Sarah Ashley Schiear, Founder & Chef, Salt House
Interview by Laura Piety
An interview with Sarah Ashley Schiear, an entertaining expert and private chef. Her new lifestyle brand SALT HOUSE, offers fashion-forward home goods like high-end aprons, for the modern home cook and entertainer. Be sure to check out her gorgeous recipe for Rverie below!
Where did you get your love of food from?
I’ve always loved to eat, but I didn’t fall in love with cooking until I realized its power to bring people together. Growing up, most meals were eaten out. The exception to this was when I spent time with my aunt in Ohio, who is a fabulous cook and entertainer. I look back at the meals she prepared and now I can see how they inspire me today. I didn’t connect the dots from those moments when I would ask to write her menu on the chalkboard, or to make my own recipe from a children’s cookbook, until much later. When I graduated college and began my “adult life,” I started throwing dinner parties for friends. It was fun to go out for brunch, but nothing compared to hosting my 8 best girlfriends over endless mimosas and spreads of coffee cake, frittatas, and fresh fruit. I started a blog to share this newfound passion which later led to my appearance on ABC’s The Taste, and then a career as a private chef.
Can you talk about your transition from The Taste to running your own business? What have been some of the highs and lows?
After The Taste, I packed up my little South Florida convertible and drove to New York City without much of a plan. I did a pop-up restaurant with a talented chef from the show, which was an incredible experience. I learned so much about cooking and what it’s like to work in a kitchen and to cook for a living. This naturally led me to cooking privately as people who ate at ABODE (our pop-up) began to ask about birthdays, dinner parties, and other events. I was very lucky to be connected to Mary Kate Olsen as one of my first private clients. I’ll never forget cooking on a boat for one of my first high-profile events. The driver the client had hired for me got lost and, of course, the boat had to wait for me to depart. Then, cooking in a tiny galley on a choppy ocean…I’m sure it would have been a challenge for the most experienced chef, let alone someone just starting out! It was stressful but everything worked out. I think that’s the trick with cooking; don’t take yourself too seriously, enjoy the process, have a laugh if you need to. I believe that part of being a good cook means you can turn any situation into a delicious one.
What are your top tips for an early stage entrepreneur?
Don’t be so hard on yourself. I know because I tell myself this daily! It's a tricky thing to be a perfectionist as an entrepreneur; in fact, it's impossible. Things are never going to be perfect when you're just starting out.
You have to do the best you can, trust in that, and then be willing to make changes along the way.
Food isn’t something necessarily associated with the fashion industry. Can you talk a little bit about that relationship and how you are fusing the two?
I think food and fashion are very connected, even trending right now. A model shot posing with food has almost become more common than not (@youdidnoteatthat).
If you think about it, food (and the accessories we eat and serve with), provides just another opportunity to express your own personal style, like the clothes you wear or the furniture you buy. I believe food should have style. It should be current, the ingredients fresh and well-paired. It can be classic like a little black dress, or more avant-garde.
Food is beautiful. While it's true we eat with our eyes, I try to avoid over-the-top food styling. I like food to be pretty on the plate but in a straightforward, approachable way.
Can you talk about your apron designs, and do you plan to expand your product offering?
The aprons are modern and chic, and cut more like a dress than a flat piece of fabric with strings attached. There are darts and seams placed carefully to contour the woman’s body. Most of the fabrics we’re using have some stretch for added comfort and wearability. I myself have always leaned toward a minimalist aesthetic so I’ve chosen to start with a clean and simple look, though we may get more into patterns if we find that’s what people want. We are soon launching The Maxi in a new pattern, which I'm excited about!
I would love to expand our product offerings. For starters, we will soon launch tea towels and a cookbook is certainly in order. I have a crazy vision for SALT HOUSE to become a concept store; Merci in Paris has been very inspirational. I'm envisioning a store that sells clothing, homewares, furniture, jewelry, you name it, as well as a kitchen in the center of it all for tastings, dinner parties, and cooking lessons.
What advice would you give to a home cook wanting to take the next step into making it a career?
It’s a beautiful thing to do what you love for a living, but choose it wisely. Some hobbies are better left as hobbies. I love what I do but some days I do miss cooking just to cook, just for the pure fun of it.
What are your three favorite dishes to make at home?
A fat, juicy steak and vegetables from the market charred on the grill with plenty of wine. Pasta, because making it by hand is much more enjoyable in small quantities.
