Food Well Done

Helena Christensen, Devotee of West Village Hotspot the Golden Swan, Meets the Man Behind the Menu

Photography by Henry Hargreaves. Image courtesy of the Golden Swan.

Helena Christensen might have been the Golden Swan’s first regular.

The iconic model and photographer started popping into the tony West Village address, which used to house the influential then infamous Spotted Pig, the moment its new owner, Matt Abramcyk, began renovations in 2022. She only met its culinary mastermind, Chef Doug Brixton, months later, when he stopped by her table to shave black truffles. Brixton, Michelin-starred and Daniel Boulud-trained, is not a showy chef. His passion surfaces in the precise yet unfussy menu he’s concocted—a dizzying foie gras mousse, a heartening Amish chicken, a fearless steak tartare—not his ego.

A few months shy of the Golden Swan’s first anniversary, and following the launch of the restaurant's brunch service, Brixton sat down with his favorite guest to give her a sense of the man behind the mise en place.

Helena Christensen: I was born a food lover. From the second I came into this world I could not get enough, and it has stayed with me my whole life. Did you grow up in the kitchen?

Doug Brixton: My mom used to cook a lot, and I watched a lot of cooking shows on PBS, like Julia Child and Jacques Pépin. I would take those recipes and mimic them for her.

Christensen: How old were you?

Brixton: About 6. I liked the energy of cooking—there are so many components and things to look out for. That really intrigued me. Growing up in California, you’re exposed to so many flavors from different communities ... I always tell my cooks that when you’re working on a classic dish, it’s important to keep its integrity, its story. That is truly the backbone of a dish.

The Golden Swan's brunch service. Image courtesy of the Golden Swan.

Christensen: You start most days at the market. How do you finish your day? Are you hungry after leaving the kitchen?

Brixton: The team used to go for a run on Saturday nights to finish the week off strong and bond. Everybody was invited: front- and back-of-house. My pleasure after work, especially before my day off, is going to a food truck in Queens, some hidden gem. I’ll go out of my way for that. New York is one of those places where you can indulge in whatever you’re craving at whatever time, and that’s basically what I do—whether it’s my favorite taco truck or lamb over rice.

Christensen: Kitchens have gotten a negative rep for being toxic environments. I think it has a lot to do with the TV shows we’ve watched over the years, where chefs scream and treat their employees in a damaging way. I could never watch those shows because it made no sense to me why it would be like that. Cooking is such a beautiful experience that you have together—there’s magic in it.

Brixton: I’ve moved away from the yelling, crazy intense negative vibe. I felt like it was my duty—and the duty of my colleagues—to think of how we’re shaping the next generation of chefs. A lot of people who come into my kitchen have to adapt to that kind of environment. You anticipate, given how the food comes out, that it will be an intense kitchen. But for me, a quiet and composed kitchen means focus—people are focused on their craft and themselves.

Helena Christensen. Image courtesy of Helena Christensen.

Christensen: You worked with Daniel Boulud—that must have been a big learning experience.

Brixton: Working in an empire like that, there’s a lot of pressure. It takes you out of your comfort zone. There are so many things going on at the same time, so your creativity really needs to shine. I’m grateful I did it.

Christensen: I can’t imagine what kind of brain chefs must have—you need both an immense overview and so much concentration. I love cooking, but [doing it] for lots of people gets me very stressed out. What’s an ingredient that you can’t live without?

Brixton: Easy—salt. If you have a high-quality ingredient, you don’t need to do anything other than season it with a little bit of salt.

Christensen: I always travel with sea salt. If I go on holiday, I always bring some with me ... Is there a film or TV show about a chef that you relate to?

Brixton: The movie Chef [with Jon Favreau]. The pressure, the teamwork, family, finding balance—all those things are in there. I like the moment where he’s cooking at his house after the review. He’s making this restaurant-style dinner; he’s just in his element, really focusing on his passion and loving what he’s doing. I can relate to that.