When I enter the apartment of Jacob Clark, executive chef at Williamsburg’s Maison Premiere, I’m greeted by a very judgmental cat perched atop his refrigerator. Apparently Smoky (that’s his name) is actually quite friendly, but he’s just not a morning feline. In the living room, Clark’s fiancée, Ewa Zaniewska, sits on the couch with a small white dog, who quietly observes me from a distance. His name is Noodle. Bailey, another dog, is confined to the bedroom because he’s a jumper, and Twitchy, another cat, is roaming the cold streets of Bushwick “because he just has things to do,” says Ewa. Normally, when conducting these violations of personal space that we call Fridge Tours, I worry about annoying the hell out of the chef. Today, I think it’s the animals who are the most perturbed. So I got right down to the business of invading Jacob’s privacy so I could leave him and his menagerie to their day.
Name: Jacob Clark
Position: Executive Chef at Maison Premiere
Neighborhood: Bushwick, Brooklyn
How long have you been in this apartment? Eight years.
Since this is obviously reflective of both of you, I’m going to have to ask Ewa some questions, too.
Jacob: Honestly, it’s more reflective of her, she’s home more often.
Ewa: It’s a lot of Polish stuff.
Who does more of the cooking at home?
Jacob: Gonna be honest, it’s her. For the most part, when I come home, I don’t want to clean anything. She gets mad at me for how much food I order out.
But what’s this cured meat? I see you have two of them, so you must really like it.
Jacob: That’s Pick, I think it’s Czech? It’s a sausage; it’s really special. Do you want to try some? [Editor’s note: It’s a peppery salami made from Mangalitsa pigs, and it’s delicious.]
Ewa: It’s Hungarian. I keep it around for when we have people over and we have a cheese plate, or like a charcuterie board. I keep it well-stocked.
Where do you go for all of these imported European things?
Ewa: I do real estate, so I go all over the city—Polish neighborhoods, Eastern European neighborhoods. I’ll stop by and grab smoked fish, stuff like that.
Noodle the dog.
Pickled things from Ewa’s mother.
Jacob: We travel a lot. She’s from Poland, so we go to Poland often and take road trips. And she gets mad, because I bring too much stuff home to the US with me. Like I’ll fill up suitcases full of jars of preserves and pickled chanterelles and sausages. Bottles of vodka. Stuff you can’t find here. I have no idea how we make it through customs every time. Her family has a farm where they grow a lot of things and preserve a lot of things, so when we’re coming back, [her mother] just stuffs our suitcases full of jars of things.
More preserves from Poland.
What’s your typical alcohol situation at home?
Ewa: Usually there’s vodka in the freezer, but we just finished it. We always bring back Żubrówka, which is a Polish vodka with grass inside.
Jacob: But we drank it all. There’s some Polish beer back there. And some Texas beer, the Shiner. I’m from Texas, so I gotta have that. Otherwise alcohol doesn’t stay around very long.
Smoky the cat.
Some of the empty bottles that Ewa’s father sent back to the States with them.
Usually we have all these bottles that her dad sends back with us of liquors he makes himself. It’s all stuff from the farm, so like, gooseberries and the leaves from gooseberries, or strawberries. The first time I was there, we stayed up all night dancing and drinking until I passed out. Two hours later, her dad wakes me up and hands me a bottle of vodka. And I was like, “God, are you kidding me? It’s like seven in the morning!” And she’s like, “No, come on, you gotta do this!” So he takes me to his little basement, his little man cave, and there’s just sausages hanging everywhere and all these different types of vodka distilling everywhere. Then just wall-to-wall eighties Playboy centerfolds. So now when we come back, he fills my suitcase up with stuff from the man cave—sausages and whatever weird vodka he had going that month.
Fish stock and shrimp heads for gumbo.
If you’re ever the one cooking at home, what kind of stuff are you making?
Jacob: Usually things like gumbo or something like that, things that are easy to make in big batches. I have shellfish stock and shellfish heads in the back for that. But honestly our favorite thing to do is roast a whole chicken, right on top of some root vegetables—we don’t even cut ‘em up—in the oven. In two hours, all the fat from the chicken drips down on the veg. It’s the easiest thing—no labor, no knife work.
Testing what’s in the flask as Smoky looks on.
What’s in the flask?
Jacob: [sniffs] Whoof. Maybe whiskey? I haven’t opened this thing in ages. Oh my god, is this Goldschlager?! Why is there Goldschlager?!
Ewa: [laughs] From going sledding!
Jacob: Oh right! When it snows, we go to this one hill in Central Park and sit at the bottom and drink all day. I’m from Texas, where we don’t get snow, so when it snows, we’re like “Yeah!”
What’s the typical condiment situation going on in here? I see lots of pickles and condiments for cheeseboards.
Ewa: Hot sauces definitely. He made these pickled champagne grapes. Lots of barbecue sauces. Pickled chanterelles my mom made.
Jacob: Oh, this is my thing. I could take baths in ranch dressing.
Ewa: He could, its true. We ran out of ketchup for French fries and he used ranch instead.
Jacob: That’s not even that weird! But I put it on everything.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask about the suit of armor.
Ewa: Oh yeah, I saw him on the street here in Bushwick. So I called Jacob and was like, “There’s a knight just sitting here, what are we waiting for?” And I dragged him in.
Jacob: We don’t even notice it’s here anymore, it’s just the third roommate.
Well, thanks to all three of you for letting me be nosey today!