Mood of Living Q&A: Mood of Living: How and where did you meet each other?
Deb Adey: I had gotten my two-year degree in Virginia and my sister was living in Sarasota, Florida at the time, so I just packed up my stuff. I was working three jobs. I saved a lot of money. I just was like ‘Hey I’ll move down there for a year and work, have fun on the beach’ and then we met shortly after. He was down there a little longer than I was, but we met working together.
Kevin Adey: I originally went to Florida because my friends needed a ride to Disney World, and I basically ran away from home and never went back. I was going to college upstate. It just wasn’t for me. My grandmother had just passed away, and I was going through some tough times. I didn’t want anything to do with going to Cortland State. I was playing lacrosse, but I wasn’t getting an education at all. I just wanted to get out of it, and they needed a ride, so I gave it to them. Deb and I met five years later in Sarasota, Florida. That was seventeen years ago.
MoL: What role did your hometown / Florida experience play in building your careers?
KA: Growing up in Rome, in Upstate New York, there was great food at my house. My mom was a good cook, but there was no real restaurant culture. When I knew I wanted to be a chef, be a cook, my parents wanted to hear none of it because they equated food with what they saw in my hometown. I always knew there had to be something better, we moved to New York after being kind of established in Florida. We were both running different restaurants [Deb interjects: Well you were, I was a server down there, which was great. I went to the beach!] I was running different restaurants and at some point, I just looked at it and went ‘running a restaurant at a strip mall in Florida is really good,’ but I knew there was something more. I had something more to give, so we came here purposely to be around the best.
DA: I was born in Charleston, South Carolina, but I grew up in Northern Virginia. I grew up a lot around different kinds of food, so that’s just always been around me, but then I wanted to get out of there. I wanted a change of scenery. I think living in Florida and not being around such an eclectic type of food was really the strive for us to move to New York at that time.
MoL: After moving to the city, you both had extensive careers in the restaurant industry before creating Faro. Can you tell us about your careers pre-Faro and what motivated you to create your own restaurant?
DA: My first job in the city was with Jean-Georges. I started as a server and was there for 5-5 ½ years. I was ready for a change. What really catapulted it was where Kevin was working in the neighborhood, at the time, in Bushwick, Brooklyn. I knew their GM was leaving, and I had been in there as a patron. I just thought the place should be managed so much better and it was a time for me to transition from Jean-Georges. We were also living in the neighborhood, so to be able to walk to work would be fantastic, so I really made that change out here. And just a different dining experience as well – the neighborhood was a little more close-knit. I didn’t have to ride the subway anymore, which was amazing. So that’s as far as me, and the whole notion of moving to New York – I was like ‘Kev, you find a job, wherever you want to work for, I’ll find a way no problem and I did.’
KA: We never thought we’d be here more than a year.
DA: Yeah, we gave ourselves a year. I stashed my car at my dad’s place thinking I was going to have to pick it up, and I never did. Never saw it again!
MoL: In creating Faro, what were the core values that you kept in mind while creating the space and menu? What is the core mission that still sticks with you today?
KA: Well ‘Faro’ means lighthouse and it was really important to me to be that beacon of truth. In the food world today, even McDonald’s says ‘grass-fed’ beef, and nothing makes me more upset than people who are lying to you. Because it’s really easy for a restaurant to tell you where some carrot came from because you have no idea. You can’t taste the difference. You don’t know and because of how you say some magic word, it costs people more money. A lot of people do that and when we opened Faro, the first thing out of my mind was making sure that everything we did was making the choice to do it the right way and not cutting corners on anything that we were doing.
MoL: On that same train of thought, what is your commitment to sustainability and local sourcing? Did growing up in Upstate New York effect why and from where you locally source?
KA: There are a few dairy farms in my hometown, some agriculture, but it’s more of a city. But, for me, we get as much stuff as we can from upstate New York because I’m from there. I also meet a lot of farmers and their town looks a lot like my town. It’s nice to make a choice to give back to somebody specifically. I like working with a singular farm. I don’t see any need in trying to make two farmers who are already struggling to make ends meet compete against each other. It’s abhorrent. I like the fact that I’m giving a farmer $200,000 a year. That’s awesome. It really makes a difference for a small farm to be able to sell me $2,000 worth of meat a week and that makes me happy.
DA: I agree. He definitely deals with sustainability a little more hands-on being chef-focused and kitchen-driven…
KA: Local and sustainable only goes so far. This is New York State. We happen to be in New York City, but this is New York State. Even small farms run out of potatoes and onions and turnips and cabbage. Six months of life here in New York State is winter and when you stop taking stuff out of the ground in September or maybe October, there’s nothing new coming out of it until May or June and that is a huge length of time. So, we are as local as you possibly can be, but there are limitations. This isn’t South Carolina. This is New York State and when you call a small farm and they don’t have any more rutabagas, you know that they’re out of everything.
