The Musket Room
New York, NY
For Matt Lambert, there's so much riding on those stars. "The Michelin star changes everything for me. It's something I am very proud of. It means I haven't been fucking around for the past 20 years." Open just four months, Lambert earned one for The Musket Room.
"Of course there's a lot of room for improvement," he says. Then, in what sounds like an algebraic word problem, he explains, "But, when you get one, you try harder for two, when you have two, you try harder for three. But you can't think about three or think about two, you have to take them one at a time."
Matt Lambert grew up in Henderson, New Zealand, a large suburb not far from Auckland's city center. He realized his passion by age 11, bluntly summarizing those early days. "I cooked with my grandmother and mother. We collected berries, did a lot of baking and shit like that."
In his teens, Lambert dishwashed in Garry Bates' restaurant, Michaels. When it closed and Bates opened The Falls, a restaurant housed in an historic 150-year old building, Lambert apprenticed before enrolling in the culinary program at Auckland University of Technology. He relocated to Wellington, New Zealand, finished school at Whitireia Polytechnic, worked at Dockside, then met Michael Meredith at The Grove in Auckland.
"Working for Michael was the best experience." he says. "In Auckland," continues Lambert, "I worked with a lot of really aggressive people. A lot of people who watched Ramsay's "Boiling Point" who probably were recreational drug users. Michael was the complete opposite. He was very calm and very imaginative. He thought I was creative. It was good fun and we remain friends. He had a big impact. He progresses and changes, which is not that common. In this profession, you can fall into a box."
In 2007 he moved to New York City where he was chef de cuisine at PUBLIC, Double Crown (now closed) and Saxon + Parole, all AvroKO Hospitality Group productions. His appetite for Michelin never waned. "I base my eating on the Michelin Guide. It's not like the other publications. It is the only one that matters. It pushes you day to day and there's no room for error. As a chef it makes you be really honest with yourself."
His restaurant Musket Room opened in 2013 where Lambert brings New Zealand a little closer to New York everyday. He's steadfast in fetching authentic best practice products such as Ora salmon, the fatty fish raised in the spring waters of Te Waikoropupu Springs, before migrating in adulthood to the clear Marlborough sea waters, ultimately to be harvested at the Nelson hatchery where patches of wasabi and watercress also grow. "The salmon has been around awhile, but it's newish to the American market."
New Zealand wine plays a large part of the conversation at Musket Room. "I only work with people I know and visit," says Lambert. He maintains a close long-distance relationship with sommelier Cameron Douglas, based in New Zealand. Douglas navigates a warren of regulations to bring unusual wines to the list. "Pairing wine at Musket is actually quite hard because of the textures, layers, and subtleties in Lambert's food." he says. "We have to make sure the wines have a voice with the food but can also stand alone." Ninety percent of customers opt for the pairings with tasting menus, and tasting menus constitute more than half the orders.
Lambert's friend, Giulio Sturla, chef at Roots Restaurant in Christchurch, also helps to raise New Zealand's culinary profile and advance the conversation worldwide. He's started ConversatioNZ, an event spotlighting New Zealand's most forward-thinking chefs, and suppliers batting around the current gastronomic state of the state. Says Lambert, "He (Sturla) is bringing everyone together to establish what New Zealand is, since it's not readily accepted as a culinary destination. I was keen to participate."
He says, "Every time I go to New Zealand [and Lambert does often] I find a new product. This time in Wellington, Guilano (Sturla) took me to a cheesemonger in Christchurch and I found three-year-old Edam, a Parmesan with intensity."
"But I can get great products here," Lambert says. For instance, the ingredients in his Shrimp Jellyfish dish sourced in Chinatown. "Saying you are locavore and all that shit ... you've got to be honest about it if you go down that road. There are things that don't even grow in New York, that are not even ready, and are on menus in New York!"
