When you've got a case of wanderlust, you don't let 7,789 miles get in the way. Barbara Lambert grew up listening to her grandparents rave about New Zealand's beauty and friendly people, so when she graduated from college, the 22-year-old American was off. "It was the farthest English-speaking country in the world and where I could get a one-year work visa," Barbara explains. "I went online, found a place to live and set up a job at a restaurant in downtown Auckland named The Grove. Matt was a line cook and I was a bus girl. We started dating and got married within four months." When Barbara realized she wanted to move back to the States to be closer to her family, Matt was game. He was excited about the opportunity to cook in one of the most revered culinary cities in the world—New York.
The couple opened The Musket Room in Manhattan in the spring of 2013 as a showcase for Matt's New Zealand–influenced dishes, French training and New American inspiration—a winning combination that has earned the restaurant a Michelin star three years in a row, the last in 2015. When Barbara's not on the go with the couple's sons, 5-year-old Pierce and 6-month-old Elvis, she manages the bustling business. "The great thing about working nights is that I get to spend all day with the boys," says Barbara. "It will be a little bit harder to navigate evenings as the kids get older, but we'll figure it out."
One of their favorite things about having a restaurant is meeting new people from around the world. "There's no better compliment than when a guest tells you they just had one of their best dining experiences ever. That's why we do what we do." And they're grateful to be working together, although it can be tough. "Juggling staffing and running a restaurant is a 24/7 responsibility. Even when we step away for a moment, it's never really not on our minds."
Apparently, Pierce also knows his way around the kitchen—especially the dessert station, where the macaroons are made. But when it comes to feeding her kids, Barbara isn't fussy. "I probably make vegetable quiche once a week. It's an easy way to get in some greens, and it's packed with protein. Beyond that, we eat a lot of store-bought roast chicken and quesadillas." For Christmas, Matt will likely cook roast lamb and, for dessert, Barbara will try to get him to a make a classic New Zealand trifle. "I offer, but he's scared of what mine might taste like!"The competitive New York City restaurant game is no joke, but the couple manage to keep their sense of humor intact. "We like to play tricks on our culinary interns," says Matt. "Like sending them to the market to buy chicken lips and seeing what they return with."
What's your approach to fussy eaters?
Picky eaters are subject to what my grandparents called thank-you portions. I used to eat with them almost every night, and we had to try at least one spoonful of everything my grandma made before leaving the table—she never made different dinners for the kids. We try to do this with Pierce and for the most part it works; the things he likes often surprise him. The only time it failed was when he fell asleep at the table because he was too stubborn to try the pierogi! —Barbara
Tell us about Elvis.
Since he was born we've had two family weddings and a camping trip. Considering the events spanned three states, with car and plane rides, he did great. We haven't really had to change much in our daily life, other than sacrificing a few hours of sleep. But with a little luck and love, he'll be sleeping through the night and life will go back to normal, just a little busier. —Barbara
How is Pierce adjusting to having a little brother?
I think, like many other kids, he's excited and jealous at the same time. We tried having Pierce sleep with Dad while I slept with Elvis in the boys' room, but that never worked. Pierce always found his way back into his twin bed with me, while Dad got a full night of sleep alone! He just wants equal attention, so whenever I hold Elvis and Pierce is around, I try to talk to him about things he and his brother will be able to do when they're older. —Barbara
What were some of the biggest surprises about parenthood?
How selfless and patient you need to be. Matt and I decided right when we had kids that if there were opportunities to grow our business and travel for work occurred, one of us would stay with the kids. They're only young once, and we wouldn't want to regret missing out on their firsts and fun experiences. And how precious every minute of sleep is! —Barbara
What does Christmas look like at the home a chef?
Because we live in New York City, our apartment kitchen isn't exactly big, so not much Christmas cooking gets done at home. We like to talk about what Christmas will be like once we have a house, but for now we leave the cooking to my sister. She loves to cook and host holidays, and tries to make it a big event. —Barbara
Matt, are there any New Zealand traditions you like to bring out for the holidays?
When I do cook, I love to make roasted lamb for Christmas. My grandmother's family use to kill a lamb right before the holidays every year and cook it on Christmas Day. I don't take it to that extreme, but making roasted lamb brings back great childhood memories.
Barbara, do you have favorite wine pairings for the holiday meal?
I love to start the festivities with off-dry Rieslings from New Zealand (Marlborough or Central Otago) and when we finally sit down for dinner, transition to Pinot Noir. New Zealand makes some world-class Pinot Noir, and as a country they're especially big on organic and biodynamic winemaking. Martinborough and Central Otago are the best Pinot Noir regions in New Zealand, and the wines can vary in style from big and fruity to nice and earthy and vegetal. Drinking wine with food is really so subjective—I believe you should drink what you like and not listen to anyone else. It's great to try new wines, but at the end of the day everyone has their own palate, just like with food.
Roasted Lamb Shoulder
Makes 6 to 8 servings
Prep 15 minutes
Refrigerate 2 hours
Roast at 375° for 1 hour
Let Rest 10 minutes
1 boned lamb shoulder (about 3 lbs), rolled and tied
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp each salt and black pepper
3 tbsp each chopped rosemary, thyme and mint
1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter
8 sprigs thyme
1 cup mint leaves
10 cloves garlic, crushed
Coat lamb with oil, season with salt and pepper and rub all over with chopped herbs. Refrigerate 2 hours.
Heat oven to 375°. Place lamb in a roasting pan and roast 1 hour, until temperature reaches 140° for medium-rare.
Remove lamb from pan and add butter, thyme sprigs, mint leaves and garlic. Cook over medium until butter starts to turn light brown. Remove from heat. Add lamb and roll around in pan until well coated with brown butter.
Remove lamb from pan and let rest 10 minutes before slicing.