MoL: What is your creative process in designing the dishes on your menu and how does your commitment to local sourcing affect how you create those dishes?
KA: First and foremost, I feel that we’re 100% vegetable driven. You know,‘there’s awesome carrots,’ so I’ll work from the carrots. Sometimes it ends up in a duck dish, but really to me, it’s a carrot dish that has duck accenting the carrots.
DA: Vegans may disagree, but I agree. I understand how your mind works.
KA: It’s all vegetable-based dishes, and I don’t discriminate against anything we eat. What I definitely do is an art to some extent, and I think farmers are artisans. Even the artisans that have helped create this place through the wood-working, the metal-working, the pottery, and all that other stuff. I say the same exact thing whether you’re a farmer or a potter – ‘what do you do and how can we work that together?’ I don’t try to change. I’m never going to call a farmer and say, ‘Boy it would be better if you did this.’ Let them do their art and I’ll do mine afterwards, but I select the farmer first. Can we come to an agreement on when things will be delivered and whether the prices are okay and whether the quality is still good and what is not? To me, that’s the most important thing. Letting artisans do what artisans do. And then I take it from there.
MoL: What’s your favorite dish on the menu right now or your favorite you have ever served? Why?
DA: Scarpinocc hands down, any dish that’s done with the scarpinocc. Kevin can tell you the history of the pasta, but it’s stuffed pasta with ricotta cheese and he’s done it in a couple different ways. They’ve all been amazing. Right now it’s with a pork ragu with fennel and cream. I have it once a week. I love it myself. It’s hands down the best. What did you do before? Mushrooms?
KA: It’s coming up again – mushrooms and brussel sprouts.
DA: It’s delicious – loved it. So that’s me, what’s yours?
KA: The bucatini doesn’t change. It’s my grandmother’s recipe. It’s not necessarily my favorite thing that I’ve ever done.
DA: But I think it’s the most ‘homey’ for you – the one that you relate to the most.
KA: I definitely relate to it the most, but for me, it’s the sweet potato with merguez and shiitakes, is my favorite I’ve ever run here because I’ve been perfecting it for about 18 years.
DA: Delicious dish. I eat that a lot too.
KA: There’s just something magical about sweet potatoes and goat merguez to begin with, which is really nice and then dried shiitakes, pulverized with powder to coat the whole thing with. It’s almost my whole career of work.
MoL: You recently received a Michelin star. What was your reaction to the news and how do you feel about it now?
DA: Really proud.
KA: I was pretty ecstatic.
DA: A lot of champagne.
KA: A lot of bubbles. It’s one of those things that, especially with Michelin, that you couldn’t tell me one honest thing about Michelin. It exists – we all know that – but what is the criteria, what are they actually looking for, when are they going to come in, how many people – you have no idea. So when you’re making this plan, hopefully to have a Michelin star, to be a Michelin star restaurant, it’s like praying. You don’t know if anybody is listening (Deb interjects: you hope they are) – you just hope. It’s also kind of like solving a maze in the dark where at some point, you just stop moving and at another separate part, a door will open and you happen to be standing there, so you solved it. And if not, the door didn’t open and you continue to walk around and you have no idea. There’s nothing you can do except just cook great.
DA: I tell everybody that works with us – treat everybody like equals, treat everybody the same, like VIPs. Everybody is a VIP. Everybody deserves the same service and hospitality.
KA: I think the biggest thing is it’s extremely humbling to chase a dream for a long time, to move here and spend ten years chasing that dream. Then either you get a phone call telling you you’ve achieved the dream and received a letter from Thomas Keller saying ‘Hey – way to go!’ That’s as humbling as you could possibly get.
DA: Very thankful and very proud.
MoL: You have probably observed the growth of the “Foodie Revolution” and the correlative increase in food blogs and/or Instagram accounts over the past few years. How do you think that has affected Faro and the restaurant industry as a whole?
KA: A chef I used to work for was talking about Instagram the other day and how much it’s changed the food world. People fall in love with restaurants on Instagram and at the bookstore, but that’s not how you should fall in love with a restaurant. You should taste the food. Every single dish you see is a dish that was going out to a guest, but it’s not styled food. It’s someone’s food. So what we’re putting out is reality. I obviously take the nicest picture I can with my phone. There are a lot of people who have these accounts where food is lit or not even on plates, on a whiteboard or whatever. That’s not what you’re necessarily getting in your mouth. I think that’s dangerous. I mean I think it’s great that people are shining a light on it, but there are a lot of restaurants where they can succeed for a little bit because they’ve gained some internet fame, but it’s really the grind day-in and day-out. Every single, let’s just say, ear of corn has to look like the one you Instagrammed, so you really need to work hard to get something special that you’re not doing everyday to make it look the same.