SHRIMP JELLYFISH Serves 6 For the shrimp jellyfish: 2 ounces dehydrated jellyfish 12 U-10 whole shrimp, shelled and deveined 4 tablespoons finely chopped chives 3 tablespoons citrus-flavored olive oil 2 teaspoons lemon juice Freshly ground pepper to taste For the garnish: Seaweed Marigold petals Lemon zest FOR THE DISH: In a medium-sized bowl, add the jellyfish and soak under running water for 1 hour. Drain in a colander. Fill a large pot with water and heat to 176 degrees. Poach the jellyfish for 30 seconds, quickly remove, and shock in an ice bath. Drain, transfer to a cutting board, and finely chop. Finely chop the shrimp. In a mixing bowl, combine the jellyfish and the shrimp. Add the chives, oil, and lemon juice and mix well. Season with freshly ground pepper. TO SERVE: Form the mixture into 2-inch balls. Decorate a plate with seaweed. Transfer one shrimp jellyfish ball to a chilled plate with ice. Garnish with marigold petals and lemon zest. LAMB with SUNCHOKES and GRAINS Serves 10 For the lamb lardons: 1 1/2 tablespoons honey 2 teaspoons rum 1 pound boneless lamb belly, trimmed 3/4 cup Kosher salt 1 1/2 tablespoons pink salt 1/4 cup granulated sugar 1 teaspoon coriander seeds, crushed 2 teaspoons fennel seeds, crushed 1 1/2 tablespoons freshly cracked black pepper 1 teaspoon cracked juniper For the lamb: 5 lamb short loin chops 7 ounces rendered lamb fat Butter, as needed 2 tablespoons fresh thyme sprigs 2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic Salt to taste For the sunchoke skins and puree: 10 sunchokes Olive oil for brushing Salt, as needed 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil Pinch of salt 2 tablespoons xanthan gum Chicken stock, as needed For the mint gel: 1 2/3 cups water 3 ounces fresh mint leaves 8 ounces Chardonnay vinegar 1 1/2 teaspoons agar agar For the lamb jus: 4 cups lamb stock 2 tablespoons fresh mint leaves 2 tablespoons butter, chilled and cubed Salt to taste Lemon juice to taste For the grains: 3 1/2 ounces pearl barley 3 1/2 ounces farm 2 ounces sunflower seeds Olive oil, as needed 7 ounces lamb jus 7 ounces reserved lamb lardons 2 tablespoons chopped parsley 1 small bunch chives, finely chopped Lemon juice to taste Salt to taste For the garnish: Fresh mint leaves, cut into 14-inch and 1/2-inch circles FOR THE LAMB LARDONS: In a small saucepan over low heat, whisk the honey and rum until well-combined. Brush mixture onto the lamb belly, coating evenly. In a bowl, combine salt and spices, then sprinkle over the lamb. Place lamb on a roasting rack and chill in the refrigerator, uncovered, turning daily for one week. Prepare a smoker with manuka wood chips, and cold smoke the lamb for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 145 degrees. Transfer the lamb to the oven, and cook for 12 hours. Remove and cool in the refrigerator. Cut lamb into long, thin strips. In a heavy saute pan over medium heat, saute lamb strips until crispy. Drain on paper, towels, cool, and reserve. FOR THE LAMB: Place short loins in separate commercial vacuum sealing bags, distributing rendered lamb fat equally between them. Seal and cook in a water bath at 125 degrees for 1 hour. Cool and refrigerate until needed. FOR THE SUNCHOKE SKINS AND PUREE: Preheat oven to 355 degrees. Brush unpeeled sunchokes with olive oil and season with salt. Spread out on a half sheet pan and roast for 30 minutes. Shock in an ice bath. When cool, remove and slice the tops. Carefully scoop out the flesh, leaving skins in one piece. Reserve flesh. Preheat a deep fryer to 360 degrees. Fry skins until golden and crisp. Transfer to paper towels to drain and reserve. In a non-reactive pot over medium heat, add reserved sunchoke flesh, olive oil and salt. Cook, stirring constantly to prevent discoloration, until tender. Transfer to a blender, add xantham gum and puree until smooth, adding chicken stock, if needed. Spoon into a pastry bag fitted with a plain metal tip and set aside. FOR THE MINT GEL: In a medium-sized pot, add water and bring to a boil. Add mint, cover, and steep for 30 minutes. Strain through a fine mesh sieve, reserving 1 cup. In a pot over high heat, add the Chardonnay vinegar and bring to a boil. Add agar agar and whisk for 2 minutes. Add reserved mint-infused water and season with salt. Chill in the refrigerator until set. Transfer to a blender and puree until smooth. FOR THE LAMB JUS: In a saucepan over medium-high heat, add the lamb stock. Add mint and steep. Mount with butter, then strain through a fine-mesh sieve. Season with salt and lemon juice. FOR THE GRAINS: In a pot over medium-high heat, add barley. In a separate pot over medium-high heat, add farro. Cover both with