Spotlight On The Sussman Brothers

“The sandwich will forever be the best way to eat. It’s the great equalizer. Everyone loves sandwiches,” says Eli Sussman. If you ask me, This Is a Cookbook will never go out of style. Eli, a line cook at Mile End Deli, co-authored the book with brother Max, chef de cuisine at Roberta’s. The more than 75 recipes in the cookbook are a big mix of what the Brothers Sussman were exposed to growing up. Adds Max: “Our background is from a family that cooked a lot and ate dinner together every night. Our dad baked bread every week and our Mom made dinner from scratch almost each night of the week. I’d say our recipes have the attitude of home cooked food.”

While each brother revealed he does not eat breakfast (Max “tastes so much at work” and Eli is either working through the morning shift or sleeping through breakfast after an evening shift) they sure know how to offer up stellar recipes for a Lazy Brunch (along with Midnight Snacks, Backyard Grub and more). The cookbook is visual pleasing, straight-forward and a fun read. My favorite tip in the book by Eli: “Come prepared to dinner parties with a lot of made up stories.” Lucky for us, I got a true story from the creative, innovative and down-to-earth duo.

Is there someone or something that had a big influence on you choosing this career path?

Max: Looking back, there were a few choices that I made that have had an influence. One of them was when I decided to apply to work at Eve, a restaurant in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I made the decision to sacrifice a lot and worked there for two years. I learned so much from the chef there and from all of the people I worked with. I didn’t go to culinary school, so everything I’ve learnd has been from the chefs and people I work with and the cookbooks I’ve read.

Eli: Max has been the biggest influence on me making the recent career choice to move to NYC to cook. I was living in LA and kept dipping my feet in the food world but never had the balls to dive in fully. I was calling Max saying “I’m thinking about doing it…” He finally just got fed up and basically yelled at me. “Move here, live with me, cook in NYC. If you love it, you love it. If you hate it you can always go back to doing what you were doing before.” It was simple, perfect advice. So here I am and I’ve never been happier.

Mile End is a french-inspired Jewish deli and Roberta’s is pizza with a high-brow kitchen. Do you think Brooklyn restaurants need a niche to succeed?

Eli: Definitely not a niche in that sense. What Mile End does in order to succeed – first and foremost – is to serve excellent food using incredible product. Then you need to have a chef and cooks that really care and can cook their asses off. And we have that too. Your order at Mile End took someone on our staff hours of prep and development to make your meal because we don’t cut corners. We make as much as we can in house and when you take that time and put that care into each dish the customer realizes it. And that’s what brings them back. It’s not about a cute concept or a good location. It’s about tasty food they can’t get anywhere else.

I recently hit up Roberta’s and had the pork shoulder cooked medium rare. It was delicious. Where do you source your meat?

Max: Our approach is to find the best stuff. We are always sourcing from so many places. We have more purveyors than a typical restaurant. I think that pork shoulder came from a farm in New Jersey…

Is there a restaurant in New York City you are looking forward to trying?

Max: Takashi.

What kind of music do you like to listen to while cooking?

Max: At Roberta’s we don’t have music in the kitchen because the dining room is right there. I like to listen to a lot at home…country music, jazz, calm and quiet stuff. At work, I want to hear to pop and stuff you can sing along to…

Eli: It really breaks down into a few categories:  Funk/Motown – this is my absolute favorite type of stuff to listen to. It spans the gamut from Marvin Gaye to Bell Biv DeVoe to Parliament. It’s a big category. Top 40 Rap/R & B – sometimes you just want to crank Rick Ross. Dancehall – I don’t know how it happened, but the Dancehall stuff on Pandora is about the best stuff to prep to in the entire world. Sean Paul and Elephant Man at 8am when you are hungover is very underrated.  Electric Light Orchestra – this station may be the best station in the entire Pandora universe.

How do you take your hamburger?

Max: I like my burger pretty simple with some onion and ketchup. If the burger and the bun are really good, you don’t really need much more.

Eli: I love a flat top/griddled burger that has that awesome sear on the outside. I’m a purist. No LTO. No cheese. No bacon or caramelized onions. Just ketchup.

With Thanksgiving upon us, what is a must-have on the dinner table?

Eli: I am obsessed with Turkey. I eat it year round on the reg. So hypothetically speaking if I was invited to a Thanksgiving dinner and found out there was no turkey I would definitely fake some situation where I had to leave. I’d excuse myself as quickly and politely as possible. But no Turkey…no Eli.

What is one of your favorite recipes in This Is a Cookbook?

Eli: I love the shitake ginger soup with garlic chicken dumplings. Its one of the more challenging dishes but it’s unique and perfect for the cold winter nights ahead.

Max:  Roasted root vegetables with romesco sauce. You can use any number of veggies. It’s great for the fall because it is smokey and rich and a great side dish.

For the Romesco Sauce:

3/4 cup raw almonds, 6 plum tomatoes, 2 red bell peppers, 1 yellow onion (cut into slices about 1/2 inch think), 3 garlic cloves, 2 tablespoons olive oil, kosher salt, 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar, 2 teaspoons smoked paprika, 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 4 pounds mixed root vegetables such as carrots, parsnips, beets, celery root, and sweet potatoes (peeled and cut into 1 & 1/2 inch pieces), 2 tablespoons olive oil.

For more recipes, you can buy This Is a Cookbook right here.

Image Credits: Courtesy of Baltz & Company.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

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