When Chef Eddie Blyden took over Henry’s at the historic Hotel Durant last spring he brought more than spaetzle from Munich and deviled duck eggs from San Francisco along with him. He brought a bit of controversy as well.
“I insisted on grass-fed beef from Uruguay, where the air is clean and the soil is fertile,” said Blyden, sitting at the popular campus sports bar at Durant and Telegraph, which was recently converted into the city’s first gastro-pub. “I want to celebrate the slow food movement by using sustainable produce from local organic farms as well as natural and free-range meat and poultry. My creations honor tradition, reflect the many cultures I have lived in and embrace the international tenor of the local neighborhood.”
Blyden might be pushy about his beef but he wins you over the old fashioned way—with simple flavors that keep the integrity of the ingredients alive.
“Like I keep saying over and over, ‘keep it simple’,” he said. “Food is like music. You can compose a simple song or a sophisticated symphony using the same musical notes. In the kitchen, you can combine herbs, flavors, colors and the best natural ingredients to create a snack or gourmet meal. All you need to do is allow the simple elegance of the food to shine through.”
Born in Nigeria, Blyden and his seven siblings were raised on three continents by his father, a Harvard-educated diplomat from Sierra Leone, and his mother, a Columbia University graduate from Boston. “I remember smelling pilaf in the Soviet Republic when I was 10—the lamb, the garlic, the spices. I knew I wanted to be a chef at that very moment.”
Blyden’s gastronomic journey—from his aunt’s tiny kitchen in Sierra Leone where he picked up West African recipes for jams and wines created from exotic tropical fruits such as carambola, guava, tamarind and sunarian cherries to the dining rooms of some of the world’s best restaurants in New York, Munich, Switzerland and the British West Indies—was as creative and deep as his love for natural healthy food.
“Being in Berkeley reminds me of Switzerland,” Blyden said reminiscing about his stint at Nouvelle in Zurich. “The sense of community in both places is just amazing. The Swiss have this cold facade but underneath they are very liberal. You have underground night clubs and pot plants growing on your desk in Zurich. They love theater, the ballet and, of course, bikes—same as you do here.”
In New York, Blyden worked with celebrity chef Terrance Brennan at the highly acclaimed Annabelle’s, former actress turned restaurateur Alison Price at Alison on Dominick Street, and David Bouley, who is synonymous with bringing four-star dining to Tribeca in the ’80s.
Unable to resist the turquoise blue waters of the Caribbean, Blyden took over as executive chef of the Rendezvous Bay Hotel in Anguilla, which was soon followed by an invitation to launch the 21st Amendment restaurant in San Francisco’s trendy SOMA district.
Blyden introduced crowd pullers such as lamb sliders and deviled duck eggs at the Magnolia Pub and the Alembic in Haight-Ashbury, taking a quick break to study the traditional use of roots and herbs in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
His trip to Asia, Blyden said, “left an indelible mark on my craft, my heart and my imagination.”
It’s a Wednesday evening at Henry’s, and the restaurant slowly starts filling up with regulars—mostly Berkeley old-timers who frequent the pub for its fine draft beers or a glass of Paul Dolan’s zinfandel.
Henry’s cuisine—mainly gastro-pub—matches its decor.
Its S+G spiced lemongrass-garlic frites with aromatic mayo is a far cry from your regular greasy pub fries, and Blyden updates the age-old American mac and cheese by adding sambal olek—an Indonesian chili condiment—with tomatoes and scallions.
The unexpected winner, however, turns out to be the turmeric and ginger mushrooms, roasted in herb butter.
The turmeric blends perfectly with the mushrooms—both ingredients giving off a potent earthy smell toned down by the hot butter.
Flat-screen TVs and oak beams create a smart and sophisticated look, and yet there are enough nooks and corners all around to add a warm and inviting touch.
A giant chalkboard hangs on the cream-colored walls, informing visitors about the weekly sports schedule and the accompanying drink specials.
It’s the kind of place where UC Berkeley Bear fans can hang out for a pre- or post-game drink and seniors can take their dates, even if it’s just to impress them with imaginative concoctions like Gossip Girl—a sweet rum, cranberry, pineapple and orange juice cocktail named after the popular teen drama TV show.
“I am sure Joe White, our mixologist, had something to do with it,” Blyden said laughing.
“People ask me what kind of crowd do you have? And I say everyone,” he said. “Students, fellows from all over the world, locals—we are pulling people down from the hills. I don’t think the university put up a wall here. People have a mental picture that it’s close to campus so it must be for the university crowd—but no, this place is for everyone.”
Breakfast: 7–10 a.m Monday through Friday. Lunch: 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m. Monday through Friday. Dinner: 5:30–10 p.m. nightly. The bar is open every day with all-day pub menu from 11:30 a.m. to midnight. Open for brunch on Saturdays and Sundays.
2600 Durant Ave. 809-4132.