By Leah Mennies | Photo by Andrea Merrill, Illustrations by Liz Noftle

In The Essentialist, we ask our favorite food and beverage geniuses to share the stuff they can’t live without—and learn a bit more about their normal-person lives in the process.  

Next up? Tony Messina, James Beard-nominated executive chef and partner of the Boston-based modern izakaya, Uni. He’s very particular about beach chairs.

 

Wild Maine blueberries

These are probably hands-down my favorite item every year. I think they’re the best thing you can eat all summer. I have them on for dessert right now with a lemon poppy pound cake. I pickled them last night to put on a tomato salad with fried clams. We'll make a blueberry “tofu” as well; when you mix them with their own pectin it gives you the texture of a tofu. It’s so good.

 

City of Gold

Since I started cooking, Jonathan Gold has been in the back of my mind with everything I make. How would he critique it? How would he take it? It crushed me last week when I heard of his passing. I have been re-watching the documentary a couple of times since. It’s super-close to my heart.

Suisin Sujihiki slicer

I have a lot of knives, but this particular one is my favorite knife out there. It is from a Japanese company, Suisin. It’s a Japanese-style slicer. I use this for cutting a lot of fish, and since I do a lot of that it’s the knife I use most. It’s so light, you almost don’t even realize it’s in your hand.

 

Bird scooters

I’m going to sound like a juvenile. It’s an app-based scooter thing. It’s essentially Uber, but for scooters. They go 25 miles an hour. You put your license and your credit card into it, jump on, and you ride. Around Venice and Santa Monica, it’s much easier than having to drive. It makes traveling more fun and easy. In California, they have dedicated roadways. In Boston? Absolutely not. I like living.

 

Sonos Sound Systems

It’s an app-based stereo sound system. We have it in the restaurant. It makes music and volume levels so easy to control. I can change the volume on one corner of the restaurant, the bass on one corner of the restaurant. I have it at home, so it also makes watching the football game really fun, too.

 

Nikka Coffey Gin

Nikka is a Japanese whiskey company, and they also make a gin with a ton of botanicals. I am a gin guy, through and through. There's lemongrass and [Makrut] lime in there, it’s not so wintery or juniper-heavy.  Normally I go gin and tonic, but with something like this you can just drink it neat. It’s like a sipping gin.

Peruvian Black Mint

I don’t want to call it musty, but it’s a very deeply flavored herb. It tastes very little like mint. It’s incredible as a garnish for things like melon. It’s also going into a salsa verde for tomatoes at Uni. Most people try it and don’t know what it is; it raises someone’s eyebrow, like ‘What did I just eat?” That’s what I like about it most.

 

Keith Kreeger Pottery

Keith Kreeger is out of Texas; he is the pottery guy for restaurants. Ken Oringer introduced me to his products a couple of years ago and I fell in love with them. They are heavy, durable, gorgeous, and they can stand up to a restaurant-style beating as well.

 

Hoja Santa

It’s a Mexican herb with a giant leaf. In Mexican cuisine, you see it wrapped around steamed fish. It tastes a lot like sassafras and root beer, with a little bit of heat in the end—like sassafras meets black pepper. I make a burnt honey and hoja santa tisane for on a fish dish at Uni, and in a froth that tops a frozen peach mousse. 

 

Beach chairs

During the summertime, I keep beach chairs and beach towels in my car at all times. You just never know. I end up going to the North Shore of Boston a lot. Cape Ann, Gloucester, Rockport, Ipswich. I go up for fried clams and walk around for the day. I don’t like the chairs that sit on the sand. They have to be elevated. I like to have armrests that are comfy, and you can’t have a sag to it so your butt hits the sand.

 

iPhone portrait mode

It’s so much more crystal clear than a typical photo. When shooting a dish, if you get the right light it’s pretty comparable to a professional photo. It’s my newfound thing—with food photos, it’s portrait mode right away.

 

 

THIS INTERVIEW HAS BEEN EDITED AND CONDENSED FOR CLARITY.