Egg Shop | Nick Korbee
By Nick Korbee
Suzy Chase: Welcome to "The Cookery By the Book" podcast with me, Suzy Chase.
Nick Korbee: Hi, I'm Nick Korbee. I'm chef partner at Egg Shop in New York City and the author of "Egg Shop: The Cookbook."
Suzy Chase: To you, eggs aren't just an easy protein-packed breakfast go-to. How was Egg Shop, the restaurant, hatched?
Nick Korbee: Egg Shop was an idea that was buzzing around in the minds of my partners, Sarah Schneider and Demetri Makoulis, Egg Shop founders and Eggheads Extraordinaire, for years. It was something that was sort of a party conversation, right? And the question that needed to be answered was, "Why isn't there a single place that's dedicated to the best possible version of this thing that all New Yorkers love, right? The thing that's gotten us through breakups and great success and hungover mornings and all of these things, the egg sandwich, right? So it started with this question, "Why isn't there a place that is dedicated to this and dedicated to making amazing ones?"
Suzy Chase: Right.
Nick Korbee: And they talked about it for years. They engaged their other partner, Florian Schutz, who is a hospitality industry vet; at the time was the GM of Sofitel and other hotel properties. And they got serious about it and wrote a business plan and around this time, through friends, I met Sarah and Demetri. And I played it kind of coy but really on first meeting, I thought it was a great idea because I'm also a huge fan of the egg sandwich and of giving breakfast and eggs a little bit more care and concern.
So once we got into it, we started testing recipes and I was really trying to guide the idea away from just sandwiches and we kind of all like started to realize how versatile the egg is as the ingredient and how it's sort of transformative. It can transcend the breakfast station very, very easily and is a major component of dishes. It's actually an ingredient that's kind of considered a sidepiece or a filler or a binder, and it's about time it gets its due. And, of course, there's all the restaurant stuff like getting very close to one location and then learning how to play the real estate game, and finally finding our perfect home on Elizabeth Street. And then all the trials and tribulations of opening and seeing what worked and what didn't and thankfully we found that it worked from day one, so ... So, I got to write a cookbook about it.
Suzy Chase: So, your cookbook is guided by one simple principle. You must know how to begin and what you desire in the end. Talk a little bit about that.
Nick Korbee: You have to know what your end result is, what you want to do, right? If you're going for perfect scrambled eggs, you have to know what that means to you. If that's something that's light and fluffy and luxurious and creamy and almost pourable, then you work backwards and you understand how to start and you find the best method for that. In my book, a French-style soft scramble, involves a little bit of melted butter, stirring over a double boiler, and then finishing with more butter and garnish.
The same thing applies to a hard-boiled egg. This is a funny one. A lot of people, when you ask them, "How do you make your hard-boiled eggs?" You'll get this timing variance that's really subtle. It's really small and people will stand by a nine-minute egg or a ten-minute egg or an eleven-minute egg, or even an eight-minute egg. And that's a factor of knowing what you want in the end. It's specificity in terms of the yolk, the yolk cooking, the yolk texture, and if you know what you want, then you can work backwards and figure out the method. So the book is guided by that, especially as it implies to egg cooking, right? So we talk about the end result and then we give people the know-how to get whatever their end result might be, be it an over-hard egg or a perfect sunny-up or 50 perfect sunny-ups at the same time for a brunch horde of 25 plus. So, that's ...
Suzy Chase: Yeah, I like how you have different variations that you can go for. You don't just say, "This is THE way to cook this kind of egg."
Nick Korbee: There are so many eggs to cook an egg in a single preparation. And even like the book even gets in to different things to use to cook eggs. For instance, the basted egg, right? You don't have to just stick with butter or even olive oil or coconut oil if you prefer. You can make incredibly creative compound butters and use those just the same. And all of the sort of variations and techniques are just meant to serve the egg, give it its due, and show people that read the book that you can incorporate even more flavor to complement the egg pretty easily.
Suzy Chase: Lurp. Explain that.
