A Day Before Opening, the Mott’s Chef, Brian Bieler, Steps Forward

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With so much controversy swirling about the Motts ownership, it has kind of been lost that the restaurant is finally opening. Tomorrow night, to be exact. Albeit without a liquor license (the owners are pursuing a right to serve wine and cocktails, and they wont be allowing BYOB). The menu will be pretty much the same as the one we posted earlier, with a couple of tweaks and (starting a couple of weeks from now) daily specials. We chatted with the chef, Brian Bieler, whos been lying low till now, to find out what Soho seasonal means, anyway.

So whats your definition of Soho seasonal?
We wanted to separate ourselves from everyone else claiming to be doing seasonal, regional food a lot of these restaurants are still serving tomatoes in summertime and strawberries in winter. One of our goals is to simply showcase the ingredients available in the month of July.

But what about the Soho part? Are you trying to capture the character of the neighborhood somehow?
No.

And arent you technically in Chinatown?
Well, were south of Houston Street. Its a weird part of the city I have Chinatown one block south, Little Italy right here, Soho a block north, and the Bowery a block away.

Where are you coming from?
I grew up on a working farm in Kansas. We had everything from livestock to soybeans to fresh corn to milos to fresh strawberries. I was doing a lot of cooking with my grandmother at an early age. I moved to the city, and seven years later, here I am.

What chefs have influenced you the most during your time here?
One of my favorite people to work with was John Fraser I was his sous-chef at Compass when we got two stars. Ive also worked with David Chang.

How long were you with Chang for? Isnt his whole thing that he wants people to be in it for the long haul?
He knew from the beginning that I wasnt going to be there long-term. I was at a point in my career where I wanted to check out different things. A lot of people think hes hard to work with, and hes notorious for yelling, but he was so nice and cool with me I never had a problem with him.

What did you take from that experience?
I know how to make his broth for his noodles. I didnt learn anything as far as technique. Most of my training was self-taught I dont feel like I had a big mentor here in the city.

Youve got a small kitchen there. Whats that like after coming from Bouley?
Are you kidding? Its 75 square feet! But I think a lot of the great food in this city comes out of small kitchens. Its exciting because we dont have a huge inventory; it makes us do everything fresh every day. We get the fish fresh every day because we dont have a freezer.

Are you taking advantage of the local Chinatown fish supply? Would that be a bad idea?
Wild Edibles is my main guy. I think the fish is horrible down [in Chinatown] just walk down the street and see how they take care of it. They stack everything up, or theyll have 40 pieces out when they should only have four.

What other purveyors are you working with?
Four Story Hill in Pennsylvania provides beef, [and] were going to start getting our chickens from them; pork belly from Flying Pig Farm. A lot of our vegetables come from the Greenmarket all of our berries and asparagus and greens comes from there right now.

What are the dishes that are most indicative of your style?
Im super-excited about our tomato soup, and our asparagus salad. It doesnt seem like often enough youre able to get an ingredient and barely do anything. Our big, beautiful tomatoes are just pured, seasoned with salt and olive oil, and put in a bowl, served cold. We only use three or four different ingredients in the asparagus salad.

Has it been hard to focus on opening the place amid all the squabbles?
Honestly, it hasnt affected me at all; I knew [investors] Emma [Cleary] and Fred [Loh] when everything was cool, and throughout this whole thing Ive really been able to stay friendly with everyone even with all thats going on.

Is there going to be a food element to the downstairs lounge? Hows that coming?
No, its going to be a completely separate entity theyre going to be totally separate businesses. I dont think youd expect anything for a couple of months. Right now we have a lot of restaurant stuff down there, to be honest a couple of my refrigerators are down there in the middle of the room. But its going to be beautiful.

Will we be able to recognize any of Double Happiness in it?
Its going to be much more up[scale] than that.