After cooking in attention-grabbing restaurants such as Del Posto, Husk Restaurant and most recently, the Breslin in the Ace Hotel New York, chef Shawn Burnette took over the kitchen at Pasture this fall. The menu there is changing slowly and strategically. “My food does have a fairly distinctive personality,” Burnette says. “That [shows] up best in specials. I’m constantly in R&D mode and unlike many places that use specials to move food — that’s my playground. It’s where I test the waters.
Style Weekly writer Robey Martin sat down with Burnette to talk about one specific item that he makes extremely well and most Southerners feel passionately about — biscuits.
Shawn Burnette: As I began to cook professionally, I would remember my great-grandmother’s food from when I was really little. I wasn't around her much, but she was from the foothills of North Carolina and her cooking took up most of the time I remember in the day. She started a garden with me, and she lived out of her larder. Somehow that got in my head and never left.
Biscuits were one thing I wanted to learn how to make at Husk, and it just grew from that. I came to work three hours early on Sunday when I started so I could learn how we made them at [the restaurant] from this amazing cook that made them for brunch. He had a very specific technique — but no explanation why it was done that way.
In trying to figure out what is happening when you make biscuits, I ended up meeting a lot of home cooks around Charleston. I had a bus driver invite me over for supper, and she showed me how her grandmother cooked. That started me asking everyone that would listen if they would show me their recipes.
I started to understand what is happening in the dough and the processes, and worked out my own method trying to optimize those processes. It’s surprising that I keep fine-tuning it today [and how similiar] it is to the way I first learned — and how much a simple biscuit can change the way I look at all food. Four ingredients, three steps, and it’s still not perfect. I can get better every time I cook them.