Nick Korbee: Lurp is just ... It's a nonsense word. Lurp is a nonsense word, right? So it means everything. It means really like going over the top, right? So, something that's lurpy or lurptastic or lurp is like very saucy. It's decadent. It's rich. It's comforting. It's all of these things all at once. It's something that maybe you shouldn't have every single day, but when you do have this, it's a reward. It's a treat. It's a made-up word that we sort of shared onto Egg Shop that can be directly attributed to Egg Shop founders, Sarah Schneider. She coined the term, "lurp", I think, in the early 2000s, in her beginning days in New York City. So ...
Suzy Chase: So ...
Nick Korbee: So, yeah, we're proud to showcase lurp in the cookbook.
Suzy Chase: So, let's talk about coddled eggs. I had never heard of ...
Nick Korbee: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Suzy Chase: This before the cookbook.
Nick Korbee: It's a baked egg that's cooked in typically a water bath in some kind of vessel, whether it's a ramekin or a mason jar. That's the idea. So, it's like, in a way you're poaching an egg in a vessel, right? because it's done in a water bath. So, that's what it is. It's kind of up there with soft-boiled eggs, like I always think of it sort of romantically. It's like it could very easily be a part of the Downton Abbey cookbook. That's a great book that just came out where you have a soft-boiled egg, which is a vehicle for really dipping something into yolk, right? The yolk is sort of the flavor center, flavor mecca of an egg. And so, a coddled egg is a way to showcase that differently. Differently than a soft-boiled, differently than a poached, and kind of like a vehicle for creativity in terms of what you're going to take on a pilgrimage to yolk mecca.
So, if you're feeling healthy, you can very easily do coddled eggs with a minimal amount of butter, simple with sea salts and herbs, and dip grilled asparagus into it. If you're going the other way, one of the recipes in the book involves coddling eggs with truffle oil and scallions and Gruyere cheese and offers dipping garlic baguette into the coddled egg. That's rich and luxurious to me or even more coddling eggs with jamon crisps and dipping fried guava paste in it. A departure that you make creatively if you know, again, what you want in the end and how to start. The starting point is coddling the egg. What you want in the end might be a Spanish tapas experience, which would then take you to Jamon and Guava Town, which isn't a real place in Spain or anywhere. Guava Town doesn't exist.
Suzy Chase: But it sounds lurptastic.
Nick Korbee: It does sound lurptastic. You're right.
Suzy Chase: Speaking of dipping, you have very strong opinions about bread. What is your definition of good bread?
Nick Korbee: Made by hand with organic and locally milled flour with, if possible, as little commercial yeast as possible. So, we're talking about wild yeasts, sourdoughs, that are long-fermented; made by people not by machines with very traditional bread-making techniques.
Suzy Chase: Egg whites. Do we love them or do we hate them?
Nick Korbee: I love them for their protein structure, for their versatility. I love them for their texture when cooked appropriately. In fact, that love, in the cookbook, is showcased in the mile-high black bottom pie recipe. And that's how much I love egg whites. That was my grandmother's recipe. She was my favorite person in the world and had probably the greatest impact on me wanting to cook and throughout my life. The fact that that recipe is in the book is just a dedication to my love and appreciation of egg whites and what they can do. Now, for me personally, is an egg white omelet my first choice? Probably not. I would probably go with the soft scramble with cheddar cheese. But, it's not to say that egg whites can't be done perfectly or have to for whatever reason take on the bad connotations of poorly cooked egg whites being rubbery or flavorless or anything like that. Those aren't the egg whites that appear in "Egg Shop: The Cookbook" and those aren't the kind of egg whites that are served at Egg Shop in New York City.
Suzy Chase: I have to bring up Smith & Mills, the tiny ...
Nick Korbee: Sure.
Suzy Chase: Tribeca restaurant and bar that you came from. I remember going there in 2011 and watching you maneuver in the teeny, tiny kitchen area. I don't even think it was a kitchen. And you did everything on a hot plate. Your meatballs were incredible. I mean, I used to have to sit there and I didn't even know it was you. But, I was like, "This guy is making the most amazing food on a hot plate in this teeny, tiny, adorable bar. How was that and did that prepare you for Egg Shop?
