“Chef Missy Robbins & Laura Brown In Conversation” Transcript
Padma Lakshmi: Hi, this is Padma Lakshmi and you're listening to Radio Cherry Bombe. You're the bombe.
Kerry Diamond: Hi Bombesquad. You're listening to Radio Cherry Bombe, the number one female-focused food podcast in the universe. I'm your host, Kerry Diamond. Let's thank today's sponsors, Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Schools, who I'm actually hanging out with this week in London. Be sure to check out the Cherry Bombe Instagram account to see what I'm up to. We are so excited to welcome back one of our sponsors, Emmi, the makers of beautiful cheese from Switzerland, including my personal favorite, the Emmi cave-aged Kaltbach Le Gruyère AOP.
Kerry Diamond: We have a few announcements to make. Attention bakers and makers, our friends at Ovenly are holding a holiday popup shop competition for women-led startups to take over their studio 154 in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Ovenly will choose two winners who will create their very own holiday popup shop and receive business advice from Ovenly's award-winning leaders. That would be CEO Erin Patinkin and COO Agatha Kulaga. Visit the Ovenly website for more information about how you can enter the competition, and hey, if you win, we'll help promote your popup on the Cherry Bombe Instagram account.
Kerry Diamond: Thank you to everyone who came to our Food for Thought event in Columbus, Ohio, last week at the HQ of Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams. I love everything Jeni's, so it was a treat to hang out there. We'll be airing the Food for Thought episodes in the weeks ahead, so stay tuned. And thank you to Kerrygold, the makers of beautiful Irish cheese and butter, for supporting our tour. The next stop is Houston, Texas, on October 7th at Nancy's Hustle. You can hustle on over to cherrybombe.com to snag a ticket.
Kerry Diamond: Our Seattle Jubilee tickets are also on sale for November 2nd at Block 41. We have a great day planned for you with our favorite folks, including Alison Roman, Aran Goyoaga, Renee Erickson, Makini Howell, Rachel Yang, and others. If you live on the west coast and haven't experienced Jubilee yet, join us.
Kerry Diamond: Next up is another way to experience Jubilee. Today's episode happens to be from Jubilee 2019 in New York City. Laura Brown, the effervescent editor-in-chief of InStyle magazine, sat down with the queen of pasta, chef Missy Robbins of Lilia and Missy restaurants. Their talk is both funny and poignant, so be sure to stay tuned. Introducing Laura and Missy is Bombesquad favorite, Martha Hoover of the Patachou restaurant group in Indianapolis. Before we hear from these movers, shakers, and pasta lovers, let's hear a word from Emmi.
Kerry Diamond: Hey Bombesquad, let's talk about Emmi cheese from Switzerland. Emmi's beautiful variety of cheeses are crafted from the freshest milk from local Swiss farms. One of our favorites is Emmi Le Gruyère AOP. With notes of candied walnuts, spice, and dried fruit, Emmi's Le Gruyère AOP is perfect for snacking, and if you want to get more creative, you can do what Chef Elizabeth Falkner does and make an apple and Le Gruyère crumble. This perfect fall recipe is fragrant with nutmeg and cinnamon and the apple and Gruyère are perfect companions. Make it next level by melting some Emmi Raclette on top.
Kerry Diamond: Looking for something more savory? How about this special recipe from Chef Elizabeth, French onion soup pizza with Emmi Le Gruyère AOP, fresh thyme, and mushrooms. You can find these recipes and more at emmiusa.com, and you can find Emmi's delicious cheeses from Switzerland, the ones with the distinctive blue and red logo, at your favorite grocery store or cheesemonger.
Kerry Diamond: Let's welcome Martha Hoover.
Martha Hoover: The company I founded in 1989, I started having never worked in a restaurant and not knowing I was pregnant with my third child. If I could do it then and there, all of us can be doing it now. Patachou is proof that you can build an inclusive, positive, value-based business culture without sacrificing profitability and it's also proof that an organization can grow and prosper without the exploitation of the people who make its success possible, and I will always maintain that it is easier to build inclusive cultures than it is to try to correct ones that are inherently and insidiously flawed. Well ... Thank you.
Martha Hoover: I've been invited here to introduce two remarkable women. First, Missy Robbins and Laura Brown, soon to come up on stage, and I'm just going to say this. I'm going to throw this out there. Missy Robbins is kind of like the Missy Elliott of the food world, and it's not just because their first names are the same. Missy Elliott, rapper, singer, producer, Grammy award winner, to this day, she is the best-selling female rapper in music history and her experimental video concepts changed the landscape of hip hop forever. Her music includes themes of feminism, gender equality, body positivity, sex positivity, and she cleared the path for and supported other women in her industry.
Martha Hoover: My God, Missy Elliott even released an album called Cookbook. She should be here right now. And then she went ahead and performed at the Super Bowl, but only after taking a significant time away to reflect, get healthy, achieve work-life balance, and to figure out how to create healthy work environments in an industry known for misogyny, homophobia, gender inequality, along with the easy stuff like grueling hours and unrelenting expectations. Does that sound like any industry you guys know about? I don't know.
