SALTS | Boston
Gabriel Bremer trained as a classical percussionist; as a
young musician, he looked to the restaurant industry to support
his musical aspirations. At the age of eighteen he began his cooking
career in earnest, working under James Beard award-winning chef
Sam Hayward at Fore Street restaurant in Portland, Maine.
Bremer went on to open his own short-lived restaurant, Gabriel’s,
in Portland, Maine, and then moved to Boston in 2000 to become sous
chef under another James Beard award-winning chef, Jody Adams, at
Bremer opened Salts in March, 2004, with his fiancée,
Analia Verolo, a veteran server at Fore Street and at Hamersley’s
Bistro in Boston. At Salts, located in Central Square
in Cambridge, Gabriel focuses completely on his customers, a combination
of neighborhood dwellers and sophisticated out-of-towners who seek
out the finest restaurants all over the world. Greatly influenced
by chefs like Michel Bras and Ferrán Adrià, Gabriel’s
cuisine at Salts pushes the borders of contemporary dining,
but it is always based on familiar and comforting flavors.
AT: Do you have challenges
when it comes to menu writing?
GB: I leave the menu simply
worded so that things are familiar. I leave out all the funky stuff
that you don’t know about until you get it. It goes back to
our philosophy of focusing on the customer. I don’t want people
sitting there feeling uncomfortable with terms that they don’t
understand. The last thing I want is someone on their first date,
feeling silly because they don’t understand the menu. We’re
keeping a balance of playing and being creative, but also being
AT: Are there any secret ingredients
that you especially like?
GB: To be honest, everything!
I don’t know if I can say there’s a certain few. Everything
for me is very seasonally and quality-based. And then after that
it’s based on what I can get.
AT: What flavor combinations
do you favor?
GB: I’m always throwing
things together and playing, pulling from a lot of pastry techniques
and flavors. I generally use flavors that would be associated more
with pastry than savory dishes. Like, for example, here is a soup
that I’m putting on the menu now – a macomber turnip
soup with Ballotine of smoked quail, rosemary oil, and mocha foam.
AT: What is your most indispensable
GB: Right now the centerpiece
of equipment in my kitchen is my Vitaprep – I use it for several
purees on the menu. I also use it for the soups and some of the
emulsions, as well as some herb syrups for pastry. It’s the
most fought-over piece of equipment during the prep day. It makes
everything absolutely creamy and smooth.
AT: Is there a culinary technique
that you have either created or use in an unusual way?
GB: I’m on this paper
kick right now. I take my pastry experience and combine it with
the savory. Think of it as a tuile batter. I come up with purees
that have that consistency. Typically I’ve done it with things
that have some body – it can’t be too loose. I’ve
done it with beets, carrots, and shiitake mushrooms and then you
balance out the natural sweetness of the ingredients by adding the
simple syrup. I spread it out on Silpat, bake it at a really low
temperature and then break it apart by hand - or slice it if I want
them a little cleaner. We’ve been able to play around and
do them as papers by rolling them into coronets.
AT: What is your favorite
question to ask during an interview for a potential new line cook?
GB: What got you into cooking?
What was your best meal/dining experience that you have had to memory?
Typically from that I can get a lot. I can see their passions, see
what direction they are heading in, and see what their influences
are. You can tell how real and honest people are because they can
make their favorite dining experience sound like your own restaurant.
I’d pick someone quicker who talked about some tiny burrito
place in California versus someone describing something very similar
to my restaurant.
AT: What tips would you offer
young chefs just getting started?
GB: Before going to school,
try to get a job. Spend some time in a kitchen.
AT: What are your favorite
GB: Michel Bras’ “Essential
Cuisine” is one I definitely take a lot of influence from.
I just got this new book on new cuisine from Catalina that highlights
a whole bunch of restaurants. I’m going through, searching
out some of the harder to find books form Spain and France. The
El Bulli book is our new staple. I just like seeing how we can take
those ideas and work them into things here. I actually did for New
Year’s Eve. My amuse was a play off his consommé noodles.
