Susy Schieffelin, Director of PR and Marketing, KGNY Restaurant Group
The word exuberant doesn't fully capture Susy's energy. This girl is firing on all cylinders ALL the time, spreading her enthusiasm for all that she loves (great food, killer accessories, her precious pup) to all who surround her. It's no wonder she's gifted at what she does, heading up the press and marketing efforts behind one of the most renowned Austrian chefs in New York, Kurt Gutenbrunner. Susy epitomizes the ethos of working hard and playing harder, and when you see someone so utterly devoted to their work, you can't help but get a little swept up, too.
Read on for tips on how NOT to light your kitchen ablaze and to find out why Susy always got scolded in culinary school!
Hi Susy! Please tell us a bit about yourself and how you landed such a great gig so early on in your career.
I grew up in Greenwich, Conn., in a family that loves to cook. I was cooking eggs Benedict, spaghetti carbonara and Christmas cookies from scratch by the time I was five. It was just what we did! My senior year in high school, we had a class trip to the Culinary Institute of America and it opened my eyes to a career path that had not crossed my mind, and although I was already all set to attend the University of Virginia, I became determined to one day return to the CIA. When I graduated in May 2011, I prepared to finally attend culinary school - the French Culinary Institute (now the International Culinary Center), not the CIA - in the fall. I learned so much during culinary school and had the most incredible experience.
As graduation approached, I explored many options in trying to figure out what I wanted to do. The more I looked, the more I became interested in doing public relations for restaurants. I was offered an internship at a well-known restaurant PR firm and, the day before I was about to accept, I got an email from Kurt Gutenbrunner's group (KGNY) inviting me in for an interview. I went in, not knowing what to expect, but from the minute I met the team and Chef Kurt himself, my gut told me that I had to have that job. The opportunity turned out to be absolutely perfect. Now, I have worked for six months as director of public relations and marketing for our group of five restaurants throughout the city. It is a big job, and I learn as I go every day!
When people ask me what I do, it is sometimes hard to explain because I wear many hats. We are a small group running five restaurants and everybody works together to make sure things run seamlessly. Generally, my job involves reaching out to the press and pitching stories, publicizing events and promotions that we hold, managing our social media (six Facebook and five Twitter accounts!), overseeing and always finding ways to improve customer relations - everything from Yelping, to replying to customer emails, to generally making opportunities to meet new people and spread the word about our restaurants. I also work on our branding and marketing, creating graphic designs for printed promotional materials. There are many fun perks, such as attending fabulous parties and dinners and even the James Beard Awards. But there are also long hours, stressful and unpredictable days, and a lot of pressure and responsibility. Nonetheless, I could not love my job more! I don’t get to cook as much as I would like to, but I do get to eat, talk about, photograph and generally enjoy amazing food and restaurants.
Did you ever consider working the line in a professional restaurant kitchen after culinary school?
Not seriously. While in school, there was a point when I thought it would be an important thing to experience in order to solidify the skills I learned in class. But, after experiencing two months working at L’Ecole (the International Culinary Center's student-run restaurant) in every position of the line, I felt certain that it was enough for me. I got in trouble a lot for chatting in the kitchen and eating non-stop. I realized that as much as I enjoyed learning the techniques, what was going to be most helpful in terms of my career was what the school taught me about the restaurant industry: understanding front of house, back of house, food costing, etc., basically how restaurants work.
What is the most interesting thing you've learned working for a restaurant group?
How much it is like a family! We all have our own specific roles, but we also all take care of each other and have each other’s backs. Communication is so important in order to keep track of what is going on at each restaurant, so no one establishment lacks attention. We sometimes call Kurt “Papa”- I’m not even sure if he knows! But he looks out for all of us and we look out for his restaurants. We have a great team.
How would you describe your personal cooking style? Has working with an Austrian chef changed the way you cook or eat at all?
Before I worked for KGNY, I had never even had Austrian food before! Now I love it. I eat way too much Wiener Schnitzel, it's so delicious. Working for Kurt definitely has influenced me though, but mostly in terms of ingredient choices. I have learned new flavor combinations and fallen in love with Austrian-inspired ingredients such as pumpkin seed oil. It’s so healthy and delicious - even on ice cream (Editor's note: formerly featured pantry Shino Takeda gave us the same tip!)! My co-worker Krissy taught me to put it on vanilla ice cream and it is almost like chocolate syrup, but super healthy! I have also become extremely conscious of local and seasonal foods. Our chefs go to the Union Square Greenmarket several times a week and the menu is always changing depending on what looks best and what is available. Kurt believes strongly that good food must be made from the best quality ingredients, so now I really take that to heart. I live near the New Amsterdam Market and go there almost every Sunday to buy local produce. And, there is nothing better than fresh eggs!
My own personal cooking style is very improvisational. I get inspired and love to cook what I am in the mood for. I especially love sauces and condiments! Everything from hollandaise to compound butter; I hate dry or plain food.
In college I studied Mandarin and East Asian Studies, and I've also spent a lot of time in China, taking cooking classes both in Shanghai and in Sichuan province. A lot of times I like to cook Asian food - the spicier the better! I have a secret recipe for Chinese noodles that I learned while in Sichuan Province. They are extremely spicy and one of my favorite comfort foods. I wrote my thesis in college on the history of Chinese food in America, and how social/political relations with China directly affect the popularity of authentic vs. American-style Chinese food.
You're a young gal living it up in New York. What are some of your favorite haunts? Is there anything you love making for yourself after a long day at work?
