Table Talk with Chef Steve Dustin

Current Gig
Executive Chef, Monument Lane

About the Chef
Chef Steve Dustin started off his culinary career in Michigan at a tiny burger joint. Three months later, he got a job at the 1913 Room in the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, where he worked his way up from room service to fine dining. Chef Steve moved to Atlanta, Georgia to take a job at Canoe, the largest four star restaurant in the country, before coming to New York City to work for Chef David Bouley at Bouley.  He then spent three and a half years as the Sous Chef at The Harrison in Tribeca. Chef Steve decided to take a break from the city and ventured out to Boulder, Colorado where he ran two restaurants, one Latin American and the other Vegetarian. He eventually found his way back to New York City and ran Mesa Grill for Chef Bobby Flay for a year before returning to The Harrison as the Chef de Cuisine for two years. In January 2013, Chef Steve became the Executive Chef at Monument Lane, a casual American restaurant in the West Village that features seasonal and sustainable ingredients from local farms.

Monument Lane: 103 Greenwich Ave (between West 12th and Jane Street)

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Chef Steve Dustin at Monument Lane

Where did you grow up?
I am a Michigan boy. I grew up in the southwest corner of Michigan in a little beach town called South Haven. It’s a tiny tourist town with lots of beach action. I was there for about eighteen years before moving to Grand Rapids. And that’s where I started cooking.

What did you enjoy eating most as a kid?
I love good food. It doesn’t have to be fancy. When I was kid, I was addicted to buffalo chicken wings. And I don’t think much has changed since then! (Laughing) Buffalo chicken wings are my number one favorite thing in the world. (Smiling)

At the moment, what is your favorite ingredient and what do you like to make with it?
Right now, in the fall, it’s all about squash. I’m using pumpkin to make pumpkin bread for brunch, we’ve got acorn squash paired with burrata, and we’re doing a chicken dish with kabocha squash. I have squash all over the menu!

What kitchen items are important for a home cook to own?
You’ve got to have a sharp knife. Besides that, I would recommend getting a good mixer and a good blender. Kitchen Aid mixers have so many great attachments that go with it – you can make pastas and all sorts of things. The blender comes in handy for making soups, purees, and sauces.

If your food were music, what music style(s) would it be and why?
It would have to be the Grateful Dead. I’m a Deadhead and a fan of jam bands. I love the harmonies – when there are so many crazy things going on at once, and they all come together in the end. Kind of like my food. (Laughing)

Where are your favorite places to travel for the cuisine?
Hmm, travel wise, I’d have to say… Brooklyn! (Laughing)  I really like going to Brooklyn because they have some killer barbecue spots. I go to Fette Sau all the time. There are a lot of BBQ spots popping up in the city, but Fette Sau is one of the originals and it’s really good. I also like Southern food.  I lived in Atlanta for three years so I got to know it. I haven’t done a whole lot of international traveling, but I would love to go to Spain. I think Spain is one of the hottest spots in the world for food. They let the food speak for itself and let the ingredients be what they are.

If you had not gone the culinary route, what would you have done instead?
I actually went to college for chemistry and physics. Back then, I was really into science and organic chemistry. I wanted to get into pharmaceuticals – not so much selling them, but trying to make them better and cheaper. But once I started cooking, I fell in love with it. I really enjoy the team aspect of it. It’s kind of like a sports team – everyone works hard and plays hard. I like the artistic side of cooking, too.  So, yeah, I just fell in love with it and went with it!

Which chef do you admire most right now?
I think that with me being here at Monument Lane and this being the first restaurant I’ve worked for that truly focuses on local farm to table and sustainable food, I would have to say Dan Barber. I went to dinner at Blue Hill at Stone Barns two years ago for my birthday and it was an incredible experience. What an incredible meal! It was crazy to have twelve courses of food and really not have that much meat, just one pork dish. Every other dish consisted of only vegetables. It was really cool that they served single utter butter that they got from one local cow and they knew exactly which cow it came from.  My wife and I went there in June, so it was right when vegetables were starting. It was amazing. I have never had a tasting menu like that before. By the end of it, we felt so good and had eaten so well. Dan Barber is awesome.

When you get a chance to dine out, where do you like to go?
If I have an opportunity to go to a fancy spot, I like to go to Eleven Madison Park. I’ve been to a few places where it felt so formal and stuffy – it was kind of like food church. I didn’t enjoy myself.  Eleven Madison Park really hits the nail on the head with great service and knowing how to read their customers really well. They can have fun with you while you’re enjoying super high end food. One of my favorite go-to spots is dell’anima. It’s open late so I go there after work. The food is awesome – I could go there several times a week and never get bored.

If you had to give up one of the five food groups (Bread & Potatoes; Milk & Dairy; Meat & Fish; Fat & Sugar; Fruits & Vegetables) and could not eat anything from that group for the rest of your life, which one would it be and why?
That’s an easy one for me. Carbohydrates! I am not a bread eater or a potato eater and I’m not big into pasta or rice. I love vegetables and I do like meat, although I’ve cut back on it a lot.  What an easy question! (Laughing)

Table Talk with Chef Steve Dustin