Steakhouse dining – especially in New York City – can be a painfully buttoned-up and stuffy experience, often permeated with power suits and handshakes over martinis and steaks. Chef and owner Angie Mar of the Beatrice Inn takes an entirely different approach to going primal at her dinner tables, where there are no rules, no dress code, and no frills in her meat-centric cuisine. After revamping what was once a notoriously hated nightclub-turned-underwhelming-chophouse in the same vein of old school steakhouses, Chef Angie practices no restraint in the iconic landmark that's "suddenly hot again". Recently named NYC Chef of 2016, Angie's remarkable success in less than 7 years as a chef is a story of making your own luck and following your gut instinct. We chatted with her at the new Bea and learned more about how sticking with her family and her gut instincts led her to reinvent the chophouse experience in the most gloriously gluttonous way.
You were on a different career track before becoming a chef – how did you transition?
I used to work in the corporate world, selling office buildings in Southern California. I was really good at my job, but I wasn’t passionate about it and being in the office every day was just killing me inside. After nine years of working, I took a leap of faith and quit, to travel to East Africa and Spain and do some soul searching. One night in Seville, I had this a-ha moment at dinner where I realized, why am I not cooking? I love food, I love cooking, I grew up around hospitality… so why am I fighting it? Everyone in my immediate family are doctors or lawyers or running businesses, so even though my parents were into cooking, I was expected to go to school and follow a more corporate career. But I’ve always had aunts and uncles in the food industry – my aunt was Ruby Chow, who pioneered Chinese cooking in Seattle, where I grew up. I spent my childhood running around restaurants and cooking with my dad when he was home. So I realized in that moment in Seville that I needed to follow my passions. Turning a passion into a career is something that I wish everyone was as lucky to have, but I believe we make our own luck. I definitely wouldn’t be here if I had just done what my parents wanted. My story is really a classic New York “I made it” story – I ended up traveling until I ran out of money, and when I returned to the States, I dumped whatever savings I had into culinary school. I moved to New York with nowhere to live, with just $250 in my bank account. It was insane, but that’s how my culinary career began.
How did you manage to become a chef and own your restaurant in such a short period of time since you started culinary school?
It’s about keeping your head down and just working. If I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t have gone to culinary school and would’ve just started cooking. Culinary school taught me virtually nothing at all. I’m a believer of real world experiences – of rolling your sleeves up, getting dirty, putting the work in. I’ve been really fortunate to work for some great chefs – and that’s where I’ve learned everything. I worked full-time while I was going to school full-time, and I was running off of 2-3 hours of sleep a night – but it was fine, I knew that’s what had to be done. It’s about not being afraid to put in the work – and I think that’s a problem today. People don’t put in the work. I actually don’t hire anyone that went to culinary school. To work in this kitchen, I have 2 prerequisites: you’ve worked in Michelin-starred kitchens and you haven’t gone to culinary school. And I have one of the best crews in New York City right now – they’re the reason why our restaurant has gotten such acclaim. They have such insane pedigrees – they’ve been trained by Thomas Keller, Michael White, Mario Carbone… and none of them went to culinary school. For a lot of them, English is their second language. We can teach anyone how to cook, but we can’t teach them integrity or work ethic. All the kitchens that I’ve ever worked in – you start at the bottom and work your way up. It’s a very militant approach, and I think it’s the best way to run kitchens. I also know I’ve been able to pull off what I have in less than 7 years because of my corporate background that other chefs don’t have – I understand a P&L, my labor and food costs, and how to run a business. I don't regret the time I spent in the corporate world at all, because that’s part of my success today.
Your mantra both in and out of the menu is meat-centric. Have you always been that way?
Meat’s always been a love affair with the family – it’s just how we grew up. It was always prime rib on Sundays, and T-bone steaks on the weekdays. I have two younger brothers and a lot of cousins –the first thing we'd do after waking up was race each other to the fridge to see who would get the leftover meat. My cousin Melissa is actually my business partner – I kept it in the family. That was really important to me – the restaurant is all about my family. My dinner menu is really inspired by what my dad cooked for me growing up.
Did you always plan on bringing family into the business at the Beatrice?
My dad is 87 years old, and grew up as one of ten children during the Great Depression. The only way they survived was because they took care of each other. His parents died within two years of each other, and all ten kids stayed together as one unit – which was rare at the time – moving around from apartment to apartment in Chinatown (in Seattle), working to support each other and put each other through school. So growing up, my dad always told us, “you do everything as a family”, and I was instilled with that spirit of staying together. And I was taught that if you grow a business, you go into business with the family. I feel really lucky to have this experience - it’s so exciting for me to have my business partner be my cousin (and best friend), to have my brothers design our website and our menus, to launch my mother's tea company out of this restaurant. It’s all such an honor. But I also carry that same philosophy to our employees – the kitchen, bar staff, front of house, they’re also my family. A lot of them have been with me for three years. There’s the family I was born into, and there’s the family that I choose. It’s really exciting for me to work with both those families to grow this restaurant and make it a piece of New York history. It’s really exciting and humbling.