Martha Hoover: So what about our Missy, food Missy? Well, Missy Robbins has led two restaurants to Michelin star status before opening her own restaurant, Lilia, in Williamsburg. Lilia earned three stars from the New York Times and a James Beard nomination. Missy was named Best Chef by Food & Wine and in 2018, Robbins was recognized as the Best Chef, New York City by the James Beard Foundation and just last year, she opened up her second restaurant, Missy, also located here in Brooklyn.
Martha Hoover: You know, being a chef requires more than aptitude and zeal. Cooking is as much a trade as it is an art, and owning and operating restaurants is as much science as it is magic, and as much as we glorify the jobs and the industry, chefs and owners know that they must mundanely negotiate with vendors, run inventory, train staff, maintain safety protocols, work in helter skelter environments, and occasionally compromise their standards to deal with restive customers and demanding investors. Every chef with the Michelin star and James Beard Award has suffered mind-numbing labor cuts and burns, and that is the reality of the industry in which we live.
Martha Hoover: So while on this upward trajectory through the ranks of chef-dom, racking up accolades and awards, our Missy, Missy Robbins, decided to leave the grueling world of restaurants and cooking, because it took a toll. It took a toll in terms of sacrifices of time, health, and relationships. So in 2013, she hung up the title of executive chef and she left to explore life outside of restaurants, and much like music Missy, she came back to her industry stronger than ever. She took her significant time off to self-reflect and to produce this fabulous work that's ... fabulous and very personal work, I should say, her cookbook, Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, and Life, and also, she came back with a new perspective on how to foster personal health and happiness while taking care of the needs of everybody else.
Martha Hoover: Laura Brown is the award-winning editor-in-chief of InStyle magazine. Truthfully, she caught my attention many years ago with an article entitled The Simpsons Go to Paris. It was pretty brilliant. It still makes me laugh, and I laughed a lot when I heard that I was introducing her, because that article was ripped out and is in my file on my desk. She's basically the executive chef of a publishing brand where she oversees print and digital platforms of 13 international editions of InStyle magazine, a fashion and beauty magazine for the modern woman.
Martha Hoover: Laura Brown has breathed life back into the print magazines and brought fun back to fashion and lifestyle reporting. I follow her on Instagram, where she is really hilarious, pretending like she fainted when she met Gloria Steinem not so long ago. She also tackles difficult issues such as immigration reform in her magazine, and she does it with humor, grace, and gusto. Meaningful to me, and having nothing to do with food, I'm an animal lover, I'm someone who has lived with and still do, cats, dogs, goats, horses, and chickens, and perhaps this is because Laura's the daughter of an Australian dairy farmer, InStyle, under her leadership, became the first major magazine to ban photography of and advertisements for fur.
Martha Hoover: So I am honored to introduce to you two women who are continually disrupting industry norms while pushing their own organizations forward, Missy Robbins and Laura Brown.
Laura Brown: Firstly, Missy and I are in agreement that compared to Martha, Martha's achievements, we're both going to hell.
Missy Robbins: I think Martha should just stay up here and talk for the next 30 minutes.
Laura Brown: Yeah. So, bye. Oh, you do have, you have a James Beard Award but you do not have a Jane's beard award, so-
Missy Robbins: Those are next.
Laura Brown: Dream big, sister. So Missy and I actually met five years ago. Missy was consulting to a restaurant in Chelsea Market, and I went with a friend of mine and Missy was there and we ate some pasta, and I was like, "What is this? What is this magical bowl?" I had a few wines, breaking news, and I just became completely possessed with this pasta and this groovy lady who was there talking to us and feeding us dinner, and not only was the food delicious, but there was an ease to her, there was a naturalness to her, there was just a way of being that you were doing what you were supposed to do.
Laura Brown: After about my third wine, I said ... Missy was saying she wanted to open a restaurant, and I said, "Haha! I'll give you 50 bucks and I'll be your first investor." I put it in a tip envelope, gave it to Missy, and so frankly, I hope all the room knows this, that I made you.
Missy Robbins: Very true story. I still have the envelope.
Laura Brown: Is the cash still in there?
Missy Robbins: The cash is still in there. At home.
Laura Brown: Good, can I have it? No.
Missy Robbins: I meant to bring it to you today.
Laura Brown: But this is how compelling. Immediately, I was like, "I know you know what you're doing. I know you're going to do great things," and I don't-
Missy Robbins: Yeah. The weird thing about this story is there was no pasta on the menu at that restaurant. I think-
Laura Brown: But you just did it-
Missy Robbins: I think I was bored that night and just like, "I'm going to make you pasta because I feel like it."
Laura Brown: Well, thanks.
Missy Robbins: Foreshadowing to the-
Laura Brown: And foreshadowing.
Missy Robbins: Yes.
Laura Brown: So breaking news ... Oh, this is Missy's t-shirts. I'm not sure if you've seen this. If you haven't worn one, you really must. This is the t-shirts that go with Lilia and Missy, the new restaurant. I wear it with pride, and I will choose pasta if I'm ever on death row.
