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Q+A: Sarah Simmons of New York City’s City Grit Culinary Salon

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One recent evening in New York City, I traveled to Memphis, and back. At City Grit, a culinary salon founded and nurtured and helmed by Food & Wine’s 2010 Home Cook Superstar Sarah Simmons, diners are invited to new tastes and experiences, often supplied by guest chefs who sometimes fly in just to make a single meal. It’s one of the coolest ways we know to travel and still stay at home.

The evening’s spotlight was on two Tennessee chefs, Michael Hudman and Andrew Ticer, whose restaurant Hog & Hominy blends Southern and Italian cooking, and has earned legions of pork-loving fans.

Tonight the duo is back. To celebrate today’s release of their new cookbook “Collards and Carbonara,” Ticer and Hudman are again firing up the stove at City Grit, with Simmons playing back-up. 

We caught up with the visionary Simmons as she talked about her adoration and awe of the award-winning southern chefs, pop-ups, travel tips, and making culinary dreams come true:

Q: What was your inspiration for City Grit?

A: To be honest, and it was a hair-brained idea from the beginning, it was a way to have a  restaurant, but not have to cook the same thing every day. Everything changes all the time. Sometimes me, sometimes the guest chef. Helping a chef realize his or her dream of cooking in New York City is just as rewarding as making my own food, even more so.

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Q: Favorite chefs/dinners you’ve hosted/worked with at CG?

A: Isaac Toups, who has Toups Meatery in New Orleans, should have 15 TV shows and 100 restaurants. He does this cool spin on Cajun and worked under Emeril—makes the best food I’ve eaten in my life.

And Michael Hudman and Andy Ticer of Hog & Hominy in Memphis are two of my best friends and brothers. There’s also Mike Gulotta, former chef de cuisine at August, who left Chef Besh and the popular New Orleans spot to open to his restaurant—he’s one of the top 10 best chefs in the country that people don’t know.

Q: What is your go-to restaurant in NYC and why?

A: Since it opened, Charlie Bird in SoHo has been my place. It’s been spot on from Day One. It’s a happy place and I love being there.

Q: You’re already doing something pretty original. Where do you plan to take City Grit in the future?

A: City Grit today is just one-quarter of what I envision. I’ve been hardcore hitting the pavement to fundraise. I’m planning a new space that really showcases chefs, but also sommeliers, barristas, etc.—the whole dining spectrum.

In 2014, we’re also planning a dining experience in London—I’ve been doing a lot of research there. We’re pairing US and London chefs. We’re also working on a Paris pop-up.

Q: As someone who’s food-obsessed, do you have any great food-travel tips you can share with travelers?

A: One of my best tips is simple: See what restaurants have buzz, go sit at the bar, and ask your server where they go.

For a unique experience for someone who truly loves food, go to Bubbledogs in (Fitzrovia) London. Sit at the Kitchen Table in back and watch every exquisite dish be perfectly prepared in front of you.

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Adrien Glover is deputy digital editor at Travel + Leisure.






Top Photo Credit: Brent Herrig

Restaurant Photo Courtesy of City Grit Culinary Salon

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