water, then add salt. Bring both pots to a boil. Reduce barley to a simmer, cooking until soft and chewy, about 25 minutes Drain the barley through a fine mesh sieve. Fluff and separate the grains. Bring farrow to a boil, cover, and reduce to a simmer. Cook until the farrow is tender, about 30 minutes, then cool. In a saucepan over medium heat, add oil and saute sunflower seeds, stirring constantly until golden. Drain oil and spread seeds on a sheet pan to cool. In a small saucepan over low heat, warm the lamb jus. Add the grains and lamb lardoons, then simmer for about 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat and steep for 5 minutes. Add sunflower seeds and herbs and season with lemon juice and salt. FOR THE DISH: In a heavy cast-iron pan over medium-high heat, cook the lamb loin, basting with butter, thyme, garlic, and salt. After 8-10 minutes, turn the lamb, cooking evenly. Transfer lamb to a cutting board and let rest at least 5 minutes. Carve into 1 1/2-inch-thick pieces. TO SERVE: Place a slice of lamb in the center of the plate. Add 1 sunchoke skin, and spoon grains around it. Pipe with sunchoke puree. Spoon six dots of the mint gel on the plate and top each circle with a fresh mint leaf. Spoon with lamb jus. VENISON TARTARE WITH UNI AND TRUFFLE serves 8 For the pickled jicama and raisins: 1 small jicama, peeled and finely chopped 48 golden raisins 3 1/2 ounces Chardonnay vinegar For the venison tartare: 24 ounces venison loin, finely chopped 1 ounce chives, finely chopped 3 1/2 ounces Perigord truffle, chopped Citrus olive oil, as needed Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste For the garnish: 24 uni Garbanzo leaves and flowers Nasturtium leaves FOR THE PICKLED JICAMA AND RAISINS: In separate commercial vacuum sealing bags, add jicama and raisins. Add equal amounts of Chardonnay vinegar, seal to compress, and ferment for 30 minutes. FOR THE VENISON TARTARE: In a medium-sized bowl, add all of the ingredients and mix until well-combined. Adjust seasonings to taste. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and chill mixture in the refrigerator for 2-3 hours. TO SERVE: In a 4-inch ring mold, spoon 3 ounces of the venison tartare, pressing down firmly to pack tightly. Using a small knife, loosen the mixture from the edges of the ring mold and invert on a plate. Scatter with jicama, top with six golden raisins, and decorate with three uni. Garnish with garbanzo leaves and flowers and nasturtium leaves.
FOI GRAS TORCHON, PRUNE FOAM, EARL GREY DATES Serves 6
For the foie gras torchon: 2 pound lobe foie gras, chopped into 1 1/2-inch cubes 1 teaspoon pink salt 1 1/2 teaspoons Kosher salt 2 1/2 teaspoons fine sugar 1 1/2 tablespoons Gosling's rum Maldon sea salt to taste For the dates: 1 1/2 cups fresh dates, pitted 7 ounces strongly-brewed Earl Grey tea For the pickled apple: 1 Granny Smith apple, cored, peeled, and finely chopped 3 1/2 ounces aged cider vinegar For the prune foam: 7 ounces prune juice 1/2 teaspoon versa whip 1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum For the garnish: Upland cress sprigs Mustard frill 6 Medjool dates, skins removed FOR THE FOIE GRAS TORCHON: In a small hotel pan, add the foie gas. Cover with the pink and Kosher salts, sugar, and rum and refrigerate for 12 hours. In a large plastic bag, add the foie gras and seal. Heat a water bath to 140 degrees and poach for 12 minutes. Transfer to an ice bath to cool. Refrigerate until firm, up to 8 hours. In a food processor add the foie gras and puree until perfectly smooth and silky. Place two 3 1/2-feet x 2-feet sheets of plastic wrap on a large, flat surface. Using the plastic wrap, roll the foie gras, jelly-roll style, into a tight 2-inch x 2-inch cylinder, squeezing out the air bubbles. Tie both ends tightly, wrap in cheesecloth, and seal with butcher twine. Hang in the refrigerator overnight, or until just firm. FOR THE DATES: In a small pot over medium heat, add the dates and Earl Grey tea to cover. Bring to a simmer, then remove from heat. Cover pot and set aside in warm place, allowing flavors to infuse for 4 hours. When cool, strain through a fine mesh sieve. Remove skins from dates and finely chop. Set aside. FOR THE PICKLED APPLE: In a commercial vacuum sealing bag, add the apple and vinegar. Seal on high and set aside. FOR THE PRUNE FOAM: In a blender, add the prune juice, versa whip, and xanthan gum and blend on medium speed for 5 minutes. Transfer to electric mixer fitted with a whisk. Whip mixture until the foam reaches soft peaks. Scoop into a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip. Refrigerate until needed. TO SERVE: Remove the torchon from the cheesecloth and plastic