Laura Brown: Anyway, so Missy, the question is, though, when did you first ...
Missy Robbins: Choose pasta?
Laura Brown: Yup.
Missy Robbins: You know, it's funny. I went about 15 ... the first 10 years in my career with kind of doing what we called back in the '90s new American food, and I was cooking with influences from everywhere, but I had grown up in New Haven, Connecticut. I'm not Italian.
Laura Brown: What?
Missy Robbins: I'm just a Jewish girl from Connecticut, Eastern European. But New Haven has this amazing Italian-American community and I grew up eating red sauce Italian, baked ziti, fettuccine Alfredo, pizza, all this stuff, and I was always sort of fascinated and my mom thought she was European and we would never go to normal supermarkets. We would go to like the fish market and the kosher butcher and the Italian market to get olive oil and cheese, and I just grew up in this way that I was very focused on ingredients. So when I started cooking, that kind of thing always really resonated with me. Whenever the deliveries came in and there was a new olive oil or there was a porcini mushroom, I always really gravitated towards that. When I was 28, I was cooking and I had this very intense job and I wanted to go to Europe, because I thought I was going to be an adult soon and if I didn't go live above a restaurant in Europe then, I might not ever do it.
Laura Brown: You expire.
Missy Robbins: Dreams, I mean, real dreams. So I left and I went to Italy, and I stayed there for six months and really absorbed-
Laura Brown: Do you speak Italian?
Missy Robbins: I mean, speak is a relative term. I can make it through a train station, a restaurant, a wine list, and a menu, and a hotel. That's all you need in life, right?
Laura Brown: All you need, yup.
Missy Robbins: And I went there for six months and I sort of learned that Italy had so much beyond red sauce Italian and that there were really these 20 cuisines in Italy and kind of fell in love with it, but when I came back to the States six months later, I still didn't want to be pigeonholed into this cuisine, and I went and worked at a hotel and did something completely different than I had been doing, and then three and a half years later, I got this call from Chicago to go work in this little restaurant called Spiaggia that was a four star fine dining beautiful restaurant and I got the call to go be the chef de cuisine there, and I was sort of ready for a change. I was thinking about moving to Brooklyn, that was going to be my big change from Manhattan.
Laura Brown: That's radical.
Missy Robbins: We can get to that later. And there was this just really amazing connection between myself and Tony Mantuano, who is the chef partner of Spiaggia still, from the very first phone call. I got off that call with him and I flew out there and I did a tasting for him and I moved five weeks later, and stayed there for five years and Italy just ... I like to say I have an Italian soul. It just became a part of me, and I kind of stopped focusing on all these other global cuisines and really honed in on honing this one skill of making pasta and learning Italian culture.
Laura Brown: What would you regard as your first professional success? You have official grades of the Michelin stars and great restaurants you've worked at, but what ... Was it perfectly constructing a dish? Was it somebody saying it was delicious? Was it acknowledgement in the press? Was it ... What was your first-
Missy Robbins: No, I think really ... I mean I think there are a couple moments throughout your career and your definition of success changes, and so I think getting that job at Spiaggia was a really significant moment of me taking this fine dining world that I had grown up with in my 20s and kind of moving away from that to go do this hip hotel in downtown Manhattan and really not feeling like I fit in in that world, and then getting this giant job to go back to four-star dining.
Missy Robbins: But I think the accolades and the awards and all that stuff is really lovely, but it's not how I define success. I think it's more about finding happiness in what you do every day, and as we all know, this environment that we work in can be grueling. It's long hours, you don't have weekends, you miss out a lot of holidays, you miss out a lot of family things, you miss out on a lot of kind of normal life and for me, I think right now is where I feel most successful, and it's not because of getting three stars in the New York Times, it's because I love going to work every day and I have these two restaurants now that I'm really proud of and where people and the public really love it, but also we have these teams who really enjoy working for us and that, that to me is really what I thrive off of now, is kind of building these teams and seeing where they get to go in their career and how far we can help them get there.
Laura Brown: And after you left, you were at A Voce for how long?
Missy Robbins: I was at A Voce for five years.
Laura Brown: Five years, just earning a casual Michelin star. Were you casual when you earned it?
Missy Robbins: Casual. Yeah, you know, that was an interesting situation, because I initially, when I got offered that job, that was one of the exciting parts of the job to me, this company that owned A Voce is European and they're from London and they were obsessed with Michelin stars, and that was their mission. I had grown up in this world where ... Michelin stars didn't exist when I started cooking, but they existed in Europe, and I grew up in a family where my parents took me to Michelin star restaurants when I was very young, and when I was 12 years old, I ate in-
Laura Brown: You fancy.
Missy Robbins: ... I was lucky, and my parents were really into food and that's why, I credit my father 100% for me being in this business, whether he likes it or not, but there was such a culture of dining out in my family and part of that was going to Michelin star restaurants, and I was like, "Wow, I'm going to get to work in a place where that's their mission and they want a Michelin star," and then that sort of became the bane of my existence, actually, because I think when you're cooking for Michelin stars and when you're focused on that, you stop focusing on what's really important and you stop focusing on cooking from your heart, and you start cooking from like, "Is an inspector going to like this? Is my boss going to like this? Is this Michelin worthy?" And I loved the food I was cooking at A Voce, because it's what I knew at the time, but I don't think it was really who I really was.
