Brandon Gillis and Josh Sharkey definitely have high-end chef cred: Gillis graduated from the French Culinary Institute and has worked at New York City's Tabla and Franny's; Sharkey graduated from Johnson and Wales University and has worked at New York City's Oceana, Jean Georges, Tabla, Bouley, and Café Gray. But in 2009 they opened Bark Hot Dogs in Brooklyn, a casual restaurant that features burgers, sandwiches, and of course, hot dogs. But the ingredients are locally sourced, the condiments are homemade and they even have a Bark Ale among the beer options. Gillis and Sharkey tell us how they've used their classical training to elevate fast food.
Why did you decide to open Bark? Brandon Gillis: Josh and I worked really well together and started a small catering company on the side while at Tabla. We realized there was a huge gap in the quality of food between fine dining and casual and saw an opportunity there. Josh Sharkey: Fast food in America has a stigma—that it must be cheaply made, mass produced, and with little indication of its origin. With that comes little focus on quality. We wanted to change that.
Do you think restaurants in general are getting more casual? JS: Yes, for better and for worse. There certainly are a lot more casual restaurants than ever before. I think the economy has a lot to do with it at first. But ultimately I think the consumer is much more educated and knowledgeable about food than ever before. If you're going to charge $30 for a roasted piece of lamb, it needs to taste amazing, be perfectly cooked and seasoned and come from a reputable source. The upside is that we are now eating better food, at more sustainably driven restaurants, and supporting local farmers and artisans. BG: The downside is the misconception from some restaurateurs that because they are running a more casual concept, some of the standards of high-end cuisine do not relate—and this is where things go wrong. Just because a restaurant is casual, it doesn’t mean that it should not still have quality, attentive service, high cleanliness standards and focus. I hope that with the influx of casual restaurants from experienced and seasoned industry workers this becomes less and less of an issue.
What techniques do you use from your previous training? What do you do that's different from your non-classically-trained competitors? BG: We have a very traditional brown stock in our gravy, a gastrique for our Angus Chili, béchamel base for our Smoked Cheddar Sauce, and incorporate our sausage-making training. Even a classic custard technique has influenced how we prepare our slow-cooked egg on our breakfast sandwich. JS: On the flip side a lot of our recipes were tested for months to get them perfect, such as our pepper relish and cucumber "green" relish. Having a background in classical techniques has allowed us to approach food in this fast food setting very differently. Efficiency used to come from mass-produced and pre-made products to speed up production, but we utilize the skills we had in professional kitchens to create an efficient production system. A big part of what we do is sourcing the right seasonal ingredients from the right people and that’s one of the main things that sets us apart.
What's next for you guys? BG: Our goal from the beginning has always been to open more of this concept. It is an economy of scale inside and out. Not only in terms of purchasing and infrastructure, but also hopefully on its impact on the community. If we can influence just a small part of how people view fast food and how their children view fast food then I think we will have accomplished our goal.
CLARISSA CRUZ is the Fashion Features Editor of O, The Oprah Magazine. She is the former Style Editor of People magazine and has written for Entertainment Weekly, InStyle, Food & Wine, and Budget Travel. @clarissanyc1