Last year Chefs Rob McCue, Adam Banks, and Roblé Ali (Roblé & Co.) wowed 100 New Yorkers with their extravagant Dine Titanic culinary event marking the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. Now Chefs McCue and Banks are on to their next epic historical adventure. On April 20th chefs Rob McCue and Adam Banks are taking 160 lucky diners to America’s prohibition years during an afternoon of libations and tastings in a secret speakeasy location. These guys are obviously pros at crafting unique, creative culinary experiences. In anticipation for Prohibition NYC we decided to catch up with Chef McCue and pick his brain about his love for recreating history, what we can expect to see at this speakeasy party,and what they have in store for future events.
This is the second dinner you’ve done where you are recreating a specific time in history. Would you call yourself a history geek? Or do you just like the challenge recreating classics with modern twists?
For me, looking back in history through food tells such an amazing story. People forget the history of America, and how food was always there throughout. I love the research aspect of it. Looking through old menus and looking at what the chefs did back then, It’s like looking through the windows of time. This may sound corny, but as I get deep into a project I almost project my mind to the time period, and for me that’s the amazing part. History has always amazed me, history and food make it even more enjoyable. Once I compile all my notes and all my research, I get a huge piece of paper and weave together all the dishes from that era. I then spin it with a modern twist, keeping in mind not to leave any ingredient off from that is important to the time period. In doing research I’ve looked at menus from the 21 club, Delmonico’s, The Cotton Club, etc. for the Prohibition NYC event. These were the best of the best at the time and I have to show respect to the era. I think what me and Adam came up with is going to blow people away!
What kind of dishes can we expect to see at the Prohibition NYC event?
Ok, I guess it’s time for a teaser! And this is only for the Underground Eats community! Foods during the 1920’s were salty and fatty, and that was by design- it made people buy more drinks. Easy concept. Well, we played off that balance of salty and fatty and came up with a unique station that revelers on April 20th will get to experience. We call it “The Free Lunch Stand.” Before prohibition began, bars would entice the public and local town drunks to come in for a drink and receive a “Free Lunch.” The un-witty patron was fed saltine crackers and salty dry cured sausages, prompting them to drink more. We are going to play off that and have our own unique “Free Lunch Stand.” Keep in mind we have some really cool and unique twists for the 21st century prohibition reveler. This is just one of many takes we will offer our guests on April 2oth.
People of course tend to focus more on the cocktail when they think of the prohibition era speakeasies, what made you decide to do a prohibition culinary event? Were there any specific inspirations for this idea?
Most people think of prohibition times as very cocktail driven- underground speakeasies, Al Capone, and Illegal bootleggers, and not really food driven. And that is true to a certain extent. What most people don’t realize is some of the best restaurants, some of which sill exist today, were coming into play, and FINE DINING had already arrived including places like the Waldorf Astoria, Delmonico’s, 21 Club, Cotton Club. And These restaurants catered to your every need. When Adam and I decided to do this event, we went back to the menus of that time. Foods were heavy and simple, but they were interesting and really piqued our interest. We were like, “WOW Tomato Juice is an appetizer!” I thought, that is so boring! And then it hit me, “Wouldn’t it be cool if I reversed spherified the tomato juice, worked some smoked crab into it, and finished it with pickled celery?” The best part about that is we just wrote tomato juice on the menu. That’s how we change things up, that dish is going to blow people away. Now think of six items, all with a really unique twist. That’s what motivates me to take on these old nostalgic menus. Making them relevant again. To me, that’s cool.
What historical dinner would you love to recreate next?
We are always looking through history to find an interesting time period. Once we feel like there might be a story to tell through food, and we believe in the project, we begin our planning phase. I have always wanted to do a dinner that takes us back to the impoverished area in and around the Whitechapel district of London in 1888- kind of a “Jack the Ripper gastro pub pop-up.” I love the 1880’s in London and I dream of opening a REAL GASTRO PUB in Manhattan. So many restaurants call themselves a gastro pub, but they’re the furthest thing from it.
We were also recently talking about doing some underground foie gras dinners in San Francisco!
You seem to enjoy doing dinners and events where creativity and theatrics are key components (i.e. Dine Titanic, Prohibition, Argentine Experience, Feast of the Senses, etc…) do you think you would ever be happy being a chef at a restaurant everyday, cooking the same menu night after night?
NOOOOOO! That’s why I don’t work in a restaurant. I have much respect for those talented chefs that rock the ranges every night, but for me, I need to stimulate my creative juices in other ways. That’s why I love doing events like Prohibition NYC. It allows me to tell a story through food and bring people back to a lost time. Each event is always different, that’s what keeps things fresh and on the cutting edge of what we do.
How long have you and Adam been a team? Do you compliment each other well?
Wow, I met Adam 4 Years ago, ironically we were both chef-testing for the same position. We were both impressed with each other, and we ended up cooking together ever since. Yeah, I would say Adam and I side by side are like complete opposites! We are completely different chefs and have completely different personalities. Adam is more the calm cool collective chef and I’m more of the voicetress hotheaded chef. When Adam and Myself take on these dinners we usually have varied roles. I handle the theme and theatrics and Adam concentrates on refining my crazy-hair-brained menu ideas. He kind of brings me back down to earth. That’s why we work so well together. It’s all about the food in the end. We both care so much about the finished product, and that we are topping ourselves each time we put on one of these events. Plus he has a lovely beard, and I don’t look good in facial hair, there I said it!
If you could throw any dinner party you wanted- what would be the theme and what might be some examples on the menu?
I’m going to throw a Game of Thrones dinner, to coincide with the finale on HBO. The setting is going to be an old gothic Church in Manhattan. We are going to have huge pigs on the table filled with decadent fruits. It ties into a dinner of medieval times that I’m infatuated with. Stay tuned for this dinner; it’s going to be an amazing experience.
If you are intrigued and interested in attending April 20th’s speakeasy party we suggest you move with haste and purchase your tickets on www.undergroundeats.com as there is limited space and spots are filling up quickly!