Lockdown chats: Paul Eschbach

Lockdown chats: Paul Eschbach
Every Saturday for the last few months, Nick, Paul, and I got together to bottle beverages. We had to take what Paul was doing in his kitchen and make it consistent, shelf-stable, and viable. I’ve gotten to know him well, but I never really knew his backstory. We connected via text a few weeks ago to talk about his rise in the NY culinary world, his work in Asia, and how Betera became a passion for him. 

AARON:

How’s it going over there?

PAUL:

(Paul shares one of those Covid-related personal updates that’s shitty. Not life or death shitty, but one of those shitty things you never thought would be possible but now is just one of those kinds of things we’re dealing with. Anyway.)

AARON:

Brutal, sorry man.

Feels like such a different time than when we started all of this.

How did it all get started, anyway? I came in later

PAUL:

Is this the interview?

Hahahhaa

AARON:

Yeah

PAUL:

Let’s not use (shitty Covid thing)

AARON:

Of course

PAUL:

Nick and I saw an opportunity in the bev space.  Cbd was a buzzword

AARON:

He told me the CBD idea. I’m glad we landed where we did. (There’s no CBD in Betera)

PAUL:

Absolutely me too.  We were thinking that if we ever wanted to actually make a brand or have people take us seriously we should try to do it ourselves

I started researching different things online and I got into tonics

AARON:

When you’re putting a thing like this together, how similar is it to recipe development in the culinary world?

PAUL:

It’s almost exactly the same 

The process is just different 

AARON:

Yeah? How?

PAUL:

I realized that as I was researching 

And it really hit when I was composing the early recipes 

I could treat it just like I was making a dish

Increasing or decreasing ingredients add things like the elderflower off heat to get more flavor and aroma

AARON:

The back and forth that you guys had went on for a while. How do you know when you’re on to something vs when you need to go a different direction?

PAUL:

Not to be cocky but once I got it to a place where it tasted good I was confident, my wife doesn’t mind telling me when things suck so her feedback was key. Then I had Nick and Lenka (Nick’s wife) over and it was received  pretty good

It was just the direction that we needed to hone in on. 

We constantly kept tweaking the whole year

Not wanting to settle

How could I get it brighter or a better color

And so forth 

AARON

Let’s go back a bit. What drew you to working in a kitchen?

PAUL:

From when I was a kid.  My mom was in night school for nursing my dad wasn’t a cook. And there were only so many nights we could eat sloppy joes and tuna pot pie 

AARON:

I learned how to cook in home ec and was oddly better than my mom pretty fast. At least I thought I was.

PAUL:

Ha

My parents sent me on a month long canoe trip on right before college 

AARON:

Ok

PAUL:

On that trip we would take turns cooking for each other, it was like a group of 10 guys some from rough background 

AARON

Yeah.

PAUL:

And I remember thinking when I cooked out there on a fire and everyone enjoyed it, that feeling was awesome 

I think halfway through I just ended up cooking every night

After a year in college, Paul knew he’d rather be working in a kitchen. His dad told him to get a job before he made the switch. 

PAUL:

I got a job at a from scratch Italian resto 

Old Sicilian dude and his wife 

She would sit in the corner and make pasta all day 

AARON:

The best.

PAUL:

It was nuts I used to work so much he called my house during the holidays and my mom picked up and was like if you want my son to come in you need to pay him more 

2 hours later I got a raise 

AARON:

Haha

So, you do that and then you went to culinary school?

PAUL:

Yeah, I was told i should go, and if I was going to spend the money I should only do the CIA

AARON:

Where’d you intern?

PAUL:

Rudy’s 2900

It’s was owned by two Rudy’s.  The chef was Rudy Speckamp 

A green beret In the Vietnam war

He was a master chef 

AARON:

Yeah?

Not a family Italian restaurant.

PAUL:

Yeah it fine dining in Maryland, well known in a different way. 

The guy was like from the same pedigree as Roland that taught Thomas Keller 

AARON:

Roland?

It’s funny, you hear about these culinary family trees, you know?

PAUL:

Roland Henin 

Culinary trees are crazy 

I was a grunt 

Did whatever was asked 

Even mulched chefs lawn 

AARON:

Paying dues.

PAUL:

Yep

AARON:

you couldn’t ask someone to do that today

PAUL:

No that is over

I wanted to do everything and anything I could to learn 

Paul started cooking at Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s namesake restaurant in New York. He was asked to be a Sous when Jean-Georges opened Perry Street. This is where he met our other Co-Founder, Nick Benz. 

PAUL:

Perry was a redeeming opening for JG. 

We had to execute 

AARON:

You can feel the weight of those kinds of project, right? I can.

PAUL:

Yeah it felt like everything was riding on it. The chef from JG my mentor Greg Brianin went down to do it

AARON:

When does Nick show up?

PAUL:

I think he was fresh out of school as a line cook

eah so we went through quite a bit of cooks and he could take a beating 

AARON:

He’s resilient. No stopping him.

When he was there, I was in NY with my family. So we make a reservation.

Nick hits me up just as we’re about to get there, and he’s like, everyone thinks Chef Aaron Sanchez is coming.

PAUL:

I think I remember that 

PAUL:

The night we got 3 nyt stars 

AARON:

Really? Oh wow. Amazing.

Wells?

PAUL:

Bruni.

AARON:

Unreal. Couldn’t imagine

Paul became the Executive Chef at Perry Street before running Nougatine with Jason Hua. He then ran Hermitage Inn in Vermont for four years. Somewhere in between, he made an appearance on Iron Chef. After finding success stateside, he was ready for something different.

PAUL:

JG was in Japan and I was like yoooooo 

Let me get Japan 

AARON:

Ha.

PAUL:

And he told me China was a better opportunity 

JG was the first successful expat chef to open over there

Supposed to be there for 1 year

Turned to 5

 

AARON:

Yeah?

PAUL:

Supposed to be one resto turned to 5

Paul oversaw operations for Jean Georges and Three on the Bund Restaurants in China and Hong Kong. Paul and his team earned a Michelin Star for Jean Georges Shanghai in both 2017 & 2018.

AARON:

When did you get the bug to come back?PAUL:

We had been gone a while 5 years, family was getting tired of having us away.

AARON:

So, Betera’s the first time it’s been your own thing, right?

PAUL:

We are using each of our skill sets to come together and build something from nothing. 

AARON:

This time it’s on us

Hahah.

Anything I forgot to ask?

PAUL:

It’s been 20 years of cooking

AARON:

I gotta edit this shit down.

PAUL:

Hahahhaa

AARON:

Thanks for the time, man.

I enjoyed it.

PAUL:

Same

Thank you