21 Oct - Talking Turkey (literally) with Mason Hereford from Turkey and the Wolf
There are few people we’d like to be trapped with in a crowded subway for an extended period of time than Mason Hereford. The larger-than-life owner behind the New Orleans restaurant Turkey and the Wolf not only slings superior sandwiches, but also has a personality to match the boldness of the food. We hosted Hereford here at Freehand for as part of our the Neighborhood dinner series. Afterward, we sat him down for a proper grilling.
Freehand NY: Is it true there’s always a line at Turkey and the Wolf?
Mason Hereford: No, get that shit out of here! It keeps customers away. We only have a line maybe at lunchtime on the weekends. In the summer in New Orleans, the city slows down dramatically, so we go four months to a year with zero line and then we hit the busy season and the line is only on rare days. It’s almost never that you have to wait for a table because the line moves as fast as people eat. I can’t imagine anyone waiting for food more than 15 minutes. The idea for us is by the time you order the food, you should have it in your hands within five minutes or less on a good day. Obviously there’s times where it doesn’t happen perfectly, but we kind of set up everything ever since that fateful Bon Appetit day.
FHNY : It seems like some individual components take a lot of work, though.
MH: The way we run things is by making sure that everything that’s gonna have a big impact on the flavor. We’re not seasoning to order. We’re trying to nail all the big flavors ahead of time so that we don’t have to worry about people getting a different product or less delicious version of the sandwich. We’ve figured out a way in our tiny little crazy shaped kitchen that makes no sense in this little building to get the food to the people and ideally have it taste the same every time. The only opportunity to fuck something up is to burn something.
FHNY : How often do you make the ham? Is it a weekly thing?
MH: We do it every week. We also have a proprietary ham situation that we’ve been working on with a company that raises their own pigs. Right now we use a few of their hams and we try to do at least half our own ham, but soon all of our ham will be made for us, which is really exciting. It’s less exciting for the customer, but it’s going to be a better product overall.
FHNY: Give us a little bit of sandwich theory.
MH: The bread is incredibly important. Obviously everybody knows that, but the bread is actually one of the flavors on your sandwich, and it’s one of the textures on your sandwich. Those are the things you gotta take into account. So like, think of a sandwich the same way you would building a dish at any restaurant. You gotta think of every component, texture, flavor, and what the different flavors are and how they come together. That’s what we’re doing with sandwiches. So the bread is very much a component. And how you treat the bread is something that you need to think about. Whether you toasted it on one side or both sides or you toasted in the oven or on a pan, or if you didn’t toast it at all. Or if you let it sit for a day before you used it. Or if the rye bread has caraway seeds in it or not. These are all things that are a part of making a dish at a restaurant, so we consider them a part of us making our dishes at our restaurants. Our dishes just happen to be sandwiches.
FHNY: Do you have a favorite classic sandwich?
MH: I have two favorite sandwiches in the world, and neither of them are exactly classics — but I grew up eating a sandwich in my hometown in Charlottesville, Virginia that was Turkey, lettuce, sharp cheddar, herb mayonnaise and cranberry sauce with some lettuce on a French roll. We used it to make our ham sandwich a Turkey and the Wolf. It’s all completely based on the fact that that sandwich was a big part of my childhood and I couldn’t really live without it.
The other one is a take on a classic served three blocks away from Turkey and the Wolf at this place called Stein’s deli. Where Dan Stein, a good friend and a bit of a mentor of mine, serves a sandwich called the Sam and it’s kind of like a reuben, but it’s coleslaw instead of sauerkraut. So it’s pastrami, swiss cheese, Russian dressing, coleslaw, and you get to choose your bread from three different kinds of rye. I get seeded rye bread rather than the other two options of unseeded and marble.
I love a Reuben, but I like coleslaw better than sauerkraut. And that’s kinda how we came up with our collard greens in sandwich, which is has reuben-y flavors, but with coleslaw.
FHNY: What you do like to do in New York?
MH: Every time I come to New York, I go put my name in at Uncle Boons and then I go to Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels and I get the salt and vinegar pistachios and drink natural wine until Uncle Boons is ready for me. I go eat at Uncle Boons and remind them that I love them and that I have a dish on my menu that’s based on one of their dishes. And then every time they go, “Oh, okay.” And then I sit there and I eat at my favorite restaurant in the world. And then the rest of the trip, I try to eat about five meals a day. A mix of favorites and new stuff.
Written by: Tammie Teclemariam
Photos by: Allison Poole