The R&D Diaries: Cheffing It Up with Greg Baxtrom
Learn more about Chef Greg Baxtrom, his restaurant, Olmsted, and his Mosaic dish Mac & Greens!
I'm incredibly excited to announce our newest chef collaboration: this time with one of my absolute favorite New York chefs: Greg Baxtrom.
A meal at one of Greg's two restaurants is no ordinary experience—from a tagliatelle made of thinly sliced rutabaga to oyster mushroom skewers á la Grecque, both Olmsted and Maison Yaki offer one-of-a-kind dishes that perfectly encapsulate his innovative, distinct style. Having sampled some of his menu items, I knew going into our collaboration to expect the unexpected—and I definitely wasn’t disappointed.
Greg and I met before opening hours early one Sunday at his flagship restaurant, Olmsted. I was excited to have some dedicated time to prep and plan potential options for our Mosaic meal collab — and it was an added bonus to get to learn more about his cooking techniques up close and personal.
When I arrived at Olmsted, I had to take a moment to revel in the space. If you haven’t been, let me set the scene: When you walk in, Olmsted looks like a typical New York City restaurant, with bar seating on the left and a narrow row of tables lining the right. But exit through the back and you quickly see what sets it apart—a beautiful backyard garden lined with wooden benches arranged in a U-shape. The restaurant's seasonally-inspired menu takes farm-to-table to the next level, showcasing produce, herbs and spices grown right there in the back yard. It’s easy to see why Olmsted was a James Beard finalist and has earned numerous awards, including Esquire's Best Restaurants in America and Bon Appetit's 50 Best New Restaurants in America.
A lot has changed at the restaurant since the start of the coronavirus. When Olmsted was forced to close last March, Greg quickly pivoted and turned Olmsted into a food bank. With the help of other local restaurants and providers, Greg and his team provided furloughed restaurant workers hundreds of meals a day, along with necessities like toilet paper, baby food, and toothbrushes. Last year, we at Mosaic heard about the amazing work Greg was doing and donated our meals to the cause—”It’s actually how I first learned about Mosaic,” Greg confesses. “And from there, our relationship grew over the year from a place of mutual respect. Since then, I’ve always had one or two Mosaic meals in my freezer for after a long workday when I just need something clean, fast, and filling.”
In the months following lockdown, Greg reopened the private dining room of Olmsted as a boutique small-batch grocery store — a tactic other restaurants were beginning to emulate in order to survive through the pandemic. Nearly a year later, the Olmsted Trading Post is still up and running, along with the restaurant's regular indoor and outdoor seating. The Trading Post sells popular sauces and condiments made in-house, fresh-baked pastries, pickled veggies, wine, batched cocktails, and produce from Olmsted's regular suppliers. And just across the street — at Greg's second restaurant, Maison Yaki — Greg has started an ongoing series of pop-ups showcasing Black entrepreneurs (like Michelle Williams of Good IV For the Soul and Lani Halliday’s Brutus Bakeshop).
Given everything the restaurant had been through in 2020, it felt significant to be standing in the Olmsted kitchen to kick off our collaboration. As we started to prep, Greg talked a little about his ideation process. “Vegetable entrees have always been one of my strengths. It probably comes from all those years working at Alinea and Blue Hill at Stone Barns,” he said. “So the idea of making a plant-forward dish at Mosaic definitely feels like second nature to me.”
That's one of the main reasons why we wanted to partner with Greg for our third chef collaboration: he shares our love for cooking with vegetables. While we’ve always pushed for plant-based because of its health and environmental benefits, Greg has his own reasons, too. “Produce is just so much more vast than your typical proteins. From how long or little vegetables can take to cook, to how you can make them taste, or vary their texture. They're so versatile,” he said.
"Produce is just so much more vast than your typical proteins. From how long or little vegetables can take to cook, to how you can make them taste, or vary their texture. They're so versatile."
The two recipes we worked on together were the perfect illustration of that versatility. In his trademark outside-the-box fashion, Greg first showed me a plant-based bolognese. He started with a dried mushroom broth to add meat-like flavor and complexity, then added reconstituted mushrooms into the sauce for a nice, meaty bite.
The second dish we worked on together — and the one that ultimately took the lead — was the Mac & Cheese. With a twist, of course. As Greg put it, “With something as ubiquitous as mac and cheese, you have a bar that you need to hit. So if you're not offering something new, then why do it at all?”
The solution? Rather than starting with traditional bechamel to make the sauce, Greg blended rutabaga (one of his favorite vegetables), carrots, and onions into a smooth puree. It created a rich, creamy base to which he added cheddar. The result was a lighter, healthier sauce that retained the creamy, cheesy, comfort you want and expect from a mac and cheese. But Greg didn’t stop there with the veggies: he added roasted garlic broccolini, spinach, and Brussels sprouts to give it another level of flavor and crunch. It feels like a guilt-less guilty pleasure.
I'm really proud to bring Mac & Greens to the Mosaic menu today, and excited to be collaborating on a recipe with one of my favorite chefs. Give it a try and let us know what you think!