Not many Culinary Institute of America grads choose to start their careers in the Far East, but Michael Schulson did. The Roslyn, NY, native spent time in Japan (Spago in Tokyo's Roppongi district; the Four Seasons Tokyo) and Thailand before returning to the U.S. to open Stephen Starr's original Buddakan in Philadelphia. He opened Philly's futuristic Pod before heading to New York to run 270-seat Buddakan, of which New York magazine says "Buddakan's non-Chinese chef Michael Schulson produces many dishes that are fresher and more lively than anything you'll find in Chinatown."
This refrigerator is packed.
I'm cooking a lot here right now. My wife, Jill, gave birth to our son Davin a few days ago. I took 10 days off from the restaurant to be at home.
How's everyone doing?
It's exciting, but they give you the baby at the hospital and it's like, "What do we do now?" Of course, we don't sleep much, either.
But at least the family is eating well as you find a new routine.
We are. At home, it's all about health and quickness for me.
Quickness as in...
Meals that result in the fewest pots and pans to clean.
What's on the menu tonight?
Chicken. I roast it most of the way, then pull it out and put whole mushroom—shiitakes or chanterelles—and squash on the tray. Then I put the chicken on top and back in it goes.
Yes, and there's just one pan to clean-up. Away from the restaurant, I go for traditional foods, not modern interpretations.
What about health?
I try to cook very healthy and I work out a lot, too. You're tasting food all day in this industry, so you have to stay in shape.
So you've had a commuter marriage—Jill here in Philadelphia, you in New York City?
I moved up to New York last December, so we've had two houses. We'll all be in New York in a few weeks.
Was that a stressful time?
Not that bad. One beautiful thing at Buddakan: No lunch. I arrive at 2 p.m. and I'm out by 11. It's usually a five-day week.
You must have a solid crew.
I have eight sous chefs. That's unusual for a dinner-only restaurant.
How did the opening go?
I worked the first 40 days without a break.
That sounds brutal.
I wanted to be here when Frank Bruni from the New York Times came to review us.
So you had to wait him out?
I'd earlier done an article for the Wall Street Journal about Asian-style food at Passover Seder. I guessed he'd come on the holiday, figuring I'd be off.
That's when he came in.
He gave us two stars.
Boy, two stars from the Times and a healthy new baby. No wonder you look so relaxed!