Nick Korbee: That was probably the most wild cooking experience I've ever had and likely will ever have. Incredibly challenging. It was two ... Yeah, we had two hot plates, a small Breville convection toaster oven. And, yeah, it was a one-man show, from cooking everything to washing the dishes and a full menu. I'd be in the middle of cooking 10-15 hamburgers and a few orders of meatballs, steamy mussels in white wine, and then have to shuck 48 oysters at the same time. All behind ...
Suzy Chase: That's crazy.
Nick Korbee: A bar where people were watching me do it.
Suzy Chase: Yes.
Nick Korbee: And a small bar at that with two other guys behind it making cocktails two-handed. So it's kind of like the sort of duck and cover, stop, drop, and roll of cooking at times. You just really had to be on your game. So that definitely prepared me for Egg Shop in a couple of ways. One, in learning that almost anything is possible in a small kitchen. And that's something that really applies to cooking at home and not feeling like, "Oh, you know I don't have a professional kitchen. I can't have a dinner party for 10 people. I can't pull off Thanksgiving." Like all of the "I can't" just goes away through an experience like a Smith & Mills or a small New York City restaurant. And I think, honestly, anybody that visits New York City should seek out some of these places that are listed as "the smallest kitchen in New York" just to build their confidence and see what people are doing to help them cook at home. In that way, yes, Smith & Mills prepared me and helped me understand what can be done out of small kitchen.
And the other thing, is learning how important preparation is. It doesn't matter how large your kitchen or how much equipment you have in a service kitchen or in a service setting, as long as you have everything in place, as long as you've prepared in advance possibly in large quantities or at least enough to get you through your busiest service. The same principles have applied to Egg Shop and if you only knew the quantity of scrambled eggs that are prepared on the weekend just so our service never slows down, it's mindboggling, or tomato jam for our B.E.C.
These lessons sort of apply and play in the cookbook in two sections. One is our sauce section and the other is a section called "Preservation Society," which talks about condiments and pickles and relishes and stuff like that. And these are things that can be pantry staples; can be prepared some of them up to two weeks in advance, some of them about a week in advance. Things that have a good shelf life that'll last in your fridge. So if you make one or two of these things on a Saturday, you can have an immediate and excellent breakfast experience all week long without really having to worry about it too much. That's something that is definitely a few things down the line from Smith & Mills to Egg Shop, in terms of tiny kitchens and being prepared in advance.
Suzy Chase: The other day, in my tiny West Village kitchen, I made your recipe for perfectly poached eggs and they were really perfect. What does the vinegar do in it?
Nick Korbee: Vinegar interacts with the protein in the egg white. It's almost like, you know when you blanche something and shock it, it stops the cooking? In the case of vinegar in boiling water, it actually immediately sort of solidifies protein. This is what I know about adding vinegar to poached eggs ...
Suzy Chase: So, it kind of just ...
Nick Korbee: It basically firms up the white ...
Suzy Chase: Holds it together?
Nick Korbee: Yeah, totally.
Suzy Chase: Okay.
Nick Korbee: Yep. Coagulate. That's the work I'm looking for.
Suzy Chase: Coag- Yeah, I was looking for that word too.
Nick Korbee: It allows the protein in the egg white to immediately coagulate upon the boiling water. It's just sort of like just a boost to make sure that the whites firm up pretty quickly and don't sort of spider web out.
Suzy Chase: Where we can find you in New York City and on the web?
Nick Korbee: In New York City, "Egg Shop: The Cookbook" is available at McNally Jackson, Warm NYC, Rizzoli's, Barnes & Noble, and on the web, eggshopnyc.com and directly from Amazon.
Suzy Chase: As you say, "Eggs are messy and love is messy." Thank you so much, Nick, for coming on "Cookery by the Book" podcast.
Nick Korbee: Thank you so much for having me.