Laura Brown: Right, and then you left. I mean-
Missy Robbins: And then I left.
Laura Brown: ... you just were like ... Did you do that? Did you peace?
Missy Robbins: No, it wasn't quite that simple.
Laura Brown: Yeah, I bet.
Missy Robbins: It was a very calculated decision, and it was a very hard decision. I think it's very easy to look at it and be like, "Oh, Missy gave up her job and left," and it was a really hard, hard decision and a scary decision, because I not only made the decision to leave a pretty incredible job where I was really thriving, but I made a decision to leave and not work and to take time for myself, which I was 20 years into cooking and had never done that before and didn't really know what life outside of a restaurant was. So it wasn't easy, but it was definitely the right decision, and a decision I'm really proud of and happy I made, because it changed who I am as just an individual, but also as a chef and a leader and a boss and a restaurant owner.
Laura Brown: Yeah, I think one of the things I really appreciate about Missy is she's very straightforward. You had a couple years off. In the time off, a relative term, you were plotting and planning and sleeping, hopefully, but you were also diagnosed with breast cancer. It was right smack in the middle of that, right?
Missy Robbins: I was diagnosed with breast cancer actually-
Laura Brown: At A Voce?
Missy Robbins: No, at Lilia.
Laura Brown: Oh, at Lilia, when you opened it up?
Missy Robbins: It was ... It'll be ... What are we in? 2019. I was diagnosed in July of 2017.
Laura Brown: So when that happened, what did you do?
Missy Robbins: Well. What did I do? You know, I remember the moment very exactly. I had obviously been for biopsies and mammograms and there was something wrong and everyone says, "You're going to be fine, you're going to be fine. There's nothing wrong with you," and I got a phone call at four o'clock on a Friday afternoon. I was sitting in the back room of Lilia quietly working and they told me it was going to take two weeks for them to get back to me and it took two days for them to get back to me, and it was my gynecologist calling and she had been really amazing through the process. She picked up the phone and she said, "Do you have a minute to talk?" And I was like, "Oh (beep), yeah." You don't call someone Friday at four o'clock on a-
Laura Brown: For a chat.
Missy Robbins: ... summer Friday, by the way, July 14th. It was pouring rain out, and I just, I didn't have ... There's nowhere private at Lilia, I don't know if any of you have ever been there, but we built a restaurant with zero privacy. There's no door on the office, there's nowhere to go, and usually I would just walk around the building for important phone calls, but it was raining out, so my business partner, Sean, happened to live a block away at the time and I knew he wasn't there. His doorman knew me, so I went to the lobby and whatever and I talked to the doctor and she said, "I'm going to walk you through this. I'm going to get you into a surgeon and we're going to do this, we're going to do that," and you know, it's a really scary moment.
Missy Robbins: I think you and I talked a little bit about this before, that you hear those four or five words, "I'm sorry, but it's cancer," and you think immediately like, "Holy shit," like you're going to get chemotherapy the next day, and I think there's this perception from TV and movies and if you've never gone through it with a family member or a friend, that you don't really know the process. I really had to learn that process, but look, I went home and I at the time was single and it was very scary. I talked to my parents and I talked to my business partner, and I thought it would be a good idea to go to work that night and kind of how-
Laura Brown: How was that?
Missy Robbins: I lasted until like eight, and then I was like, "You know, I think I've got to go home," and I had a good, probably the best cry of my life on, that was a Friday, on Saturday morning and then I got up and I was like, "You know what? I'm going to go run." Not a runner, I'm a terrible runner.
Laura Brown: Three blocks later, I went-
Missy Robbins: Anyone who knows me, I got up and I was like, "You know what? Fuck it. I'm going to go running," and I-
Laura Brown: That's so cinematic.
Missy Robbins: My girlfriend is laughing at me because she knows that I don't know how to run. I ran to Greenpoint and back from my South Williamsburg apartment and I felt great and I made a couple phone calls to talk to some good friends, and I just tried to figure out how to handle it calmly, and I was lucky, I had an ... First of all, I have an amazing family and my mom, who's pretty emotional and a crybaby, I didn't see her cry once through this entire ... and I know she cried, because my cousin told me that she had a few nightmares-
Laura Brown: Cousins always do.
Missy Robbins: But my parents were like rocks. My business partner, Sean, was really amazing during that time and just wanted to make me feel comfortable. My team was amazing, and they allowed me the space and the time I needed. I went to work when I could go to work and I didn't go to work when I couldn't go to work. But that time was ... It's obviously super scary, but I also, luckily I had, as breast cancer goes, probably the best case scenario. I did not have to have a mastectomy. No one even mentioned the word to me, and I had radiation but I did not have chemotherapy, and that made a big difference. But they told me at week three that I would become very fatigued from radiation, and I was like, "No I won't." I'm like, "I work 14 hours a day. I'm fine," and they were like, "No, no, no, no. You're going to become fatigued," and I said, "No, no, no. I'm fine." Day 14-
Laura Brown: And lo.
