Michael Chernow is the affable impresario behind NYC’s cultishly popular Meatball Shop restaurants. This summer he also opened Seamore’s, a seafood spot in lower Manhattan, with inventive preparations and a commitment to local sourcing. Here, Chernow tells us about his personal love of fishing — and his top-secret spot to do it.
My dad was a fisherman, not by trade, but he was a fisherman. He grew up fishing and he wanted to share that with me when I was young. We didn’t go out on a lot of trips together, but whenever we did go out it was so memorable. My dad unfortunately got sick when I was still a kid, but he had given me that passion to fish. I was part of a sports club in my elementary school, and the coach of the club would take all of us fishing almost every weekend. We would go fish out of party boats on Captree and Freeport, Long Island. We’d take all different kinds of fishing boats—fluke boats, flounder boats, bluefish boats, lingcod boats, sea bass and blackfish, all the fish that we’re serving at Seamore’s.
So that is where my fishing bones developed. Then when I was 18 or 19, I kind of fell in love with work. I would go fishing every once in a while, but up until about two or three years ago, I didn’t really make enough time for it. Then my wife and I decided to rent a house upstate in the Catskills, because we wanted to buy something up there. We started to look on the east side of the Hudson, more in Columbia County, and we found this amazing house. It butts up against state land, and on this state land is an incredible pond.
I want to say “lake” so bad, because it’s really big. Here’s the deal: You can have a thousand-acre body of water that could still be considered a pond; a lake has to be 45 feet deep. When I was upstate I’d be like, “Oh yeah we’re going to go to the lake” and everyone would be like, “That’s a pond.”
Anyway, this pond is on this tiny little road, and nobody ever goes up and down this road. I was so pumped about it that the first thing I did when we ended up buying this house — the house is in shambles, a real fixer-upper — I went down the road and I went fishing. The first day I caught a four-and-a-half-pound smallmouth bass, and I took it back to the house, I filleted it, and we ate it. That’s kind of a tradition now.
So my neighbor — who’s lived around there his whole life, his family’s been there for generations — when I saw him I was like, “Hey Paul, do you ever fish on that pond near my house?” He gave me this weird, serious look and says, “Don’t tell anybody about that place.” I was like, “What do you mean?” And he said, “I’ve been fishing there since I was a kid, I’ve never seen anybody fish there, and every time I fish there I come home with bass.”
So I’m not giving the address, but almost every time I go there I pull out an awesome bass. Bass fishing is so much fun, because bass love to run. Typically you hook a fish and you reel it in. With bass you let them run, and then they fight you the whole entire way back. They’re fighters and they taste really good. You earn it.
I don’t know if these bass have gotten complacent; they’ve definitely gotten fat. They live a long life, and that’s why they end up, like, 18 inches long. Then the crazy thing about freshwater fish is in winter, when it freezes over, they live underneath the ice all winter long. It’s just insane to think about.
I also love sea fishing. You typically go with a bunch of guys and there’s typically cigars involved, and typically beers, and it’s like a real event. I love sea fishing and freshwater fishing for different reasons. I go freshwater fishing alone, typically early in the morning, or as the sun’s coming down. If you look at my Instagram, I always take pictures of me out fishing. It’s like a meditative experience.
I just had a son, so if my wife wants to take a nap I’ll take my son with me in the stroller. I’ll let him hang with me while I fish; it’s really amazing. My son is going to be fishing before he’s one. I brought him right up to the last fish I caught. He was super pumped, so he’s got it in his blood.
I also have a big mutt; he’s about 100 pounds. He is not a good mellow fishing hound — not at all. He’s afraid to go swim in the water, but he’s not afraid to let the fish know that we’re there. I only take him fishing with me if I’m not planning on catching anything.
I like to cook the fish on my Big Green Egg. It holds temperatures for very long periods of time, as high as 900 degrees and as low as 120 degrees. So I can slow roast on it, and I can cook really quickly on it. I typically take the fish and I stuff it with lemon, parsley, rosemary, thyme, season it with salt, gill it and scale it, throw it on the grill and cook it whole. It’s fresh out of the water — as good as it gets.
Up there is where I get my solace. It’s, like, my life is intense in New York, super intense constantly, I work nonstop around the clock, and when I go upstate, it’s just like, “Ahhhhh.’ Then I come back and people ask, “What did you do? Where did you go?” I’m just like: “I hung out in the woods.” I don’t do this restaurant stuff to lock myself down and not allow for the privileges of life.
I hate to get real foofy on you, but I believe the area I’m in is a super spiritual place. I wake up in the morning and there’s deer right outside my door, and coyote every night. I’m, like, two hours from the city, and I’m at peace. Just don’t think I’m going to tell you where it is.