On the line with Nick Schabert
A multifunctional dining space offers special challenges
Photo by kc kratt
Name: Nicholas Schabert
Current Title: Executive Chef
Restaurant: Rowhouse, 483 Delaware Avenue, rowhousebuffalo.com
Length of time at current job: Almost 2 years
How many years behind the stove: 18
This past autumn saw the Delaware Avenue brownstone known by most longtime Buffalo diners as the former Lord Chumley’s open as a new restaurant suitably named Rowhouse. The sprawling three-floor space has been given a sharp remodel, and now houses an all-day dining destination that is a cafe, bakery, pizza operation, lunch and dinner restaurant, and bar all in one. Hired a year-and-a-half earlier as a consultant, executive chef Nick Schabert has been at its helm since before it opened, laying plans, hiring and training staff, and putting systems in place. Schabert attended Le Cordon Bleu in Pittsburgh before staging at Marta in NYC. His career includes stints at Wegmans, the Buffalo Club, and as an adjunct at Niagara Falls Culinary Institute. Working in such large and diverse facilities certainly put him in a good position to the command the massive undertaking that is Rowhouse.
What kind of challenges are associated with a business as multifaceted as Rowhouse?
The biggest challenges are associated with ensuring that each area gets the focus and attention it deserves. It can really make your head spin, so having good people around you is the key. We have some excellent people in place. It’s always a challenge to have so much going on, but we want to make sure the focus is on putting the best products out all day, everyday. That’s an important thing to everyone involved at Rowhouse.
What do you think of as your greatest strength at this point in your career?
I’m still really passionate about food and what I do for a living, but I‘ve also grown to love the organization and execution of a plan or idea within a big team. I truly enjoy training, teaching, and everything that goes into seeing a kitchen succeed.
How would you describe your culinary point of view?
For the past ten years, I’ve been returning to classic French cookery. It’s important to evolve and stay current on what is happening in the culinary world, but I have always been in love with the techniques and procedures of the classic kitchen.
What do you think of as your greatest weakness at this point in your career?
I still find myself getting frustrated or aggravated by the same things that perhaps I wish I’d have grown out of by this point in my career. I’ve learned to relax a bit, but I still have trying moments everyday. A last-minute call-in. Broken equipment. Whatever. Everyone deals with the same stuff. That’s what Zoloft is for.
What technique, ingredient, or principle are you inspired by right now?
The first thing that comes to mind is the recent movement in restaurants toward a more rustic approach. It’s refreshing. And necessary. There will always be a place for the ultra-fine dining experience, but people want to be able to eat great food without it being this huge weeklong build-up to a event. I found this to be a wake-up call to me and what I was striving for, what I had always been passionate about. Being around all the open fire at Rowhouse, using these stripped down, almost primitive cooking tools, really lends itself to that old world rustic feel. Whole meats, simple preparations. It’s affected my approach to food.
If you hadn’t become a chef, what would you have done instead?
Looking back now, after so many years, it is truly hard to imagine! But I’ve always enjoyed the various areas of psychology, or perhaps something in education. Interpretive dance?
Is there a food from your youth you crave?
My paternal grandmother would always put together a fine eight course Italian lunch whenever we’d visit, and it would render you useless for about three hours afterward. I miss that.
What was the first thing you made for your parents after you decided to cook professionally?
I probably tried some horrific version of a French classic, like sole vin blanc: rolled little paupiettes. I am certain they were very impressed. And thrilled. Or concerned for my future.
Favorite LP to prep by?
Any Hold Steady album, or the new(ish) full-length by The Bronx. However, the staff at Rowhouse seems dead set on just playing “Gucci Gang” by Lil Pump on repeat. All the time.
What Buffalo’s food scene really needs?
More traditional Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese places—I would love to see that. Also, I wish someone would open up a legit tiki bar. Like Hidden Harbor in Pittsburgh or Mother of Pearl in NYC. Please? There is the talent and know-how here already; let’s get it done. I’m thirsty.