Nothing beats a roasted chicken. I picked up a tip from Thomas Keller and cook it at a high-heat with clean, dry skin for the crispiest results and serve it with small dishes of dijon and soft butter for dipping.
It’s the most extravagant yet comforting thing in the world.
What are your top New York eateries?
I live in Williamsburg and Reynard at the Wythe Hotel is my go-to for a guaranteed good meal any day of the week. Maison Premeire for oysters, especially when it’s nice out and you can sit in the garden out back. I think Allswell has the best burger in the city (Minetta Tavern a close second). Roberta’s for pizza and the best vibes, but don’t miss their inventive vegetable dishes. In Manhattan, I’m still waiting for Mission Chinese to reopen and I also need to check out Upland, the new restaurant from the former chef from Il Buco Alimentari – his roasted short ribs are one of my favorite dishes ever. Estela is great. And for fine dining, Le Bernadin.
Sarah also kindly pulled this gorgeous lamp chop recipe together for us:
Food brings people together, whether it's homemade or not. But there's something different about preparing a meal at home for the people you care about. It's more intimate, of course, but it's more than that. You're the one cooking – the food you create with your hands is going into the bellies of the people you love. There's usually lots of wine involved. And the food can be really simple with the same effect. You can even pick up some fried chicken and serve your favorite homemade potato salad on paper plates if you want – and I bet you'll have a better time and create more memories than if you'd done it any other way.
I'm a chef for dinner parties and private events. Clients and their guests are always saying to me, "I wish I could do what you do. This has been incredible." And the thing is, they can. I'm self-taught, so I'm the proof. I'll admit that a six-course menu with risotto might not be the route to go if you're new at it, you can keep it real simple. In fact, even for the most experienced chefs, those nights often turn out the best.
Cooking really just requires confidence; the belief you can do it. It's why SALT HOUSE became much more than what started as simply the desire for a better apron. It became a brand to inspire people to cook more, to gather more, to create and share amazing experiences with the people that matter.
I'll never forget the first day my girlfriends tried on the aprons, and started saying, "I want to have a dinner party!" When that happened, I knew I was onto something.
Below is one of my favorite recipes to share with friends:
LAMB CHOPS WITH SALSA VERDE
You fancy, huh? Rack of lamb is rich and impressive, but no one needs to know how easy it is to prepare. Sear off your meat before guests arrive and finish in the oven when it’s time to eat.
4 (8-rib) racks of lamb, frenched
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves garlic
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
Herb + Scallion Salsa Verde, recipe below
Garlic blossoms for garnish, optional
Mint and parsley leaves for garnish, optional
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Season lamb generously with salt and pepper. (You’re looking for a thin, even layer of salt over the entire surface. It helps to hold your hand about a foot above the meat as you’re sprinkling -- if you sprinkle too close to the meat, it won’t disperse as evenly.)
Heat a large, oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter to the pan, give it a swirl, and place 2 racks of lamb inside. Sear on all sides. (You’re looking for a nice, golden-brown crust.) Transfer to a plate and repeat with remaining lamb. Smash garlic cloves lightly with the side of a chef’s knife and add them to the pan with the rosemary and remaining butter. Place the lamb in the pan and roast for 15 to 20 minutes, until the lamb reaches an internal temperature of 120 degrees F for an end-result of medium-rare (the lamb will continue to cook as it rests), occasionally basting with pan juices. Remove lamb from the oven and transfer to cutting board to rest for 10 minutes.
Cut each rack into 4 portions, for a total of 8 double-cut lamb chops. Serve with salsa verde and garnish with garlic blossoms and/or herbs.
HERB + SCALLION SALSA VERDE
A food processor makes this crack-like salsa verde no more difficult than pressing a few buttons. (If you’re lucky enough to have leftovers, try it on eggs with avocado for breakfast, or burrata and charred bread for a snack.)
4 scallions, ends trimmed
2 large anchovies
2 tablespoons capers
1-½ teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
2 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 to 1-½ teaspoons kosher salt
1 bunch fresh mint (about 1 cup)
1 bunch fresh parsley (about 1 cup)
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Add all ingredients through salt (start with 1 teaspoon) to bowl of food processor; process until a paste forms. Add mint and parsley; pulse until combined, while drizzling in olive oil through the feed tube. Taste and check for seasoning, adding more salt if needed.
Makes 2 cups.
Images courtesy of Salt House
For more information visit http://www.salthousemkt.com