Missy Robbins: Day 14, I basically fell asleep on the line at Lilia. But you know, the thing about having cancer, and this is really, this is the second time I've ever talked about it publicly and I don't mind talking about it and I think it definitely has ... It hasn't changed my life, but it definitely gave me perspective on life. It made me refocus. I was falling into kind of some old patterns that I had of being a workaholic and staying at Lilia too late at night, and it forced me to work less, so I didn't really have a choice, but it also, after treatment was done, I was like, "You know what? This is how it's supposed to be. I'm not supposed to work this much. I'm supposed to be taking better care of myself."
Missy Robbins: And mentally, it made me really patient. You go to radiation every day and sometimes the machine's broken and they say, "Go have lunch," and you're like, "What?" And you're far from home and you're not in Williamsburg, where I live, and I would go have lunch and I would take those moments to myself and I would actually kind of enjoy them, and I would go take these long walks after radiation and I ... You become friendly with the people who are treating you every day, and there's just, there's also just a perspective that you see women getting treatment that have much worse case scenarios than you, and ... So I think patience was a big one that came out of that, and also-
Laura Brown: Pragmatism.
Missy Robbins: Yeah, and I think also just really kind of understanding that you can't control everything and focus on the things you can control and the things you can't control, they're going to go the way they're going to go.
Kerry Diamond: We'll be right back after this quick break.
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Kerry Diamond: Back to Laura and Missy from Jubilee.
Laura Brown: When you envisioned Lilia, was it a building you envisioned? Was it a dish you envision? What was in your like ... I don't know, what's your dream board or whatever ladies have-
Missy Robbins: At the time that I envisioned ... At the time ... Anyone who knows me knows I'm not having dream boards at home.
Laura Brown: Is that what they're called? I don't know. I don't have one, either.
Missy Robbins: My dream board, my little vision board that I was cutting things out of InStyle, Laura.
Laura Brown: Oh. You're welcome.
Missy Robbins: That looks good. I think Laura picked that one. You know what's crazy? At the time that Lilia came about, I had been out of work for a year and a half almost before we decided to take the space in Williamsburg, and I had, going back to that theme of success, I had this one vision of success and that one vision was opening in lower Manhattan, and that was the only thing that was going to make me feel good. When my partner came to me and said, "I have this space in Williamsburg that you should go look at," I said, "I'm not fucking opening a restaurant in Williamsburg." Like, I've worked my whole life to open in the West Village and I'm 43 years old, and that's all I want to do, and it was a really dumb, silly, narrow vision.
Missy Robbins: But I was desperate to go back to work, and while consulting was lovely and fun and I got to just sit and drink wine with you in the middle of my job, it wasn't going to sustain me long-term, and Lilia sort of evolved out of the space. It's in an old auto body shop, and I knew that I could put in a wood-burning grill and I had changed my diet significantly and I'd lost 40 pounds and I changed the way I ate and ironically, pasta was not meant to be the main feature of Lilia. Fish and vegetables were really meant to be what was highlighted there, and they still are and pasta sort of just, people latched onto the fact that they thought I could make pasta, which is really nice and allowed me to be able to open Missy, that solely focuses on pasta.
Missy Robbins: But the vision really came out of just years of cooking and a place and time in my life where I really wanted to strip away kind of the Michelin stuff and strip away pretension and just cook the food that I was cooking at home at like a little higher level, and I had cooked at home for the first time in my life during that time that I wasn't working and it felt really good, and I obviously didn't want to cook the way I was cooking at home exactly, because that was usually in 20 to 30 minutes, but I wanted to take that and be able to bring it to a restaurant level.
Laura Brown: And also, how important ... Style is the only thing I understand, so how important is that to you? Because one of the things I love about you is, she was a jazzy jumpsuit wearer, most importantly, wears this daily. Correct?
Missy Robbins: Yeah.
Laura Brown: But also super practical until you have to go to the loo, but apart from that, great.
Missy Robbins: Oh, I have a system, Laura.
Laura Brown: How important is style to you? Because you pay as much attention to your logo, to your menus, to the aesthetic of your restaurant, like how informed are you by that and how-?
Missy Robbins: I mean, the fashion, what I'm wearing on my body style, it's important, but I don't know anything about it, and I luckily have people in my life who have been very influential in convincing me to change the way I have dressed in the last year. So it feels good. I don't know, I never thought I could pull off a jumpsuit.
Laura Brown: I did.
Missy Robbins: Thank you.
Laura Brown: I've always believed in you.
Missy Robbins: Why didn't you tell me three years ago when we were-
Laura Brown: I gave you 50 dollars.
Missy Robbins: ... when you gave me ... You gave me 50 bucks. That doesn't buy a jumpsuit.
Laura Brown: It buys a dream.
Missy Robbins: I never thought I'd be a person who had a thing and now people come to Missy and Lilia and they put their jumpsuits on because they-
Laura Brown: They do?