DA: I’m thankful for Kevin because he runs the Instagram and he does a great job at it, but I agree. For me, it’s about the flavor and the execution. Something can look really great and the flavor not be there. But I also think that a good balance too – even going out and having a great meal and not great service can really ruin it for me. So it’s not just about the food. Things have to be balanced. There have been so many times where even we’ve gone out to eat and the food was really great but the service was just horrendous. Balance is not just about the vision of the food.
KA: What I will say about bloggers, there are very, very few people who are writing a blog that want to be anonymous. They want to get a 7:30 reservation and they want to get free food and drinks. [Deb interjects: Not all of them] Not all of them, however, it ruins it when the blogger’s goal is to get a free sample, especially if they are going to judge someone.
DA: I think that’s it too. There are so many people. Everybody has an opinion and there’s going to be really great stuff out there and not so great stuff out there.
KA: Also, one visit isn’t enough to judge someone. I read another review for a restaurant I worked at years back where someone said, ‘Whatever you do, don’t buy pasta from this guy’ and I think about that everyday because it was my day off and my sous chef had created some kind of dish that if I would have been there, it would never have been served. I’m sure they have a conscience so they don’t know this, but imagine if you said something like, ‘Yeah Joe DiMaggio doesn’t hustle enough’ just because you looked at him for four seconds. That’s what you said about a guy that’s great at baseball. Not that I’m Joe DiMaggio.
MoL: In conjunction with the “Foodie Revolution,” have you experienced a greater volume of patrons as a result of the increasing popularity of Brooklyn among millennials?
KA: Well I started working in this neighborhood when there was only one restaurant and this wasn’t it, obviously, and now when you walk around in this neighborhood, there are people everywhere. There are restaurants and shops and what not.
DA: And that wasn’t that long ago. We’re talking seven years ago.
KA: Seven years ago, there were zero things, so for me to see how it’s totally changed and totally turned into something completely different is kind of mind-blowing.
DA: There are so many people that have lived in this neighborhood for thirty years, all their life, and I can’t imagine what the transformation is for them. For us, we’ve been here for about seven, and I remember when the grocery store opened up on the corner, it was like a beacon. There’s something there, so yeah, the neighborhood has definitely changed a lot. All different people come to the neighborhood.
KA: I remember when a part of the neighborhood opened up that wasn’t the one we worked in. You think about it when somebody works in a restaurant, after their shift they go have a drink with their buddies wherever, at a bar, but there was no place to go in the neighborhood. You’d have to get on the train. That’s how little there was, so it’s nice to see the influx of people into the neighborhood because you know it is kind of a scene out here now and it’s very cool that we see people from France and Scandinavia. [Deb interjects: From everywhere, it’s great.] We’re meeting people from all over the world, which is still crazy to me. When I talk to someone who’s come in to do the tasting menu and they’re from Nashville: ‘What are you doing here?’ ‘I came to eat dinner’ and that’s mind-blowing.
MoL: Having observed this area transform, what originally inspired you to build a restaurant here and not in another neighborhood? How do you think you as individuals are reflected in the space and how does the space reflect the area and the culture of the area around it?
DA: We decided to open up a restaurant in this neighborhood because we live here. I honestly can’t imagine owning a restaurant and not being able to get here in five minutes. I could throw out a hundred reasons, but to be close and accessible was number one for us for sure.
KA: Absolutely. We didn’t move into the area then open the restaurant. We were living there for a long time and like Deb said, for us to not open it close to us would be kind of silly. It’s a lovely neighborhood. We love the people here. We knew a lot of the other owners because I was a chef at the original restaurant in the neighborhood. Everybody that was planning to open a place or open a bar were discussing it sitting at my bar. [Deb interjects: And still do!] And still do. [Deb interjects: Even more] And now even more. We wanted to be a part of that community, as well. We also thought we had something that the neighborhood needed. I don’t think they knew they needed it, but now they do. We have a lot of regulars from the hood, a lot of regulars from Brooklyn, north Brooklyn, so it’s good.
MoL: Something we greatly value at Mood of Living are the notions of quality of life and conscious living. What do those terms mean to you both personally and in relation to Faro? How do you see them reflected in your day-to-day life?
DA: Quality of life means to me being happy, loving what you do, but outside of work as well. And I think we can both attest to it’s called life, not work. Obviously, you need to work in life. Work, family, health, it’s all important. You have to be happy in those, to have quality of life.