I definitely don’t cook for myself enough. I am really busy during the week and on weekends there are so many restaurants that I am dying to try! I do make homemade granola to eat with fruit and yogurt for breakfast and bake brownies when I get the chance. I also make a lot of milkshakes - after a long day at work I just can’t resist!
Lucky cousin Matt gets to lick the whisk!
As a single gal in New York City, I have had the chance to go on some really fun dates. The best one was probably to Bohemian - it's sort of a secret restaurant with only seven tables. The food is Japanese and unbelievable. Their foie gras soba noodles are to die for. Some of my other favorite places are The Spotted Pig for an amazing burger and their gnudi, Peels for brunch, and our restaurant Cafe Kristall for the petite Viennese finger sandwiches. I find any excuse to go there for lunch and always choose the same four sandwiches: chicken and foie gras, egg on egg and two asparagus with goat cheese. I also love to go out dancing after dinner: Southside Night Club in SoHo is probably my favorite place to go lately; they have great DJs and I always run into a million friends. I also love Chloe 81 in the LES - it’s smaller and more lounge-like but also great for dancing. On Saturday nights they have a cool French DJ. It’s awesome.
Fun nights out demand fierce earrings.
What are your favorite kitchen utensils?
Onion goggles! Just kidding. My dad gave me them for Christmas. I only put them on when I am cooking with friends to look silly. Onions don’t really even make me cry. To be serious, my favorite gadget is my hand blender. I love making soup, especially creamy black bean soup and the hand blender makes it so easy and mess-free.
Where do you like to shop for kitchen supplies?
Williams Sonoma. I could live in that store, I literally want everything that they sell. And I get a chef's discount!
Top pantry essentials in your kitchen?
Soy sauce, truffle oil, honey, chocolate chips and polenta. Not to use together!
Lonely crisper drawers speak to Susy's aversion to most fruits and vegetables (exception: berries)
Coconut water: nature's sports drink
What are your favorite cookbooks and sites?
My boss's (Chef Kurt Gutenbrunner’s) book, Neue Cuisine, is amazing. It is so beautiful and the recipes are all delicious, unique and fairly easy. It is more than a cookbook, it's basically a piece of art in itself. He included lots of elements and information about Austrian art and design, especially pieces from the Neue Galerie. It’s educational and beautiful. I also just found out that none of the pictures of the food were styled. Everything was prepared just as we do for service and shot in the restaurant; it's almost unbelievable. I also read Grub Street religiously and The New York Times Dining section - of course. When Grub Street mentions one of our restaurants on their site, it makes my whole week!
Whose pantry would you like to raid?
The pantry at the International Culinary Center (where I went to culinary school)! Obviously it is a cooking school, so they have literally everything. It’s a huge storeroom with anything you can dream of. To me, the most valuable thing that they have, though, is their fresh homemade stock that the students make daily. Their stock is not even comparable to anything store-bought. It really makes a difference in your cooking, but it takes so long to make yourself! Especially veal stock. Yum. Then you can reduce it into demi-glace... wow.
Who is your biggest food inspiration?
My mom! She can cook or bake anything. Her recipe collection is incredible and she doesn’t really even need to use them. Everything she makes is delicious. When my sisters and I were little, my mom would take us to school every morning and we would drive her crazy because it would be 7 a.m. and we would ask, “Mom, what’s for dinner??,” just so we could look forward to it throughout the day.
Okay, we are a little obsessed with your dog. Is that a Beau-tie we spy?
Yes! This is my Yorkie, Beau. He is also a foodie. Sadly, he has colitis and is on a gluten-free diet. He manages to eat well anyway; his favorite food is prosciutto. He gets excited if you even say the word!
Susy's Truffle Macaroni and Cheese
1 box macaroni noodles
4 tablespoons butter, divided
2 tablespoons flour
1 quart whole milk
Dash of cayenne pepper
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons truffle butter
2 tablespoons (or more :)) truffle oil
Truffles (in this case, about half of a 3 oz. jar)
1 cup grated Gruyere
1 cup grated white cheddar
1 cup grated Parmesan
3 cups panko breadcrumbs
1/2 cup melted butter
Fill a large pot with water, salt well and bring to a boil. Add macaroni and cook for 6 minutes until al dente, strain, reserve in same large pot.
In a saucepan, melt first 2 tablespoons of butter and whisk in flour. Cook over medium heat for 2 minutes but do not let brown. Whisk in milk slowly, allow to boil and thicken. Season with salt, pepper and cayenne. Turn off the heat and whisk in cheeses, truffle butter, truffle oil and truffles.
Pour cheese sauce into the macaroni and add remaining 2 tablespoons of butter for good measure. Distribute macaroni into serving dish(es).
Mix panko with 1/2 cup of melted butter and a little truffle oil. Spread a very thin layer of the panko mixture over the macaroni. Put the oven on broil and let the panko brown for 2 minutes. Do not close the oven door! Do not forget about it! (See what happens when you do forget about it below.)
Serve and enjoy!
Did that just happen?!
The term 'caramelized' springs to mind...
Luckily, it was just the very top layer that suffered the most damage - all was not lost! Good times.
Thanks, Susy! For those interested in checking out Chef Kurt Gutenbrunner's cuisine, visit any of his five restaurants: Wallsé, Blaue Gans, Cafe Sabarsky, Cafe Kristall and The Upholstery Store. Blaue Gans will continue to host Oktoberfest festivities through this Friday, October 5. Follow Blaue Gans on Twitter for the latest updates - prost!