Missy Robbins: Yes.
Laura Brown: It's a cult?
Missy Robbins: Yes, it's a cult. So the jumpsuit's a thing, but outside of fashion, and I hope that I continue on this fashion thing and I'll never be able to make decisions on my own, but with the help of other people, it feels good to feel good in your clothing, as I'm sure you know.
Laura Brown: Yes.
Missy Robbins: But the style thing, in terms of design and menu and designing, helping to custom design plates for both restaurants and picking out glassware and working on all the graphic design and working very, very strongly with architects and designers to design both restaurants, that is what I thrive off of now. The food, to me, is the easy part and I love it and I know how to write a menu, I think, after 25 years of doing this. But all of that other stuff and the design stuff is the stuff I've wanted to do and why I wanted to open restaurants for all these years, because I love all of it and I think all of it is equally as important to the food and beverage, the vibe, the music, which also I know nothing about music, but luckily have great people-
Laura Brown: Well, someone there does.
Missy Robbins: Someone does, and it's not me. But you're learning that I'm not that cool, Laura. Have I shattered your dreams?
Laura Brown: There's 15 more minutes on the clock. Anyone want to take my chair? But where you find yourself now, you are in demand, and I like to say to my team, business is like dating. If you don't keep calling and if you have a bad time, don't go back. But in your case, you are now offered lots of things, including, Missy was offered a restaurant in Hudson Yards and said no. What do you ... How do you calibrate those asks? What do you say yes to, what do you say no to? Or where does your gut take you?
Missy Robbins: You know, I think it's weird, because my life has changed a lot in the last couple years since opening Lilia and now even since opening Missy and since winning a James Beard Award and it seems to get more and more intense, kind of, as the months go by-
Laura Brown: She was on GMA with Queer Eye, just by the way.
Missy Robbins: I was. Laura's very upset that she missed it.
Laura Brown: Yup.
Missy Robbins: We weren't like invited as a group. They just ...
Laura Brown: They'll learn next time.
Missy Robbins: They happened to be there, and I happened to be there. I taught them how to make pasta. And yeah, I think what I try and do is just stay true to who I want to be, and when Hudson Yards is a lovely example. There's 30 examples like that. I think it's important to realize who you want to be and what you want to be, and where you want to go to work every day and how you want to work every day, and I think at the time that Hudson Yards or any big development or whatever has come about, I've stood in the center of Lilia and I've been so excited to be a part of that community that I said I didn't want to go to and now I live in and have two restaurants in, and that's become a real part of our mission, is how do we fit into whatever community that we choose to go, and that community has to feel right and it has to feel right to Sean and to me and I just have to really want to do it, and time is so precious to me now and it's really hard to run two restaurants and have a social life and be with your family and just have downtime, that saying no has become pretty easy to me.
Laura Brown: And you have to learn it, though.
Missy Robbins: You have to learn it, and I think it is a learned skill and I find myself going through waves of not being great at it, just in terms of saying yes to too many whatever, dinners, outside of Lilia and Missy or charity events or whatever it is, and I think you want to satisfy so many people and you don't want to let people down. Forget about the restaurant thing, because those are big decisions of like, "Do I want to go back into Manhattan or don't I?" Or-
Laura Brown: Yes, you really want to.
Missy Robbins: "Do I want to open a third restaurant?" Those are ... Sometimes-
Laura Brown: Can you hurry up?
Missy Robbins: Sometimes I do. Find a space.
Laura Brown: I live on the Upper West Side. Go on.
Missy Robbins: But Upper West Side.
Laura Brown: I know-
Missy Robbins: I mean listen, never say never. I said never to Williamsburg, and here I am. So I don't know what the future brings for that, but I think saying no is more about sort of protecting your time, and I want to be in my restaurants. That's the other thing. I think part of what has made both restaurants successful so far is that I have been present, and especially with Lilia, for the first two years, I was there five nights a week, six nights a week, and I think that helped mold my staff and it helped engage with our guests, and I think people really enjoyed that.
Missy Robbins: So I don't want to be there six nights a week by any means, but I do want to be engaged in the restaurant, and the more you say yes to and the more you just are off doing events and flying all over the place, it becomes really difficult. So those things now have to be meaningful to me in order to say yes, whether it's the right charity or the right event or the right speaking engagement, whatever it is, it has to be something that I feel is going to be meaningful to me.
Laura Brown: Touche. I loathe female chef questions, so do you. I loathe female anything questions.
Missy Robbins: What? I didn't hear you.
Laura Brown: This is one question that I want to ask, that actually Kerry Diamond, The World's 50 Best Restaurants has a list, and The World's 50 Best gives out a Best Female Chef award that women dislike, but none have turned it down. What would you do if somebody tried to offer that to you?
Missy Robbins: That is not the question you told me you were going to ask.
Laura Brown: It was. Yeah, I did so.
Missy Robbins: You said something totally different yesterday.
Laura Brown: You said it shouldn't exist or something, didn't you?
Missy Robbins: I said-
Laura Brown: Which I agree.