KA: Jerry Alajajian. That’s where that comes from. A guy I used to work for. It’s called life not work. Great guy. Quality of life means to me, ‘It’s not called work, it’s called life.’ You have to have something outside of work. You have to have something you’re working for and we make a very conscious effort here to staff the restaurant properly, not overwork people, not giving them low pay. We close for holidays. We want people to enjoy their time here. We treat them as our family. It’s nice to be able to see people take time off to go to a wedding, time off to go to a concert, time off to have an anniversary dinner with their girlfriend or boyfriend, and it’s important to provide that quality of life for the people that work here and especially for us, as well.
DA: I just want the people that work for us to know that we care about that, because I think a lot of people don’t and that’s sad.
KA: That’s really sad.
Photography Courtesy of Amanda Evans
MoL: What advice would you give to somebody who wants to pursue a career as a chef or restaurant owner?
KA: My advice to anyone that says they want to be a chef and own a restaurant is that you should get rid of any savings you have, completely void yourself of any safety net that you might have, and then go work as a cook and see what it’s like to go earn a living like that. See where you have to live, how many roommates you have to have, and how much sacrifice you’re going to have to make. How many bowls of rice and beans you’re going to have to eat in a seven day period and if you can do that for seven months, then maybe you should think about being a chef and opening a restaurant. The sacrifices you have to make to be a cook and then a sous chef, then a chef, there’s no money, there’s no special pill, there’s nothing that you can do to replace that experience. It’s going to take ten years before you know enough to be in charge of other people because they’ve been working too. If the person cleaning the bathroom knows more about it than you do, you’re in a lot of trouble. You’re paying more than you need to, more hours, every problem compounds drastically. Are you ready to make a commitment to your business? I would say for servers: Have no money and no ability to do anything else, and then have somebody tell you when you’re working while you’re sick, ‘Didn’t you wish you went to college?’ and then see, if you come back to work the next day. The amount of people who say things like that is insanity.
DA: When I was a server down in Florida, there was this couple that came in pretty regularly and the woman goes ‘Oh what’s going on with you?’ and I say ‘Oh we’re actually buying a house.’ We were buying a house in Florida and she was like ‘How many jobs do you have to work to do that?’ and I say ‘Just one’ and I just thought that to be the assumption of working in this industry.
DA: My advice for anybody wanting to open up a restaurant would be a lot of things. First of all, you have to be very organized, have the dedication, and be hard working. Those are the basics for me. But even in running a business, being hands-on as an owner is very, very, important. Be patient, as well, and be open to whatever comes. Everyday can be something different. Things happen, whether its ‘Hey, the toilet is overflowing’ or ‘The alarm in the back is not going off during service’ while five parties just walked in the front door. These are all the kinds of things thrown at you that you have to deal with in a calm and collected way.
Photography Courtesy of Faro
MoL: On the flipside of that question, early on in your careers, what piece of advice or words of wisdom did you live by and continue to live by?
DA: I think one line that really sticks with me is ‘It takes the same amount of effort to do something wrong as it does to do something right,’ so just do it right. The details, they all go hand in hand, so if you’re going to put the effort out there, just do it right every time and it’ll treat you well from there.
KA: I would say ‘If you don’t have the time to do it right, when are you going to have the time to do it over?’ But the real advice for a young cook is don’t count the cost. And I know everybody talks about, if you have a goal you want to achieve, put together a list of all the things you’re going to have to sacrifice and give up to accomplish this goal. That’s the worst idea you could possibly do. That’s just a thing you can look at to tell yourself all the reasons you shouldn’t do it. Don’t count the costs every night. Do whatever it takes every single day to make the dream get closer to you. Don’t weigh it. Work hard everyday and eventually you’ll achieve your dreams.
Kevin and Deb shared a little more wisdom with Mood of Living after the interview. Here is what they had to say:
DA: I also think we inspire each other. I know that I couldn’t do what we do without Kevin and I like to think that he couldn’t do it without me. There’s so much that goes into it. To be able to know that the kitchen’s taken care of and people are doing their thing back there, it’s a big trust thing, and I definitely couldn’t do it without Kevin.
KA: We have the ultimate team. Deb handles all the business and the floor and the wine and spirits program, the service. She doesn’t ever have to worry about how many eggs go into a batch of dough and it’s a yin and a yang. We have to have both of these. It just gives us a leg up.
DA: It’s something we’ve always wanted to do. Remember, we originally talked about wanting to open up a bar. We wanted to do a bar with great food and then as we got older, we were like we can’t do those hours. We can’t be up until 4am. Things kind of change, but it’s great. I’m super proud of what we’ve done together and there’s more to come.
Banner Image Photography Courtesy of Amanda Evans