Chef Hal Takes New York City

Lockeland Table’s very own Hal M. Holden-Bache got to take a bite out of The Big Apple and is ready to share his experience. (Part 1 of 2)

I had the privilege of traveling to NYC last month in order to participate in a Food Network show.

The month prior to leaving was surprisingly filled with work and research. You’d be amazed at what is needed in order to help one prepare for all that goes into participating in a TV show.

There were numerous emails, a couple of Skype interviews and quite a bit of paperwork, too. Medical information was even needed in case anything was to happen to me during my time at the studios.

I personally did quite a bit of studying and preparation so that I could perform to the best of my ability. I watched the show a number of times to look for mistakes others made. I also did some mental prep where I made a show up in my head and thought, “What would I do if this came up during filming?” After all the work that could be completed was done, the plane ticket was secured and arrangements were made for my time away from home and the restaurant.

Once those items were taken care of it was as simple as a plane ride to the Big Apple. This opportunity was certainly exciting, but I have to admit, it’s hard to kiss my boys goodbye and leave my family knowing I won’t be there should they need me. I am very active in both my home and restaurant, and, as is typical for anyone, I worry about things when I’m not there.

The production company was very impressive. I was picked up by an Uber Black—which is the highest level of Uber car. I have to say, they did everything in complete style from my leaving the house to my return—they were a class act.

As we began our descent into Manhattan, it was exciting to fly over New Jersey, the Giant’s stadium, the new Freedom Tower, and Lady Liberty. I took photos through the plane window as we passed over those landmarks. Many of our followers may not know my mother grew up in Queens, and I also lived in The City for a brief time when I worked at Gramercy Tavern. While there, I lived with my brother in a warehouse apartment. At that time, he was attending NYU for graduate school and starting his business. I quickly remembered how connected I am to the city and how much I enjoy it. It was exciting to be back.

I travelled with my friend Greg Special AKA Pasqually, one of my food brothers. We were eager to get started and had planned to head straight into pizza research. After checking into the hotel we hit the streets and found a beautiful deli, the kind that only exists in NY where you can get awesome pizza, great coffee, a pastry or a sandwich in one small 1,400 square foot space. That is where we had our first slice of NYC cheese pizza and a cup of coffee.

We then headed to Lombardi’s, one of the oldest and most famous pizzerias, where we ordered their famous white clam pizza and a margherita pizza. That was a very cool experience. I also brought a couple of my stickers that have my avatar on them and plastered them at various pizzerias around the city.

One of things I wanted to do while I was there was visit the James Beard House. There was a dinner going on at the time when we arrived and, of course, I didn’t want to disrupt the dinner. But, we did go inside. The Maitre D’ was a small, very old man who sat at the podium near the entrance. We told him who we were, where we were from, that we had been nominated for a Best New Restaurant James Beard award the first year we opened and that I was wondering if we could take a photo of the kitchen. He calmly said, “You absolutely may.”

It was exciting to have that opportunity. Just thinking about all of the chefs who had spent time in that facility and the greatness that has been in that room… there was an amazing energy in that room. It was an honor to be able to experience it even if briefly.

After that we headed to Brooklyn to eat at the famous Roberta’s restaurant. They are a bit like us. A neighborhood establishment, wood-burning oven and solid pizzas. We were there so long it became difficult to catch an Uber back to Manhattan. But we finally found a ride back over the river and to our hotel where I got about 2 hours of sleep as the call time for the show was 5am.

An Uber Black picked me up that morning. We headed out to the TV studio, where I settled in for a 12-hour day of waiting, filming, voice overs, and many other things that are involved in the actual day of—which I will share more about in detail with you in next month’s blog post.

After filming we ate at a Thai food place called Topaz. We actually only waited about 10 minutes and landed the coveted window seat, which was a great dining experience as you are right there and able to watch the crowd on the sidewalks. We then headed to Momofuku, Little Italy, and finally Chinatown.

Went to bed, got back up, had about eight more hours of the city where we grabbed pastries and coffee at Mario Batalli’s Eataly. This is one of the most amazing food concepts/businesses I have ever been in. I would love to shake the hand of the persons responsible for daily logistics such as ordering & scheduling — it is literally like 10 businesses under one roof!

I also was able to stop by my old stomping grounds at Gramercy Tavern. Even though it was not open yet, it was nice to see it and take a picture. I had not been back since I had worked there.

One of the items on our list was to visit Ground Zero—where I found the energy to be amazing. Taking it all in was quite an experience. To relive the day and think about all that transpired on 9/11 was a rather deep moment.

We then went back to Chinatown to a dim sum restaurant that opened at 10:30AM. We were some of the first people to arrive, and the food was wonderful. We spent some time walking around there before heading back to the hotel in preparation to return home to Nashville. I was pleased that we, and my knives, made it back safe and sound. I caught my Uber Black home, hugged my wife and boys, and settled in for a great night. We went out the next day as a family and got our Christmas tree which really helped kick off the holidays.

One of the first things I began to work on when I returned was our pizza dough. I had always felt ours was a little off. I have been running some experiments and I feel they are better than they used to be due to research and experimentation. We are getting the dough to a better place and to where a wood-burning dough should be like. There’s nothing like going to NY to help you in the inspirational department to come home and have new goals. All in all, it was a great experience. I was happy to go, and happy to return as well. I had positive filming and culinary experiences and was very inspired to bring that inspiration back to the restaurant.

As we learn more information about the release date of the TV show, we will certainly share that with you so that you can watch it when it airs. This may also result in some fun specials at the restaurant. Stay Tuned.

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