I did a linguine and clam sauce consisting of the flavors you’d
think of for that. I made it into a lemon sponge and caviar consommé
noodles. It was very El Bulli, but with Italian and American flavors.
AT: What trends do you see
emerging in the restaurant industry now?
GB: One thing I’m seeing
is that the modern moment of cooking right now is becoming a bad
game of telephone. Some people out there are coming up with dishes
that seem to me that they’re cooking for themselves or to
impress their friends, not just for the people that come in to dine
in their restaurants. Being so esoteric in concept and flavor is
great to do once, but you’re never going to crave it. People
need to take two steps back, instead of pushing to be so innovative
and interpreting Spain. It’s losing touch with how it started.
A lot of what people are doing over there are modern interpretations
of regional flavors that people already know.
AT: So why are you different?
GB: We want to try these techniques
and learn them but combine them into a sort of modern comfort food.
Everyone’s going to love comfort food- it’s simple,
hearty, and has good flavors. That’s never going out of style.
If you follow trends, next week the trend could be over. Keep comfortable,
understandable flavors and play with them a little. We’re
lucky with our location; we get a lot of international clientele.
Once a week, I hear, “I just got back from the French Laundry
or Arpege, Per Se, Spain, etc. This is both nerve-wracking and wonderful
because it gives us room to play. As long as you’re true to
what you are doing, you’ll be fine. Because Cambridge is very
well-traveled and educated you can’t cheat on things, or on
the technique. They’ll catch you on it. I joked that I wasn’t
going to foams until it wasn’t poplar anymore. I just finally
put them on the menu. Foam is such a loose terminology, and you
have room within that lightness to play with textures. Within the
word foam there’s at least four different textures. And you
can then go and freeze it!
AT: Where do you see yourself
in 5-10 years?
GB: Wherever it takes me, I’m
sure it’ll be fun! At least in the next five years I’ll
be right where I am now and just see how we keep evolving. Just
these first two years have been very interesting watching the restaurant
evolve –the cuisine and the clientele have evolved together.
It’s a very different restaurant today than it was two years
ago. I want to see where we go and where we push ourselves to. We’re
constantly back there striving to get closer to the idea of perfection
in what we do and looking for new techniques to learn. Nothing stays
too static here.
AT: Do you see yourself owning
GB: I don’t envision
growing into a bigger space or having multiple restaurants. If anything,
it would be wonderful if we had a waiting area. But the number of
seats we have is good for the style of food, but we should have
twice as many people cooking the food for the style we have. We
have about 45 seats. When I’m fully staffed I have 4 people
cooking. If we do the level of food you tasted and we have 75 people
on a Saturday night, it’s intense. If anything, we’d
love to open a little wine bar across the street.
AT: Like Casa Mono and Bar
Jamon in New York?
GB: Exactly, maybe that style
of a tiny tapas menu, just so we can make ourselves a waiting area.
As far as multiple operations go, neither of us have any interest
in that. We’re just trying to focus on doing one thing really
AT: What range do you cook
GB: Jade. Because I can’t
afford the one from France that I want. I used them before and they
are just awesome. My stove is a tank and is definitely great for
what I found. When we opened we had a miniscule budget. In terms
of the stoves I’ve worked on and the price point, they are
definitely the better deal.
AT: Tell me about the restaurant
you owned in Maine before Salts – it was called Gabriel’s?
GB: It was a partnership –
I was young and naïve. I worked with my partner before at another
restaurant- he was the front of house manager. I thought it would
be a good mix. But it just turned out to be oil and water. I was
there for just under 2 years. It was going well but our directions
were getting further and further apart.
AT: What lessons from that
experience have you applied to Salts?
GB: Expect the unexpected.
Analia and I learned how to deal with that in a calm demeanor. That
was the easiest way to describe it. I have a reviewer who’s
become good friends with me. He describes the kitchen as a surgery
room – there’s no talking. It’s just very focused.