A double-decker burger soaked in bone marrow, slathered in American cheese and sprinkled with crispy shallots brought “Iron Chef America” contestant Victoria Blamey to the forefront of the public’s attention last year: In a New York Times review of the revived Chumley’s, critic Pete Wells praised the chef’s creation as “an erotic poem on the theme of fat,” a greasy mess well worth the $25 price tag.
A few days before her showdown with Iron Chef Stephanie Izard was scheduled to air on the Food Network, Blamey couldn’t reveal the featured secret ingredient that anchors each televised cook-off during our phone interview, but a teaser for the episode that aired Sunday hinted that the “New York burger master” has “a beef” with her competitor.
So let us set the record straight: Blamey enjoys an occasional burger as much as the next person, but she’d rather be cooking seafood.
“I’m not the kind of person to be cooking T-bones and rib-eyes and stuff like that. I come from a culture in Chile that we love meat, but I love a big variety of things,” explained the Chilean native, who currently lives in Brooklyn Heights.
She’d never even served a burger before her time at Chumley’s, the historic West Village speakeasy that restaurateur Alessandro Borgognone relaunched as a restaurant in late 2016.
“I understood I had to make a burger, so [the 86’d was] my version of a burger I would like to eat,” said the Atera alum, now 38. “It wasn’t a lot of brainpower. It was just literally things that I like eating.”
But it wasn’t so much the food she served as the décor at Chumley’s — dim lighting, velvet curtains and leather banquettes and stools — that fed Blamey’s reputation as a “beef chef,” Blamey says.
“I’m tired of hearing so much meat going on, to be really honest.”
Blamey said her next project (she left Chumley’s in December for “personal” reasons) will ideally be more focused on the fruits of the sea.
At a pop-up dinner at Fitzcarraldo Project in Bushwick this April, her menu incorporated some Chumley’s favorites alongside the kinds of dishes she really likes cooking and eating: spicy fish head stew; pickled oysters with avocado, white chocolate and cauliflower; grilled mackerel with braised seaweed and fried walnuts.
Blamey is still in talks with hospitality groups that can provide the kind of infrastructure and equity share she’s looking for in her next gig, she says, but she already has a clear idea of the restaurant she’d like to open. Ideally, it would serve innovative “larger tapas”-sized plates in a casual setting with more than 60 seats. Sustainably sourced seafood and game meats, like rabbit, would be on the menu.
“I don’t want to serve something that is boring. So many things right now are more of the same,” she says, echoing New York magazine Adam Platt’s recent critique of neighborhood restaurants. “So much money thrown into the decoration, and then the food is almost like a second act.”
It’s between two acts of her own that Blamey agreed to an “Iron Chef America” showdown.
“I used to watch it, because my ex-husband loved the show, but then when I came here and I was working, I barely watched TV,” she said.
When the series reached out to her in December before launching a 13th season earlier this month, she was thrilled and the timing was just right. The contestant asked two former Chumley’s colleagues to serve as her sous chefs and entered Kitchen Stadium prepared to take the competition seriously in January.
“It’s super intense,” she said of the experience. “You go into this battle and you seriously forget about everything you’ve ever done.”
When the taping was over, her team headed to the nearest In-N-Out for…. you guessed it: “I had whatever the biggest burger was,” Blamey recalled, referring to the chain’s off-the-menu “Animal-style,” “and I ate it in like two seconds.”