Northern Spy Food Co. is one of those perfect restaurants that somehow manages to be a neighborhood haunt as well as a Manhattan hot spot. At its helm is Christophe Hille – former chef at San Francisco’s A16 as well as the private chef to the iconic photographer Annie Leibovitz. Now, Hille is the face and owner of Northern Spy Food Co., which has a true artisanal authenticity. The restaurant sources local ingredients, emphasizes crafted products and boasts an aesthetic that’s made up of reclaimed and repurposed elements. Between the hickory board floors and the fan favorite kale salad, Northern Spy Food Co. manages uniqueness in the ever-growing restaurant capital of the world. We couldn’t help but sit down and talk with the restaurateur responsible for this East Village treasure…
Describe your ideal food day…
Shopping for myself during the summer at the Union Square farmer’s market and then spending the rest of the day cooking up treats and hanging out in my back yard with friends and family, eating, grilling, drinking and chatting.
What’s your drink?
Really good Amontillado or Palo Cortado Sherry. It goes with most of what I eat or is perfectly delicious on its own.
What would your last meal be?
The best sherry known to humankind and a giant, grass-fed, dry aged-until-it’s-stinky ribeye. By the time the bottle and steak are done, pain and worries are immaterial.
How do you start your day?
Favorite place to travel for food?
Japan (Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka) was the most incredible cumulative food experience I’ve ever had. Not only is just about everything delicious, it was surprisingly affordable.
What are your favorite cities for food? Where do you go there?
Well the cities mentioned above, for starters, but that’s hardly a place I get to travel to regularly. San Francisco (where I lived for six years) is rightly lauded. Thai House Express, Turtle Tower, A16, Delfina, Frances, El Farolito, Yank Sing, Caffe Roma, Zeitgeist, Walzwerk, Saigon Sandwich, and so on. You can make a career out of eating out there.
What ingredient do you consider overrated?
I don’t see any particular ingredient as overrated, but I’ll say that certain combinations have run amok. The salt and sweet combination, in which the salt used to be a subtle texture and flavor bump, has become a culinary platitude. There are ice creams, pretzels, chocolates, and caramels out there where on tasting them, it’s cognitive dissonance – you don’t know if someone made a mistake or bothered tasting it before it left the kitchen.
What ingredient are you convinced makes everything better?
Oils and fats. And not for the old “fat is flavor” chestnut. That’s another boring platitude. Fat has flavor (sometimes) but is also about balance, texture, and aromas, and just generally greases the wheels of good times.