wrap. Using a warm knife, slice the ends off, then slice the torchon into 1-inch-thick slices. Place on center of plate. Season with Maldon sea salt. Spoon some of the pickled apple and chopped dates next to it. Pipe prune foam onto torchon and top with mustard frill. Garnish with upland cress. Serve with a Medjool date and brioche. BERKSHIRE PORK, CAULIFLOWER, KALE SALAD, AND CLEMENTINES Serves 10 For the pork belly: 3 teaspoons cumin seeds 3 teaspoons coriander seeds 2 tablespoons fennel seeds 2 whole star anise 2 teaspoons pink salt 7 ounces Kosher salt 2 pounds Berkshire pork belly 5 quarts duck fat, warmed For the pork loin: 1 1/2 pounds Berkshire pork tenderloin, silverskin removed Kosher salt, as needed Butter, as needed 1/2 bunch thyme sprigs, stemmed and chopped 1 garlic clove, peeled and smashed Salt to taste For the smoky jus: 2 cups beef stock 7 ounces heavy cream 3 ounces pork tenderloin trim, smoked over manuka wood* For the kale puree: 4 bunches kale, stalks removed 1 cup Kosher salt 2 tablespoons baking soda Chicken stock, as needed Pinch of xanthan gum For the kale salad: 1 bunch Tuscan kale 1/4 cup lime juice 2 tablespoons sugar Salt to taste For the clementines: 1 3/4 cups honey 1 1/4 Chardonnay vinegar 2 teaspoons yellow mustard seeds 2 teaspoons black mustard seeds 2 clementines, peeled and sectioned, pith removed For the cauliflower: 7 ounces water Salt to taste 1 bunch purple cauliflower, florets only 1 bunch yellow cauliflower, florets only 10 ounces butter, cubed FOR THE PORK BELLY: In a small saute pan over medium heat, add the spices and toast until fragrant. Transfer to a spice grinder, pulsing until coarsely ground. In a bowl, combine spices with the pink and Kosher salts. Coat the pork belly completely with the spice mixture. Allow it to cure, uncovered, for 12 hours in the refrigerator. Preheat oven to 320 degrees. In a half sized hotel pan, add warm duck fat with the cured pork belly and confit until tender, about 3 to 4 hours, making sure the temperature of the fat does not exceed 190 degrees. Remove from oven and allow the pork belly to cool in fat. When cool, remove pork belly from the fat and refrigerate overnight, weighing down pork belly with a brick. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut pork belly into 3-ounce portions and season with salt. In a large saute pan, add the pork belly, skin-side down and roast in the oven for about 10-12 minutes or until crispy. Set aside. FOR THE PORK LOIN: Season the pork loin with salt and allow to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. Roll in plastic wrap to form a roulade, making sure the ends are tightly sealed. Heat a large pot of water to 130 degrees and poach the pork loin for 1 hour. Remove from water, cool, and discard the plastic wrap. Prepare a smoker with manuka wood chips and smoke the pork loin over indirect heat for 30 minutes, turning every 5 minutes. In a heavy cast-iron pan over medium-high heat, brown the smoked pork loin, basting with butter. Season with thyme, garlic, and salt. Set aside. * Manuka is a red hard wood shrub native to New Zealand where it grows profusely. The wood gives off a distinctive heavy, sweet smoke. FOR THE SMOKY JUS: In a pot over medium-high heat, reduce the beef stock by half. Add the cream, bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Add smoked pork trim and steep for 20-30 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve and season with salt to taste. FOR THE kale PUREE: Fill a large pot with water. Add salt and baking soda and bring to a rolling boil. Blanch kale for 3-4 minutes, until tender and green. Shock in an ice bath and drain. Transfer to a blender and puree until smooth, adding chicken stock as needed. Add xanthan gum and pulse until incorporated. FOR THE KALE SALAD: Stack kale leaves and slice thinly into strands. In a bowl, combine lime juice, sugar, and salt. FOR THE CLEMENTINES: In a pot over medium heat, combine the honey, Chardonnay vinegar, and mustard seeds. Reduce to a glaze. Off the heat, add the clementine segments to warm. FOR THE CAULIFLOWER: In a small, high-sided pot over medium-high heat, bring water to a boil. Add 3 ounces of the butter. Add the remaining chilled butter piece by piece, and, using a hand-held blender, emulsify. Season with salt. Add cauliflower florets and poach until tender. Drain and reserve. TO SERVE: Carve pork loin into Vi-inch slices. Dress kale strands with lime juice mixture. Spoon jus into center of plate. Around it, arrange pork loin, pork belly, cauliflower, clementines, kale puree, and kale salad. ORA SALMON with APPLE QUINOA Serves 4 For the salmon: Zest of 2 oranges Zest of 1 lemon Zest of 1 