Visit Lambert at The Musket Room (265 Elizabeth St., 212-219-0764).
Chef Matt Lambert grew up helping his grandmother and mom garden in his native New Zealand. He now brings his modern approach to the country’s local flare to Nolita with his much-buzzed-about, Michelin-star-rated outpost, the Musket Room. True to form, it’s got a functional garden out back.
Congrats on receiving the Michelin star! How did you celebrate? Thank you! It was a huge honor. Earning a Michelin star is something I’ve been working toward my whole life, so to be recognized by them was really meaningful. We didn’t do anything too over-the-top to celebrate, just gathered all of our friends over at the Musket Room to celebrate with some drinks.
Why did you pick Nolita to set up shop? Did you specifically want to be there? Yes, I love Nolita, especially this space. Even before this restaurant space was even on the market, I really just had a special feeling about the spot. I love the neighborhood because it has a low-key, relaxed vibe for New York, which reminds me of where I’m from.
We heard you used Kickstarter to launch the restaurant. Why? We used Kickstarter for additional funding. It’s obviously hard for young people to open a restaurant, especially in Manhattan. That resource helped us open our doors. We’re very thankful to everyone who helped out.
You grow herbs and pluck greens from the garden in the back of the restaurant. When did you start gardening? The backyard is one of the best parts about the space, because we can grow some of our own produce. I used to help my grandmother and mother garden, so it’s something I’ve done my whole life. I’ve been stung by many a stinging nettle in my day. It’s important to feel connected to your food source. Being in New York, it’s easy to forget where your food comes from when everything comes pre-packaged. Getting your hands dirty for fresh ingredients you’ve grown yourself is a great feeling.
What’s the quintessential New Zealand meal? How would you describe the native cuisine? New Zealand’s cuisine is all about fresh, clean flavors. For me, I’d say fresh seafood is the best. I went fishing a lot growing up — New Zealand is an island, after all! Also, I think that the Pavlova is the quintessential New Zealand dessert. When I put the menu for The Musket Room together, I knew that was an essential dish.
What’s your favorite thing to eat back home? Mince and Cheese pie — you call that ground beef here in the States — or a classic fish and chips.
How did you come up with the restaurant’s name? Basically, it’s the connection to the time period in New Zealand during the Musket War. Apart from the obvious connotation of muskets, it’s about the time when there was so much discovery and adventure going on. The Musket Room is a modern approach to the country’s culinary past.
What culinary trends are you loving lately? It’s always changing, but right now I’m enjoying tacos. I was in Miami recently, where I went to Pubbelly’s new taco spot, Taco Belly, and the food was incredible.
New Zealand cuisine is known to be meat-heavy. Can vegetarians get a nice meal at your place? Absolutely! I always make sure that I have vegetarian options so that everyone can get a great meal. I have a Tofu Gnocchi as a main course that is actually vegan.
What wine are you sipping these days? I always love the Nobilo wines from New Zealand. With the cold weather, I’ve been sipping the Nobilo Icon Pinot Noir, which pairs really well with heartier dishes like lamb for the winter.