you’ll find that most dishes are, in fact, under $24.
“We wanted to serve quality dishes, but at an approachable price,” says owner and Chef Greg Baxtrom. Both he and Max Katzenberg (Olmsted’s co-owner and general manager) hail from fine dining backgrounds. The pair met while working at Chef Dan Barber’s acclaimed Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Baxtrom has also worked with Chef Grant Achatz at Alinea, where he rose to Sous Chef, alongside Chef Thomas Keller at Per Se, and with Matt Lightner where he was Executive Chef at Atera.
At Bowery we’re committed to democratizing access to fresh, local produce. Baxtrom and Katzenberg exemplify this with their unprecedented commitment to sourcing local, high quality ingredients, and fine dishes, at a conservative price point.
We met up with Baxtrom, Katzenberg, and horticulturist Zachary Clancy to learn more about how they define local and maintain a balance of serving up serious dishes with humility. Enjoy this third installment of our Q&A series, A Quick Bite, featuring Chef Greg Baxtrom.
You told us that the best compliment you’ve ever received for this restaurant was that “Olmsted is like if Blue Hill at Stone Barns and Alinea had a casual baby.” Can you share with us why this resonates?
Those are the two most meaningful places that I’ve worked [at], and that really helped shaped me as a chef. Much like the rest of the world, I really admire Grant Achatz and Dan Barber, and my time working under them was so important to me and my career.
An approachable menu is key to Olmsted values. Can you elaborate a little more on how you’re able to source premium ingredients, yet maintain this value?
We source the same things as some of the best restaurants in the world. For example, Per Se buys these amazing scallops, and we’re lucky enough to source from the same purveyor, but we get the ones that are broken or torn when they’re shucked. But essentially, they’re the same scallop.
Since the ones we get are torn, we need to do something creative with it like cut the scallops into cubes to skewer and grill them.
How much of your menu features ingredients from your own backyard?
It really depends upon the season. When we’re in the height of the spring and summer, we’re able to source a lot of incredible produce from our garden. For example, much of the tomatoes we use for our tomato schnitzel, the kale for our crab and kale rangoon, etc. come from our garden.
What about in the winter months? We see that you recently constructed a greenhouse, which is great as it enables you to grow 365 days a year like Bowery Farming.
In the winter, it’s a bit more sparse, of course, but even now in January we’re growing sunflower sprouts, wheatgrass, and herbs for our cocktails. Since we opened not even three years ago, we’ve expanded the garden three times, and it now includes the greenhouse. We really try and utilize our garden year-round, even if that means focusing more on our hydroponic wall during the colder months and the outdoor garden during the warmer seasons. We’re always looking to grow new produce, or learn more about what we can do back there. This year was the first year we got pawpaw from our tiny grove, which was really exciting. TBD on spring and summer of this year, you’ll have to come by and see what we have going on!
Agriculture is at the center of many of the global issues we face today. We’ll need to produce more food in the next 30 years than we have in the last 10,000, all while managing a diminishing supply of water and arable land. Do you, as a consumer, think about these issues? And, if so, how do you, as a chef, address them?
These issues are at the center of so much of what we do and how we operate. We try and make as much of a positive impact as we can by doing everything from from supporting local farmers that use sustainable and ethical practices, to using grey water when possible to water our garden.
Let’s talk about being a business owner. Owning and running a restaurant is a lot of hard work (physically, mentally). What advice would you give to a young chef embarking on this entrepreneurial adventure?
It’s important to me to have a real purpose for why I do this, not just for ego or accolades.
What’s your favorite dish on the Olmsted menu?
Crab Rangoon. We make the ricotta, we grow the kale when we can, and the crab is sourced from this great people in Maine, and it embodies what we do really well. It’s a casual and fun take on a dish I grew up eating, and it looks so simple but actually requires a lot of work behind the scenes.
You are actually taking a “day off” — what are you up to and where are you eating?
You could usually find me at the gym, wandering around the neighborhood with friends, or eating at Walter’s or Karasu, Speedy Romeo’s, or Fausto.
And last, but not least. You’re forced to only have one vegetable for the rest of your life. What would it be and why?
Broccoli rabe, because I like bitter flavors.
Greg Baxtrom contributed to this article in his own personal capacity. The views expressed are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Bowery Farming, Inc.