lime 1/2 cup Kosher salt 1/3 cup granulated sugar 1 teaspoon pink salt 1 pound ora salmon fillet, pin bones removed* For the apple jelly: 1 cup apple cider Pinch agar agar 1 1/2 sheets gelatin, bloomed in cold water, excess squeezed out For the apple wasabi gel: 1 cup apple cider 1 teaspoon agar agar Wasabi to taste For the crispy quinoa: 1 cup quinoa 2 cups water 4 cups vegetable oil for frying For the compressed apples: 1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and finely chopped Pinch of salt 3 tablespoons Chardonnay vinegar For the watercress puree: 2 bunches watercress Salt, as needed Pinch xanthan gum 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil For the garnish: Mustard cress Plum sorrel leaves Citrus coriander blossoms FOR THE SALMON: In a small bowl, combine the zests with the sugar and salts, mixing well. Place the salmon on a sheet tray lined with parchment and sprinkle with the salt mixture. Tightly wrap the salmon in plastic and place in the refrigerator for 36 hours, turning the salmon every 12 hours, until the flesh is firm. Transfer to a plastic bag and seal, removing as much air as possible. Heat a water bath to 140 degrees and poach the salmon for 2 minutes, until the flesh is soft. FOR THE APPLE JELLY: Spray a 4-inch x 4-inch baking pan with cooking spray. In a small pot, add the cider and whisk in the agar agar. Bring to boil for 2 minutes. Lower the heat and whisk in the gelatin. Pour apple cider mixture in the prepared pan, cover, and chill in the refrigerator until set. Remove jelly from the pan and cut into 16-inch cubes. FOR THE APPLE WASABI GEL: In a small pot, add the cider and whisk in the agar agar. Bring to a low boil for 2 minutes. Stir in the wasabi. Cool in the refrigerator. Transfer to a Vita Prep and puree until thick and smooth. FOR THE CRISPY QUINOA: In a medium saucepan, add quinoa and water and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer until quinoa is tender, about 10 minutes. Spread quinoa out on a baking tray and allow to dry at room temperature or place in dehydrator at 140 degrees for 2 hours. Heat a deep fryer to 400 degrees. Fry quinoa just until crispy. Drain on paper towels. FOR THE COMPRESSED APPLES: Place apple pieces in an even layer in a vacuum bag with a pinch of salt and the Chardonnay vinegar. Compress apples in a vacuum machine set to high. FOR THE WATERCRESS PUREE: Remove all stalks from watercress. Blanch watercress leaves in salted water for 1-2 minutes, until tender. Submerge in an ice bath. Transfer watercress to a Vita-Prep, adding a small amount of water, and puree until smooth. Finish with xanthan gum and olive oil. TO SERVE: On a cutting board, slice salmon into 4-ounce pieces. Transfer a slice of salmon to a plate. Dollop with watercress puree on either side. Arrange the apple jelly and compressed apples. Sprinkle salmon with crispy quinoa. Garnish with mustard cress, plum sorrel leaves, and citrus coriander blossoms.
* Ora salmon, raised by The New Zealand King Salmon Company in the South Island's Marlborough Sound, is, according to Monterey Seafood Watch, "characterized by strong [aquaculture] management systems and pristine marine and freshwater ecosystems." This species of king salmon was launched in the United States only in 2012.
Those manning the beverage turns at The Musket Room face a challenge: to create a program strongly rooted in New Zealand influences on par with Matt Lambert's food. Cameron Douglas, a Master Sommelier who lives at the other end of the earth, readily sources wines near his New Zealand home. That's the easy part. But getting them through a complex maze of shipping, import regulations, state registration and distributor clearance to find a place on the list at The Musket Room can take 6 to 12 months, according to Douglas. The wines he finds represent a culture of thoughtful farming and winemaking that includes a wealth of biodynamic, organic, and sustainable practices. Bar Director Christopher Barry, who has never been to New Zealand, says, "Everything I do gets Chef Matt's stamp of approval. Chef pushes me toward a better end result, whether it's a better garnish, another layer of flavor, or a better presentation. For instance, he brought me a bunch of these awesomely fragrant and beautiful sage blossoms to garnish the "Piha Spritz" and now the drink is even better than before. I hope to get my hands on some of the whiskies produced in New Zealand, as there are a number of blends and single malts that aren't yet available here." Lee Weiss, Assistant General Manager, has assembled a fascinating collection of New Zealand brews that reflect a strong craft beer movement.
Photos by Cayla Zahoran