A chat with Robert Egan

The 52-year-old restauranteur-author on barbecue, family-and his unusual friendship with North Korean Diplomats
Bobby Cubbys Counter

Why barbecue? “When we opened Cubby’s in Hackensack in ’82 we sold hot dogs and chili. But I realized we needed to bring in more dollars, go upscale and take advantage of Bergen County’s ethnic diversity. Every culture loves barbecue.”

Rough start: “I live in Palisades Park today, but I grew up in blue-collar Fairfield, around gangsters, corrupt police and corrupt politicians. At 11 and 12 we were hunting and fishing, and we were weapons experts at 14. We didn’t have ‘play dates.’”

Barbecue blunder: “Most people leave the meat on one side too long, so the juices run out the other side. You’ve got to sear it first—one minute on each side—then cook it several minutes till it’s the way you like it.”

Signature meal: “I’ll cook at home if I have to. Prime dry Porterhouse steak, aged for 35 days—that’s my favorite thing to cook. I’m a grill guy.”

Best meal ever: “My grandmother’s spaghetti and meat sauce and sausage. Even my mother can’t make it that good. But it might have been the atmosphere. This was Garfield, an Italian neighborhood, with all the aunts and uncles—men at one table, women at another.”

Mixed heritage: “I’m half Irish and half Italian. Call it ‘racial profi ling’ if you like, but the Irish can’t cook like the Italians.”

Asian infatuation: “I had an interest in Asian cultures, and in the ’70s, wanting to bring more POWs home, I went knocking on the door of Vietnam’s U.N. mission. I ended up helping the Vietnamese normalize relations with the U.S., and North Korea was looking to have the same success. I became good friends with North Koreans and served as a conduit between the U.S. and North Korea, traveling there several times. I talk about it in my book, Eating With the Enemy: How I Waged Peace With North Korea From My BBQ Shack in Hackensack.”

Net effect: “The North Koreans loved the Nets game I took them to. They went into the locker room and got goodie bags.”

Demanding dad: “I teach my daughters [Andrea, 20; and Laurie, 11] how to work, as they do in Asian cultures. We’re raising a generation with no idea what it’s like to go out and do hard manual labor, which most of the world has to do.”

Jersey’s rep: “We deserve it—and I’m proud of it. We’re brash. We’re the cowboys and cowgirls of the East.”

Best advice: “Fugitive financier Robert Vesco, whose lawn I cut as a kid, told me: ‘Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.’ I took that right to the street, and to North Korea. I knew they were an ‘enemy’ country. I wanted to keep them as close as possible.”

Scores outdoors: “Hunting with a bow and arrow, I’ve bagged an elk that was between 400 and 500 pounds dressed. And I once caught a 300-pound marlin off Costa Rica.”

Desert-island movie trio:Forrest Gump, The Wizard of Oz and Goodfellas.”

Tube fave: “The Real Housewives of New Jersey, believe it or not.”

Top Chef: “That’s —— [expletive]! You want to learn how to cook? Drop in at my place or a 24-hour diner when a busload of a hundred people comes in and there are only two cooks!”

Categories: Bergen Health & Life, Home & Style Features, Homepage Features