City Hall's Special Masters Interview, Part 2

Read Part 1 of Short Order's interview with Tom Azar and Steve Haas of City Hall Restaurant.

New Times: I assume, by the looks of this monster bar, you're planning to have some killer drinks to go along with the menu.

Steve Haas: We've got a pretty diverse wine list and specialty cocktails with fresh juices. I'll talk about one drink called the Special Master...

There's an interesting name.

SH: Well, the restaurant is called City Hall, so we use the terminology. Serrano-infused vodka with passion fruit purée and passion fruit juice. It's sweet and sour.

Steve, how did you come up with the name for the restaurant?

SH: First because of my political side. Being the chairman of the bureau and being involved with all the boards in the city, I needed that name to represent me. But I also want to expand this concept. My goal is to have, in the next five years, five City Halls in Middle America and I needed the name to work in any of those.

Why Middle America?

SH: It's growing today. Middle American is demanding new things. The Internet has opened up the world. They know what's happening. I'm thinking of Austin, Savannah, St. Louis, Milwaukee... They're ready.

Spreading the Spice, huh?

SH: I'm totally charity-oriented. Miami Spice is the most successful restaurant program in the U.S. It has been going for ten years. This will be the headquarters.

So, Tom, where have you been since leaving Emeril's?

Tom Azar: I left Emeril's in '08. I left for another restaurant project in Miami, and they never got it open. And I was in Sunny Isles at Turnberry Ocean Colony condominium as executive chef for about a year. I realized it wasn't the kind of food I wanted to do. Then I started working on a concept, a food truck. 

What's your background pre-Emeril?

TA: I'm originally from Chicago. I worked on the Odyssey, which is a dinner cruise boat. I was going to school at that time. 

How did you get in with Lagasse?

TA: The corporate chef at the Odyssey worked with Emeril at Commander's Palace. I was just getting done with school and I decided I wanted to go to New Orleans. I asked who he knew, and he told me he worked with Emeril. He had just started getting big. I sent him my resumé and he called me and said, 'I'm opening at new restaurant, NOLA in a month,' and I moved.

What did you learn from him?

TA: I learned so much. First of all, comfort-style food. That's what New Orleans is. I learned the importance of fresh ingredients, technique, and, most importantly, the balance of flavors. And seasonings. And to always taste my food.

Why did you leave Emeril's on Miami Beach? You had been with Lagasse for many years at that point.

TA: I was ready to make a move. I had been with him for so long and it was time to be part of something else.

One last question: What food do you hate eating or working with?

TA: I like everything. I would try anything.

SH: Liver. I just won't eat it.

Anything else funky you won't touch?

SH: At Tuscan Steak, the chef told me one time: 'We're gonna try rattlesnake as a special tonight.' He brought me into the kitchen and there it was. 

It wasn't alive, was it?

SH: No, but it was big and skinned and unbelievable. He said, 'You know, you've gotta try it. It's the special. Everybody who comes in for dinner tonight is always going to remember they had rattlesnake and they had it at Tuscan Steak.' It was actually quite good.

Monday we'll have Azar's recipe for chorizo mac 'n' cheese. Yummers.

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Riki Altman