Weekly Q&A

Weekly Q&A: The brothers Bromberg

The chefs of Blue Ribbon will brainwash you with happiness and honey

Bruce (left) and Eric Bromberg just want to milk your goats and stay for dinner.

It’s almost too cute. “Brother of Eric” reads the title on Bruce Bromberg’s Blue Ribbon business card. Eric’s? The same, in reverse. The New Jersey-raised brothers behind the Blue Ribbon empire (with a Cosmopolitan outpost) tend to volley back and forth in conversation, picking up memories—of pu-pu platters, Benihana and biking Europe—and dishing them out as a pair. For our Chef Takeover issue, we sat down with the Bromberg boys to talk New York kitchens, grandma’s cooking and much more.

What made you want to open a restaurant in Vegas?

Bruce: We had been invited out here a couple times to look at projects over the years. And every time we did, it just never resonated with us. I think when we came out with the Cosmopolitan it was a different approach. We were approached in a different way. The main difference right from the get-go is that they just said, “We want you to make what you want to make.” I didn’t really know what Vegas was. I kinda got married here seven years ago.

You got married here?

Bruce: Yeah, and I’m still married. We were going to get married in Connecticut and then we all decided, it was Eric’s wife’s birthday and we were just all like, “Let’s go to Vegas and do this.” It was pretty darn spontaneous.

Eric: Like Thursday, and we left on Friday and got married on Saturday.

Restaurant Guide

Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill
At the Cosmopolitan, 736-0808.
Sunday-Thursday, 5 p.m.-1 a.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5 p.m.-2 a.m.

Bruce: It was awesome. The wedding was really cool. It was just me, my brothers, and Carrie, my wife. Honestly, the day after I was pretty ready to leave Vegas. I didn’t realize you had to go down to the courthouse and get your permits. So after sitting in the 100-degree sun for four hours in line, I was like, I’m done with this town and I may never come back.

And then you moved here, Bruce. That’s a big adjustment.

Bruce: To our advantage, we spend an awful lot of the day in the kitchen, and the kitchen looks pretty similar to the one in New York. We’ve created our own little sheltered world back there, and we’ve surrounded ourselves with the same people. But beyond that, this town really has a lot to offer. A lot of people don’t see that, I think.

Blue Ribbon in New York has a fairly famous industry scene. How do you recreate that here?

Eric: It’s not something you can try to recreate. We didn’t try to create it in the first place, so we’ve stayed away from trying to create it again. It just kind of happens. It’s just comfortable for people; it’s comfortable for us. We’re chefs and we make restaurants that we like and that we want to be customers in and hang out in.

Bruce: We’ve had a very, very good late night vibe going—a lot of restaurant industry people. We’re not good at closing the restaurant at 11 p.m. We’re just waking up, so it seems silly to close.

How did Blue Ribbon start?

Eric: It started when we were 10 or 12. Most kids were playing army, and Bruce and I would speculate as to how many restaurants [we would own] and what cool stuff we wanted to do.

Bruce: We knew we wanted to make a version of Benihana. That was the main thing. ... We still, when there’s a big issue or something we really have to talk about or we’re stressed or whatever it may be, we go to Benihana on 56th and sit there for four hours. Usually by the time we leave everything’s cool and we’ve figured out the answers.

Where did your love of food come from?

Bruce: We had a family that was very food-centric. Our grandmother was a great cook. We actually did a James Beard event—we did a Passover seder for 90 people when she was 89 or 90—and she ran the whole show. So that was a big influence in our life, but our dad was absolutely obsessed, completely Francophile; we spent summers in the south of France as kids. Every weekend was a journey to the Chinese restaurant in Chinatown in New York or this place that had Polish sausage in Bayonne, New Jersey. Wherever it was, it was always about going to where the next meal was. A lot of the food we cook is also from our time in France. We both worked in the same restaurant, so a lot of the dishes we’ve become known for were staff meals there, like the bone marrow. The sautéed calamari at Blue Ribbon came from the staff meal at Le Récamier also.

A lot of your food is really fun. Was that on purpose?

Bruce: I think when we made the first Blue Ribbon, Eric and I sat down in a room together and we wrote the menu in three hours. We just asked each other, “What’s your favorite memory? What’s the funnest, coolest? If you were just sitting here right now, what would you want to have?” And everything we wrote down is on the menu at Blue Ribbon and has been for a long time.

The fried chicken that launched 1,000 accolades, served with wasabi-honey dipping sauce.

The fried chicken that launched 1,000 accolades, served with wasabi-honey dipping sauce.

What’s the story with that incredible fried chicken?

Eric: We grew up in New Jersey—not really a Mecca for Southern fried chicken—in a Jewish family. We didn’t have a grandmother who made fried chicken. Then we were chefs and had our own place—it was like, how do you make fried chicken? We didn’t really have any idea, so we just made it up on our own, and it’s become something beyond spectacular. Whether it’s a burger or fried chicken or whatever it is, we just try to make it taste good.

I could eat the chicken’s wasabi honey sauce on pancakes and everything else. Where did that come from?

Bruce: We have an amazingly cool thing where we have a honey farm in Mexico outside of Mexico City. A guy who started working with Eric when he was a chef at the American Hotel 25 years ago, who still works for us (he’s actually still the chef of Blue Ribbon), his family has had honey bees for 50 years in this little town where the flowers bloom all year long so the honey is just unbelievable. ... You can make the sauce with any honey, but that’s definitely a good way to begin.

What’s the beauty of a great honey versus your average grocery store variety?

Eric: It’s the essence of Mother Nature in action. There’s no human manipulation of any kind.

Bruce: Ninety-five percent of the honey in this country—probably 99—is processed. So it’s heated and there’s a lot added sugar or sweetness, they cook it down to his amber color, and they can use cane sugar, all these different things. When you see the stuff in the little squeezable bear, some stuff’s happened to it since the bees. But with pure honey or raw honey, which is what we have, like Eric said, it is nature. It’s like wine. There are certain valleys, there are certain areas, it has to do with the rainfall, it has to do with the dry nights, cooler nights, hotter days, all this different stuff. Each honey is so different.

You guys also do culinary cycling tours in France.

Bruce: We had this idea a few years ago of doing something called Tour de Food. It’s basically cycling the route of the Tour de France—sections of the route—and eating and drinking your way through. The reason for biking, one is we’re super passionate about cycling, but the second one is, when you’re on a bike, we feel you see the world in a totally different way. The sounds, the speed, your perspective, the odors—everything is just really different than getting in the car, rolling up your windows and arriving in the next place.

Eric: For us, traveling through France and traveling almost anywhere, we’ll try to stop in at a house where there’s sheep or goats in the backyard and say, “Do you guys have any cheese?” or “Can we milk your goats?”

Bruce: We’ve wound up at many a dinner table.

And you’ve gotten a lot of your employees into biking.

Bruce: Last year we worked with Cannondale and Bike Express, a bike store in Danbury, Connecticut, and we gave away 166 bikes to our staff, employees who wanted to ride to work and ride on the weekends. We’re pushers. We have an awesome elite amateur team on the East Coast.

You call the guy who’s been with you six years “new.” How do you keep staff?

Bruce: From opening night, we had 14 people at Blue Ribbon in 1992. Eleven of them still work with us. We don’t like losing people. ... Why do the chefs come? Why is it comfortable? Why is it that clubhouse thing? I think one of the reasons is we’re all pretty damn happy and having a good time being at work.

Eric: You can’t make-believe. You have to actually be happy. So we’re happy, and we try to make everybody else happy. We brainwash them until they are happy.

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