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Q&A

A super upsetting interview with chef and cookbook author Tyler Kord

Noah Fecks

When Tyler Kord’s Brooklyn restaurant No. 7 was named one of Bon Appetit’s 10 best new restaurants of 2009, it was serious business. The New Yorker called his cooking “complicated dishes executed with an effortless air.” Accolades kept coming, both for the restaurant and his follow-up New York sandwich shops, No. 7 Sub. But of all the recognition and titles, the one Kord seems most comfortable with is one he’s given himself: Sandwich Batman.

The chef, who has a bit of a broccoli obsession, introduced many unconventional sandwiches to New Yorkers at No. 7 Sub. He leads his menu with a roasted broccoli sub and a Taco Bell-inspired, double-wrapped broccoli taco. In his new book, “A Super Upsetting Cookbook About Sandwiches,” Kord goes even further, with dozens of barrier-blurring sandwich recipes that include General Tso’s chicken, ceviche, chicken fried mushrooms, and crisped pepperoni. The chef, who also has a master’s degree in English, keeps the tone light. He introduces the recipes with first-person musings, side notes to editor Francis Lam, and friendly jabs at New England.

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Q. If I didn’t find the book very upsetting, did I read it wrong?

A. No. It wasn’t trying to make you cry or anything. I tried to write a cookbook that’s upsetting the norm of cookbooks. To be totally honest, the title came from my proposal for the book. In the final sentence I said, “And I will write lots of super upsetting details about my personal life.” The title was Francis’s idea. It’s not meant to be too upsetting. It’s still a cookbook.

Q. Was it hard to find a publisher who would let you write it the way you wanted?

A. Other publishers thought it was funny, but they wanted to do the No. 7 Sub cookbook where we talk about all the subs we did over the years. I wanted to write something entertaining rather than document my work as a chef. That seems so silly and over-important.

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Q. Do sandwiches just lend themselves to humor?

A. They’re the epitome of not taking themselves too seriously as food. You can hold them in one hand and eat them. There’s also the inherent absurdity of writing a cookbook about sandwiches. People think: I can buy cold cuts and bread and make a sandwich.

Q. So what makes a good sandwich?

A. For me, everything makes a good sandwich. There’s a whole theory section in the back of the book. You can play with that and swap things around; use that structure and it’s gonna be great. But there are things that we eat every day and love that break all the rules. In New York we have these places that put roast beef on a roll and dip it in broth. It’s a soggy mess and I love it. It’s like saying what wine pairs best with a slice of pizza. The answer is truly what one you like best.

Q. Is Middle America ready for a broccoli sandwich or is that just a Brooklyn thing?

A. Some of the most popular sandwiches are vegetarian. Middle America probably consumes as many peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as anyone else, and no one is saying this would be better with ham in it. Maybe they are. That could be great. I grew up eating a lot of broccoli sandwiches and I didn’t think anything was strange about it. There are only so many meats and ways to put them on sandwiches. There are a million vegetables out there. And it turns out they’re awesome and add something that meat doesn’t. If you want something crunchy on a sandwich, you can fry some broccoli and get something almost as crispy as fried chicken. And it’s green.

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Q. One of your recipes combines mussels and mozzarella. Isn’t that against the rules?

A. What’s not great about that? I’ve heard always that that’s a thing. I did some Googling. I just can’t figure out what’s so offensive about it. Closest I can come is someone was saying a sharp cheese can overwhelm the fish. That’s ludicrous. You could say that about everything.

Q. Your editor notes that your use of fried pepperoni alone is worth the price of the book. Do you want to save people $22.99 and explain it?

A. That seems like a dramatic overstatement. I cook it like bacon. I wanted to put it on the sandwich but didn’t want to toast the whole sandwich. I still haven’t sat down and made a plate of scrambled eggs and crispy pepperoni. That would be delicious.

Q. What do you have against New England and our lobster rolls?

A. I feel like all of New England needs to get made fun of more, and not just because of the Patriots and lobster rolls. I’ve lived my whole life in New York state and New York City. New England feels like this cousin you rag on all the time. They’re doing well — tall and good-looking. Someone needs to knock them down a notch.

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Interview has been edited and condensed. Michael Floreak can be reached at michaelfloreak@
gmail.com