Missy Robbins: My mother taught me to be polite, so I don't think you ever give back an award if someone gives it to you. I think you accept it politely. I think you accept it politely, but I think, I do think that I wish there was just an award for the best chef and that it wasn't a female chef or a male chef or ...
Laura Brown: I think we concur. To the point, I wanted to ask, I love to ask people about this often and it's ambition, and I think that I ... I did an interview with a bunch of women the other day and they all had very different ideas of like, "I love ambition." "Ooh, it sounds mercenary." "Ooh, it sounds ego." "Oh, it's whatever." What's your position on ambition, and how has your ambition changed?
Missy Robbins: Oh God, it's changed so much. I mean, I've always been really ambitious. I wanted to go, since the time I was 12 years old, I picked out a private school in Connecticut that I wanted to go to. My parents said, "We don't think you should go to that one. You're going to struggle," and I said, "No, no, no, no. That's the one I'm going to," because I wanted to be challenged, and then for college, I only wanted to go to Georgetown. My father had gone there and my brother went there, and I couldn't get in, and so I went to another school my freshman year and I got in my sophomore year. I've always set these extremely high goals for myself. When I started cooking, I was 22 years old, I said, "I'm going to open a restaurant when I'm 30." I don't know where I got that number from. I just made it up and I said, that's what I'm going to do. I didn't open my first restaurant until I was 44 years old. I was 14 years late on my ambition.
Missy Robbins: So I think your ambition changes, and I think now, ambition to me is certainly I want to have professional success, but I think it's equally as important to have success as a completely human and have a life outside of the restaurants and concentrate on family and relationships and friendships and other things, and I think that's really, I think when you have a singular focus on only doing well in your career and those sort of very tangible things, whether it's getting an award or opening a seventh restaurant or whatever it is, I think that's not so gratifying to me anymore without the other part.
Missy Robbins: So I think you have to be open to sort of ambition changing, and I think that time off that I took for two years really helped form that opinion and I really learned what life could be like if I had more balance, and to me, that's sort of what it's all about now, and sometimes that's great and sometimes it's not. It's very easy to hide at a restaurant. I went out last night on Saturday night, which is rare for me, and-
Laura Brown: Woo!
Missy Robbins: Yes.
Laura Brown: Go on.
Missy Robbins: Very exciting. And it's scary how many people are out, and I'm-
Laura Brown: They are.
Missy Robbins: And I'm like-
Laura Brown: Don't they have homes?
Missy Robbins: And I'm like, there's a reason why I hide inside of my restaurant on Saturday nights, and I'm okay with that. So sometimes life outside, I think people in this industry feel this certain sense of comfort inside of their little home, whether that's a bar or restaurant or whatever, and when you send us out into the world, we don't know how to act or behave, and-
Laura Brown: You're doing great, sweetie.
Missy Robbins: And so to me, yeah, I've had to learn how to kind of like balance real world with restaurant world.
Laura Brown: How often do you go to eat at other restaurants?
Missy Robbins: A few times a week, I try. I go to the same five places. Anyone who knows me, you can give my list.
Laura Brown: And so what chefs, I mean just for a very layman question, but what chefs do you admire or what chefs are you watching right now?
Missy Robbins: Oh wow. That's a big one.
Laura Brown: Throw a couple out.
Missy Robbins: I mean, Nancy Silverton in L.A. is really ... Wow. Everyone likes-
Laura Brown: Yeah, Nancy! Tell her she said this.
Missy Robbins: I think I had the best meal that I've had in ... I think I was there 2000 and ... what are we in? 2018, I think I was in, but at chi SPACCA was probably my best meal. The guys at Wildair, I'm loving what they're doing right now and I want to go back and I keep thinking about it. Uncle Boons, I'm just fascinated by what they do.
Laura Brown: Yeah. How often do you eat pasta now? I mean, I know you're doing another cookbook, so-
Missy Robbins: I eat it every day.
Laura Brown: Yeah, but you taste it, but like ...
Missy Robbins: I very rarely eat a bowl of pasta. It is very rare, not because I don't want to eat it. I still crave pasta every day, it's just more of a health thing than anything, and it's just a control thing. If I were to eat ... I worked really hard to lose that weight a few years ago, and if I were to eat pasta the way I used to eat pasta, I just wouldn't be healthy.
Laura Brown: You've blossomed.
Missy Robbins: So I think I do eat it every day and I walk down the line in both restaurants and I taste a lot of pasta, but I just don't, I don't eat it like that anymore.
Laura Brown: Like that.
Missy Robbins: Yeah. Like ...
Laura Brown: You want to eat it like that.
Missy Robbins: I do want to, yeah.
Laura Brown: Also I want to ask you something else, because a lot of women in the industry here and you're working in this close quarters with other people, whether you are the chef, whether you are cooking pasta or everything else. What did you learn about management, your management style? How did you cultivate a management style?
Missy Robbins: Ooh. Wow. That's developed over many years, and I think I ... I was a tough manager in my 30s, let's say, and I was in very high pressure environments and I didn't always know how to manage and how to listen, which I think is a really important skill as a manager is how to listen to the people who are talking to you, and I still can be better at it, but I wasn't very good at it and I knew I wanted to be better, and I got agitated easily and I think sometimes you work in environments where you don't feel you have the support at the top top and then that can trickle down to you and then that can trickle down to the people working with you.
