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Chef Greg Baxtrom has worked in the kitchens of three of the most prestigious restaurants in the country: Alinea, Blue Hill at Stone Barns, and Per Se. These restaurants are currently ranked 15th, 48th, and 52nd on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Oh, and before that he was Jerry Seinfeld’s personal chef. NBD. Baxtrom branched out on his own earlier this year to create Olmsted, a neighborhood spot in Brooklyn’s Prospect Heights that takes tricks he’s learned in previous kitchens to make food that’s delicious but more affordable than some of his previous employers.
Carving out a space in the restaurant industry is no easy feat, though, even for someone with Baxtrom’s pedigree. He works 100 hours a week, so finding time to shop is about as complicated as figuring out how to make a dish with the freshest scallops and only charge $21 for it. Add to the mix the fact that he’s 6’4” and wears size 14 shoes and it’s frankly a miracle Baxtrom is even presentable enough to helm a kitchen. But looking professional is crucial for this small business owner. Below, he tells us how he manages.
Name: Greg Baxtrom
Location: Prospect Heights, Brooklyn
Occupation: Head Chef at Olmsted
I go through spurts when I shop. Like now, I'll buy a new set of clothes because the weather's changing. I’ll buy a bunch of stuff at once.
For the last two years, before the restaurant opened, I was Jerry Seinfeld's personal chef. Somewhere within my appointment there, because everything [the Seinfelds] have is so nice and pretty, I became aware that I wear too many graphic tees with Transformers on them so I started to take note of clothes. I came across Vince and John Varvatos, because they fit me well and that's mostly what I buy. That's mostly what I buy — basically all my clothes are those two brands.
My reasons for shopping are one part vanity, one part necessity, one part because it looks cozy.
My first big purchase was a $500, or maybe it was $300, crazy white cashmere hoodie from Vince. And then to take it one step further, there were these cashmere pants that were on the sale rack that did not fit me but because they were already $100 I thought “I've already gone this far,” so I decided to buy an entire cashmere outfit. I'm still a little afraid to wear that outfit out because it's such a large purchase so I mostly just sit on my couch wearing it because it's so comfortable.
I don’t really have a shopping pet peeve. I used to really not like shopping, but now whether I'm going to Vince in Soho or Nordstrom Rack and shopping for Vince there, I'm in a state of mind where I'm just meandering that day. Usually the lines would drive me crazy, but this is my moment to be a normal person and not stressed out about the restaurant. I'm just in it.
I do most of my shopping in-person because I'm 6'4" and tall so it's not always the easiest. So I have to get it fitted or something afterwards. I like Vince and John Varvatos because their stuff fits as is.
My favorite stores are Nordstrom Rack, Uniqlo, John Varvatos, or Vince. Either I want something nice, or if I need it for a utilitarian purpose I get the Uniqlo because if it gets messed up it doesn't matter.
I look for specific stuff when shopping because I really only wear white, gray, and blue, and shades of those colors. If you open up my closet, it's probably a lot of hoodies, collared shirts, and jeans that are all those same colors. I took a picture once of my closet and it was just only plaid or flannel shirts that were the colors of Power Rangers. It was the same shirt that I had bought over the years in different colors.
I talk to sales associates because when I’m shopping I go all in. I don't have that much free time — not to exaggerate, but I really work a lot — so if I'm going to the store I'm taking a chunk of time. So I want to leave with several different kinds of shoes and a couple new outfits, and hoodies, and maybe a suit. I want to get it all done and then go to a tailor and then be done with buying clothes for a chunk of time. I don't have that much time to shop around, I literally work 100 hours a week.
I talk to salespeople because I need size 14 shoes and different suit sizes because I'm tall. There's not always a lot of options so I like to get to the chase and see if they have anything laying around.
Usually I prefer to shop with someone who is opinionated as I am. Even with food at the restaurant, I really like to run everything by a whole bunch of people. I may not take their opinion but I like to gauge the reaction a little. So whether it's my friend Ian Rothman, Olmsted’s cofounder, or another friend. I try to bring someone.
Ian is my business partner and he does the farming out in the garden. We're close friends. I don't trust Ian's sense of style at all but he's at least another person. He only wears black T-shirts. He's a farmer, so he is in no way a guideline. That or I'll send a picture to my sister.
I work really hard to be perceived a certain way in my industry. The way people respect me, the way I carry myself when I'm around certain people, the way I don't do things around certain people. I am very calculated in the way I want to be perceived by my peers and staff and it got to the point where that had to reflect what I'm wearing. It's still a relatively new thing, only two years ago did I think I don't want to be the slummy chef. I want to have a very nice restaurant that a lot of people want to go to and is comfortable and I also want my mom to think I look nice.
It's more of an image in my head. I don't want to be the guy who’s wearing snow caps indoors, I want to wear a collared shirt that looks like I own a business and I'm mature and I have a staff.
I probably am influenced by what my friends wear. There’s no way it can't affect my decision making. If I see my friend with a sweater and I like that sweater, I might try and go find a similar-looking sweater, but not to the point of insecurity or anything.
I do go out out of my way to check clearance and sales racks at places like Nordstrom Rack for sure. And when I'm at John Varvatos, or in the Lower East Side, or at Vince or something I'll definitely go and look.
I keep an amount in my head of how much I want to spend, probably like $500. Get as much as I can for $500 and let that get my by for a few months.
I go between buying expensive and affordable items. Uniqlo is my sort of back-up plan. If I could afford to wear John Varvatos all the time, I would. It's nice quality, it's comfortable. I don't wear their rockstar-looking stuff, but they have nice jeans, nice sweaters, and a couple nice jackets. But during the day, I intentionally don't wear a chef's jacket because I'm standing in the middle of the kitchen, which is in the middle of the restaurant, and so I'm already tall and during service I can appear very serious and the whole point of the restaurant is that our ambitions are high but it's affordable and anybody can come, so I didn't want to be this potentially intimidating presence in the middle of this restaurant. So I just wear John Varvatos jeans and then generally an inexpensive collared and tailored shirt. I always get hesitant to put on a nice one because I'm handling food and working and one thing will just ruin it.
The aprons are Tillit. The guy is located in the Lower East Side. Tillit's the new go-to apron guys. They've only been around for a couple years, they're located in the Lower East Side, they're a very mom-and-pop shop and they're starting to get a lot of traction.
The best deal I’ve ever gotten is probably those cashmere pants. I wore them this morning, and I slept in them.