Local Business Update: Beyond the pivot at Houseman

Ned Baldwin is getting crafty. The chef at Houseman, the restaurant on Greenwich just north of Canal, figures he has no choice. Through these months of the pandemic he’s become even more aware that folks come to restaurants not just for the food but for the dining room and the service and seeing who’s next to you and all those intangibles that when put together in just the right way, add up to a fun night out.

So while indoor dining is closed and he can’t offer that experience, he’s now branching out with several different ways to bring new flavors home, since takeout and curbside just won’t cut it (though their curbside spot is very cool — check it out below). “Hopefully this is what will help us survive,” he said, noting that he’s already operating with a nimble (read: barebones) staff of him plus his general manager, a chef and sous chef. “We’re smart, we’re fast and we are capable of doing new stuff every day, but we’ve hit the threshold — we’re walking between the raindrops.”

In May, he started making meal kits every weekend — he served them 32 weeks in 2020 — and his prepped meals for Thanksgiving and Hanukkah (“I’m a lapsed Episcopalian but I’m married to a Jewish woman whose parents were a great influence, so that helped”) sold like crazy. The kits come with timely and entertaining preambles: this week’s is Kamala’s masala chicken and sambar, a vegetable soup thickened with dal that Baldwin had read is her favorite. And in November the team started cooking as private chefs for a Tribeca family: four days a week they deliver hot, bespoke meals based on menus that he develops with the family.

And while all that has helped, if they want to make it to the end of the pandemic, they need a bit more. So he’s now launching a pantry service where the restaurant will deliver the stuff you can’t bring yourself to make at home: complicated recipes with unique flavors requiring a lot of kitchen hours. This way you’ll just open the containers and toss. The plan is order by Thursday, with delivery on Tuesday, sizable for a week’s worth of meals. They should be ready to go in a couple weeks.

This whole process of making food for guests to make at home has made Baldwin more empathetic, he said — a quality already required by chefs, since they must always imagine the experience of eating the thing they prepare. Now he also has to think: what will it be like for them to *cook* the food as well?

“I love complicated recipes and I love making a mess in the kitchen, but the typical home chef does not,” he said. “Every week I’ve tried to put my feet in the shoes of someone cooking at home, keeping it simple and clean. It’s been a crazy learning curve.”

Baldwin, 49, was a home chef long before he worked as one — cooking for his wife, Jordana, who directs cultural engagement for Everytown for Gun Safety, and two kids, ages 16 and 14 (they live above the Ear Inn and fish in Orient Village, out east). He was first a visual artist and builder, and then started cooking professionally at Prune and Craft before opening Houseman in 2015. (The photo below, which is just so evocative of the “before time,” was a dinner held by Daniel Lerner of Skurnik Wines.)

He also just published a cookbook — “How to Dress an Egg” — where each recipe is a basic building block — think roast chicken or poached cod and of course hard boiled eggs — and the book then tells you how to elaborate to make it a meal. “I like to really learn how to make a thing, whether that’s build a chair or tile a bathroom or make an omelet, and that’s how the book is structured.” He’s writing a proposal now for the next two volumes, and if you ask me, they will pair very well with the pantry.

“In this crazy world we are living in right now, I just want to give people something they know they want to eat,” Baldwin said, “something they know they’ll love.”


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1 Comment

  1. Houseman is our favorite neighborhood restaurant. The food “rocks” and we are so glad that the spirit of perseverance just flows out of the everything they do to make it through this challenging time. TriBeCa! Keep ordering Neds unbelievable food so we can all meet up and fill his dining room soon!