How to Run a World-Class Restaurant Without Butter

Lobster and sunflower head. Photo by  Signe Birke .

Lobster and sunflower head. Photo by Signe Birke.

I’m in a pristine kitchen, the kind where the stainless steel workstations are wrapped in linen to reduce noise. It’s clinically calm. Surrounded by men and women in white, I listen intently as their boss—a pink-cheeked ex-soccer player who looks like a linebacker—discusses their latest assignment: to create compelling dishes without the use of their go-to fat of choice. Butter.

“Butter is like heroin,” Bryce Shuman tells me. “When your body has it, you’re like, Oh yeahhhhhh.” His voice is loud and guttural. When Shuman, executive chef at Manhattan restaurant Betony, first told me his plan to remove butter from every single dish on the menu, including the bread they serve between courses, I thought he was joking. “Even pastry?” I asked.

But he’s not joking, and he’s not doing it for health reasons. “I wanted to explore other fats.” Then, out of nowhere, the eastern North Carolina chef compares his decision to Drawing Restraint, a series by Matthew Barney in which the artist restrained parts of his body in order to break out of his physical boundaries. “Your body requires resistance in order to grow,” says Barney in one of the videos.

“What happens when we say, ‘We can’t do this’?” Shuman tells me. I push a little on the chef, asking for more. Does not using butter mean his kitchen is more or less restrained?

“I love butter,” Shuman assures me, but he’s tired of the bad rap French chefs get. “Everything is covered in butter. It’s glazed in butter, mounted in butter, and brushed in butter.” By giving it up, he hopes to facilitate a new level of creativity in the kitchen. He poses a rhetorical question: “How do I create something that you have to come to Betony for? A flavor that is all ours, and that can’t be reproduced anywhere else?”

After years of culinary training, Shuman’s staff responded to his challenge with a loud and affirmative “yes, Chef!”

Sous chef Stephan Ilnyckyj looks over and tells me: “You just say yes, and then you do something else.” He shrugged. No biggie. Resistance came from only one person, Rebecca Isbell, Betony’s executive pastry chef. “I am admittedly the most hesitant,” she says.

Read the rest of the story at Vice/Munchies.