Interview: Chef Preston Madson
After working at some of New York’s most beloved restaurants (Barbuto, Freemans and Jams), Chef Preston Madson has opened his first restaurant – Bellwether – together with co-owner Matthew McCormick. In this interview, chef Madson tells us everything about the beautiful New American eatery, his career as a chef and his favorite restaurants in the city.
Tell us about yourself. How did you get started in the restaurant industry?
I grew up in Southeast Georgia, always surrounded by Southern classics and locally grown ingredients, so I developed a love and deep appreciation for seasonal cooking and flavors. Following my gut, I went to the Culinary Institute of America, and then spent time working at a raw vegan restaurant called Roxanne’s in San Francisco and on organic farms in the Bay Area. It was my connection to farming and local ingredients that really propelled my interest in cooking. When I moved to NYC, I started working under chef/owner Jonathan Waxman at Barbuto, who is still my mentor to this day. He really opened my eyes to the industry from a hospitality standpoint, and helped me hone my own creativity.
You have worked in so many great restaurants in New York, what inspired you to open a restaurant of your own – together with Matthew McCormick?
Throughout my career as a chef, I knew that someday I wanted to open my own restaurant. I have always been excited to create a real neighborhood spot- a warm and welcoming place for the community and visitors alike to gather and share memories over food. Matt and I share the same values when it comes to hospitality and both have deep connections to Long Island City. When we partnered to open Bellwether, it felt like the right timing.
Why did you choose Queens? Do you think it’s an upcoming area for eating out in New York?
Matt lives blocks from the restaurant, and has been a LIC resident for over 10 years. We love Queens- the food here has always been exciting. We’re looking forward to being a part of the vibrant culinary landscape here, and in Long Island City specifically.
What are some of your favorite restaurants in Queens at the moment?
Some of my favorites are SriPrPhai, Mu Ramen, Tournesol and Casa Enrique
What are your favorite dishes on Bellwether’s menu?
It’s hard to choose just one dish, but I’m really proud of our Braised Lamb Neck for two, which required a lot of thought and care to get perfectly right- from sourcing, to prep, to slowly cooking it so it falls right off the bone. I also love our Patty Melt- I had fun creating my own version of the gooey, bright yellow cheese. It looks just like the nostalgic processed version you’d get at a diner, but I use quality white clothbound cheddar, and annatto for the bright yellow color.
How did you get into desserts and can you tell us a little more about the pastries?
My mom is a huge baker and I grew up cooking pastries, breads and cakes with her in South Georgia. This was really my first foray into cooking, and as I got a little older I started making savory foods at home, too. For the pastry program, I have been layering subtle savory flavors in familiar and nostalgic desserts to bring a balance and depth. For example, people love the rye crust in our Apple Tart for the unique dimension it brings that doesn’t feel too predictable or sweet.
What’s your favorite recent opening in New York?
I love Pheasant on Graham Avenue in Williamsburg. It’s a very well-curated but small menu and space, and they did a great job.
Can you tell us something about you that no one else knows?
My favorite activity is taking my son Sebastian to Chinatown for soup dumplings and noodles, then wandering around the neighborhood, and teaching him about all the seafood at the different stands.
Featured image: Chef Preston Madson