Chef and New Zealand native Matt Lambert is bringing a touch of Kiwi culture to New York City’s trendy Nolita neighbourhood. His year-old restaurant, The Musket Room, is earning plenty of buzz for its inventive cuisine, but the story of how it got started is equally intriguing.
In 2013, after years of cooking in New York City kitchens — Public, Double Crown, and Saxon + Parole, to name a few — Lambert decided it was time to open his own restaurant.
We caught up with Chef Lambert to find out more about the Musket Room.
Business Insider: Why did you use Kickstarter to launch the Musket Room?
Matt Lambert: Once we started construction on the restaurant, we realised that there was a better way to utilise our space in the kitchen. Instead of going back to our investors and asking for additional funding for this small project, we turned to Kickstarter for the final push to get us over the finish line. It was a nice way to get support from the public as well … from people other than just our friends and family so early on.
BI: What was the Kickstarter experience like?
ML: For us, Kickstarter was a fun experiment in selling people on The Musket Room before it even opened. We created a video about the project and were so excited to see the participation grow and grow, until we finally met our fundraising goal.
BI: What specifically did you use the funds for?
ML: The last funding that we received through Kickstarter helped us get our kitchen set up. We purchased a combi oven, which we use every day for everything from roasting ingredients to baking bread.
BI: Where did you get the inspiration for the name of your restaurant?
ML: Basically, it’s the connection to the time period in New Zealand of the Musket Wars in the 1800s. Apart from the obvious connotation of muskets, it’s about that period when there was so much discovery and adventure going on. The Musket Room is a modern approach to the country’s culinary past.
BI: What do you like most about the space?
ML: This was actually our dream space. It used to be The Elizabeth, and when it became available, we jumped on it. The location is great; I’ve actually worked in this neighbourhood for about six years, so it just felt like the right place to open my own space.
BI: How would you describe typical New Zealand cuisine?
ML: New Zealand’s cuisine is all about fresh, clean flavours. Knowing where your ingredients came from makes a big difference, so things like the venison and quail on my menu are really driven by that standout protein. I’d also say that New Zealand’s seafood is great. I went fishing a lot growing up — New Zealand is an island, after all — so things like the cold smoked scallops or the ora salmon dish really evoke the spirit of New Zealand for me! Also, I think that the Pavlova is such a quintessential New Zealand dessert. When I put the menu for The Musket Room together, I knew that was an essential dish.
BI: What are your favourite dishes at the Musket Room? Any favourite wine pairings?
ML: The Cold Smoked Scallops, Ora Salmon, quail, venison with flavours of gin … they’re all great. I know we’ve all been enjoying the Milton Chenin Blanc. The winemaker is the man, and the Chenin Blanc is a great biodynamic, single vineyard wine. It’s a standout from NZ and pairs well with a few dishes on our menu.
BI: What was it like to receive the Michelin star, especially after only being open for a short amount of time?
ML: It was the biggest goal I had opening The Musket Room. We thought, ya, maybe in a few years we’ll earn a star, and the idea of getting it so soon after we opened seemed completely impossible. If I’m honest, that day we received word I tore up a little on the line — it was such a professional honour to receive. Only problem is now, we’re left to figure out what’s next! We want to keep striving to maintain that standard, and do more. It’s exciting and scary at the same time.
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