Ayla and Duncan

Dame
Greenwich Village, NYC
Busboy tends to find interviewees the best way we know how: word of mouth. Throughout Spring/Summer 2021 no bigger subject was being talked about in our foodie enclave than Dame, the pop-up turned (highly anticipated) restaurant. We popped into the seafood-focused spot on a day they were closed to the public to chat with cooks Ayla Ochoa and Duncan Burgin as they prepped massive amounts of fries for the ever popular fish and chips dish. Read below for their full stories.
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Name, age, and where are you from?

AO: Ayla Ochoa, 26. Upstate NY.

DB: Duncan Burgin, 30yrs old. From Phoenix, AZ.

What was growing up like for you and did you have family meals growing up?

AO: Growing up I had two parents on the opposite side of the spectrum. One having no idea how to cook and one being a professional chef. So at times we would have a gourmet meal or a frozen pizza.

DB: My family moved quite a bit between CA-AZ and Colorado as a kid, until we settled in the East Valley of Phoenix AZ, so I never got the chance to completely settle into one place permanently, so I’m very grateful to have lived in NYC for 11yrs and have built up a community of friends/family that I can call my home.

My parents were chefs and in the industry out west, so I was extremely lucky and privileged to grow up with home cooked meals everyday and being able to cook and learn in the kitchen at a very young age. Our family hobby was traveling when we could, and going out to eat. Eating was the one thing that constantly brought the family together and gave us an opportunity at new experiences and cultures that  we never would have had the chance to appreciate or learn about.

What meal, or beverage, most reminds you of your childhood? 

AO: My dad being from Mexico would often make a big pot of pozole with all the fixing on top. 

DB: Growing up playing the bagpipes with my father in professional pipebands opened the door to Meat Pies, Bangers and Irn Bru (a very Scottish soda, great for hangovers) so when I’m feeling nostalgic or just plain hungry, Meyers of Keswick in the West Village is my go to for British fare, so delicious.

Tell us a bit about your venture. What is your role and how did you get into this industry?

AO: I started cooking in NYC at a young age right out of culinary school. I started at a fast paced restaurant where I actually met Chef Ed. 7 years later I’ve worked my way through all different cuisines and styles in NYC. I now work for Ed at Dame as one of his right hands. 

DB: I’m a Co-Sous Chef at Dame with one of my best friends Ayla Ochoa, and our incredible daytime Sous Dago (who is the rock of the menu at Dame) and loving every minute of it.

Because my parents were cooks, I stayed away from the industry until my mid twenties, and finally got over myself and went to The French Culinary Institute, starting working in restaurants, and haven’t looked back.

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How has the pandemic affected you?

AO: Well, I lost my job like most of the industry. So like many others I pivoted to the Private Chef life. For the first time in my life I spent most my summer cooking in the Hamptons. 

DB: The pandemic has been rough, for everyone, however I have been fortunate to have the amazing friends that I have and out of a very dark time they were able to bring Dame to life, and I will be there every step of the way.

What do you think working in this industry during this time has taught you?

AO: Working in the time has been very eye opening. Losing my job for the first time in my life made me see that there’s more to life than just the kitchen. Having a work life balance is so important to me now. It’s okay to take time to yourself to not burn out. 

DB: The pandemic has taught me (and I’m sure many others) to take time for yourself, work hard, but rest harder. Set boundaries and do activities that make you feel good and good for your mind. Go out to eat, go to the beach or just sit in the park and drink some great wine.

What's your favorite dish and drink on the menu?

AO: I think the Perfect way to start a meal at Dame is a couple of the Green Chartreuse Hollandaise Oysters and a glass of something sparkly.

DB: I love our grilled Mackerel with Mint and Caper Sauce. Simple, and delicious. Goes great with a bottle of Frederic Cossard La Chassornade. 

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What is your favorite place to go out and eat at and what are you ordering?

AO: I love to go to my local craft beer bar in the East Village. I will have whatever rotating local beer they have on tap or one of there amazing frozen Mai Tai and an order of Buffalo wings with extra blue cheese. 

DB: When I’m not focusing on my work at Dame, and the future of the restaurant or possible restaurants, my fiancé Megan and I, who also works at Dame, love eating at Ugly Baby, Thai Diner, Ernestos, and Estela, those are our go-to spots. And either of the Barria-Landia trucks in Queens and Williamsburg, you just can’t beat how amazing they are.

Anything exciting coming up for you? 

AO: We are closing the restaurant for summer Break. So we are flying to Europe and staying in Paris for a few days then drive down the coast of France into Spain, where we will be eating and drinking some of the best food in the world. 

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