Missy Robbins: I made a commitment to myself and to my partner that I wanted to be better when we opened Lilia, and I think my standards certainly haven't changed in what I want to produce, but I think I'm more forgiving in terms of mistakes now, and I understand that people are going to make mistakes and that humans are actually cooking the food, not robots, and you have to understand.
Missy Robbins: There's so many young people in my kitchens now, and I try and think back to when I was 22 years old and I walked into a kitchen and I had never held a knife before and I asked if someone could teach me, and I said, "I'll do whatever you want. I just want to work here," and these three chefs said, "Yes, we'll take you in," and I really try and remember that every day when I see an 18-year-old intern in my kitchen or a 19-year-old kid, and I'm watching and they don't quite know what they're doing but they're trying so hard, and I think it's just an approach of talking calmly to people and teaching them instead of just imposing on them what you want.
Laura Brown: Putting the knife down, really.
Missy Robbins: Yeah.
Laura Brown: Metaphorically.
Missy Robbins: Yeah, I like that, Laura. I'm going to use that tonight.
Laura Brown: You're welcome. Next cookbook, just things you do with your hands. Anyway, last question. What has been the greatest compliment or the most memorable compliment you've received, and what's been the most memorable criticism?
Missy Robbins: Oh, wow. The most memorable ... Let's start with the compliments.
Laura Brown: Always.
Missy Robbins: No one ever criticizes me, Laura. I mean really.
Laura Brown: All right, pretend. Pretend that it happened once.
Missy Robbins: The most memorable compliment, it's happened more than once, is when people tell me my food is better or as good as what they've just eaten in Italy. I've worked really hard to be able to bring home Italy to New York and to take all the things I've learned from traveling there and living there and just reading and researching, and really try and while I have my own style of cooking, really pay homage to their culture. So when I hear that, that's amazing.
Missy Robbins: I think the toughest criticism I've probably gotten was a little review I got earlier this year and truth be told, I had never gotten a poor review before in my career. I'd gotten like Yelp reviews and stuff like that, but a real-
Laura Brown: But they're universally poor.
Missy Robbins: A thing that a lot of people read and that was from a decent publication, and it was tough for me. But, and I can't remember the specifics of what they said, but they definitely thought I missed the mark at the new restaurant and that was really hard for me. Whether you want to believe the criticism or not believe the criticism, you have to look at yourself and you have to say like, "Okay, well, this person's saying you kind of suck, and this person is saying you're amazing, and who are you going to believe and what are you going to do?" And it's really easy to turn and say, "Okay, well I just got three stars from the New York Times, so I'm good."
Missy Robbins: But that's not what happened to me. I spent weeks being like, "How do I make this better? What did I do wrong? Is this person right?" And you do have to realize that a review is one person writing a review. It is not a group of people. It's one person's opinion, but that one person's opinion can make you feel really terrible, and I recovered from it, but it definitely made it more challenging to celebrate the amazing review that I got the exact same day within seven minutes. But it did make me think and it makes me motivated, and you never want someone to not like your work, and my work is really personal. So yeah.
Laura Brown: That's what gets you out of bed every day.
Missy Robbins: Yeah, definitely.
Laura Brown: That's the brilliance of Missy Robbins, is your holistic, personal, sincere, no B.S. approach to making everything delicious and warm and-
Missy Robbins: Thank you.
Laura Brown: ... incredible, so thank you so much, Missy.
Missy Robbins: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Kerry Diamond: That's it for today's show. If you loved Missy and Laura, be sure to check out the latest issue of InStyle with Jennifer Aniston on the cover for another interview between these two powerhouse personalities. And, shameless plug for myself, I wrote the cover story about Jennifer. Yes, she's as cool as you would imagine. She loves rescue animals, and she even has an actual pizza oven in her kitchen.
Kerry Diamond: Thank you to today's sponsors, Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Schools and Emmi cheese. Radio Cherry Bombe is a production of Cherry Bombe Media. Our show is edited, engineered, and produced by Jess Zeidman. Cherry Bombe is powered by Lauren Goldstein, Audrey Payne, Kia Damon, Donna Yen, Maria Sanchez, and our publisher is Kate Miller-Spencer. Our theme song is All Fired Up by the band Tralala. Thanks for listening, everybody. You are the bombe.
When Harry Met Sally Clip: I'll have what she's having.
Uno Immanivong: Hi, this is Uno Immanivong, chef and owner of Red Stix Asian Street Food and CEO of Chef Uno Brands, based here in Dallas, Texas. Do you want to know who I think is the bombe? Chef Tiffany Derry from Roots Chicken Shak and Southern Table. I'm inspired by how she honors her heritage and culture through food and motivates other women chef with her culinary journey. She started as a line cook at IHOP when she was 15 years old. Today, she's an advocate for the James Beard Waste Not initiatives and a speaker for food policy on Capitol Hill.