Other than meat-centric, how do you describe your food?
So much of our food here has that primal feeling to it. Nothing we cook here is manicured or precious. What we do is very primal, very sensual, but also a lot of fun – so we cook whole rabbits, whole birds, and we set them on fire at the table. And if you’re going to get a fish at this restaurant, it’s going to be served whole and covered in a beef fat crust. Precious and restraint are not in our vocabulary. We do things very big, very raw, and very rustic.
What did you change about the Beatrice when you became the new owner?
This building itself has a tremendous amount of history – it was one of the first speakeasies in the 1920’s, and it was a watering hole for literary legends like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. Then it was an Italian restaurant for over 50 years, before becoming an insane nightclub owned by Paul Sevigny and Matt Abramcyk – it was such a scene with Kate Moss, the Olsen twins, and celebrities partying here. Then I was the chef at the restaurant for 2 years before I bought it – and to add my take onto this place’s history has been such an honor. The first thing I did was hang the original disco ball that hung in the nightclub – I still want this place to be an homage to its history. Those are still the original sconces from when it was a red sauce joint. But I also added in a lot of artwork here by lesser-known artists - the gummy bear piece over the fire place is by an artist named WhIsBe, who lives in the neighborhood.
What was the dining atmosphere you envisioned at the new Beatrice?
This has been my home for the last three years. So when people come here, I want them to feel welcome, at home, but I want it to be fun. I also wanted the restaurant to be a representation of what New York means to me. I didn’t grow up here, but I’ve always felt at home here – New York has always been really welcoming to me. A good friend of mine once said, “New Yorkers are born every day all over the world, they just don’t know they’re New Yorkers yet.” Those words have always stuck with me, and that’s what this restaurant is about – New York is a melting pot of immigrants, of amazing artists, intellectuals, so many different people from all walks of life. That’s what I wanted this restaurant to be, I wanted it to be a representation of that.
Your silver platters and serving pieces are so beautiful – how did you curate your tabletop aesthetic?
I was in London right before we opened, and I literally handpicked all of our serveware at Portobello Road. My tabletop aesthetic is definitely very mismatched but in a fun way, very “Marie Antoinette" meets "high tea" meets "rock n’roll”. It’s all pewter and medieval-y – I never met a medieval plate that I didn’t like. We also have an incredible collection of enameled cast-ironware by Staub. We don’t want to just cook our food in it, we want to serve you in it.
Tell us about this new Sunday Roast menu you recently launched!
I’m Chinese-American, but my mom grew up in the UK and Taipei, so I have some British roots as well. We grew up with family-style Sunday suppers, eating from a lazy Susan at the table. So our Sunday Roast menu is an homage to those lazy Susan Sundays, where we’d always have prime rib, scones, and tea. While our dinner menu is an homage to my father, Sunday is an homage to what my mom had growing up and what we had growing up, which was gathering for afternoon roast on Sunday, come hell or high water. My dad would cook the prime rib, my mom would heat a pot of tea, and we’d have scones with the most amazing butter and raspberry jam. My mother has always had an amazing knack for teas, so it was only natural that with Sunday Roast, we also feature a selection of teas from her new company, East End Tea Company. It’s been so exciting to incorporate so much of my family into the Beatrice.
Do you have any dining philosophies to culivate our readers?
For me personally, every great relationship, memory, anything remotely sensory I know, has started around a dinner table. That’s a philosophy that I think is really important – that everything starts around a dinner table. My great hope is that our guests who come dining at the Beatrice have some of their best friendships, best memories and best food experiences start around one of our dinner tables. If we can accomplish that, then that’s really all I want.
Kitchen Snapshot – Angie Mar
Go-to homemade meal for guests: beef bourguignon.
Culinary quirk: I have a lot of weird cooking quirks. I think everybody knows by now that I’m not a fan of vegetables, but I especially hate cardoons – you have to blanche them like 8 times before they’re even edible. Those and celeriac are two things I never want to see in my kitchen.
I can’t live without: Dutch ovens. Beautiful, enameled cast-iron dutch ovens that can go from my walk-in fridge to the stove to the oven. I love them so much. They’re the one thing that I will always have to have at home and in my restaurant for sure.
I never use: immersion circulators or any sous vide machines. I know how to use that technique, but for me, it takes all of the joy out of cooking. Cooking is instinctual, guttural, and primal – it’s all about feel, touch, taste, smell. Not “plug in and set a timer.”
Make a reservation to dine at the Beatrice Inn, located at 285 West 12th Street in West Village. Dinner is served nightly from 5pm-12am, and the special Sunday Roast menu is offered between noon and 8pm on Sundays only.
Photography by Anne Z. Chen unless otherwise specified.