Chef Spotlight: Emerson Frisbie

Emerson Frisbie

The perils and pleasures of 3rd and 3rd chef Emerson Frisbie’s roller coaster life

Written by Jan Norris

It’s midday, and Emerson Frisbie is meeting his dealer to buy exotic mushrooms for his menu at 3rd and 3rd.

Five years ago, this would have been a drug deal instead. “I had my hands into some nefarious things,” he says.

You can get mental whiplash listening to his story, about his early pizzeria days as a dough proofer; traveling as a Deadhead; earning a BA; staging in famous kitchens, learning to butcher animals and forage edibles; trying to hide a 20-bag-a-day heroin habit; dealing drugs and crossing a biker gang; two overdoses; and finally, life in recovery.

He shares his made-for-Hollywood tale in the hopes of helping other chefs headed down a dark hole.

Today, Frisbie is five years sober. He knows his next relapse will be fatal, so “this is it,” he says. He’s putting all his experiences into his job, creating dishes with clarity and a passion at 3rd and 3rd.

As he tells everyone, “Cooking saved my life.”

What are you bringing from your past life to your kitchen discipline now?

“All the hours I spent finding ways and means to get drugs and all the time I spent high, I now put all that energy into perfecting my craft. Sometimes, it’s poring over a cookbook at night, sometimes it’s eating out somewhere that I can’t afford just to learn what other chefs are doing, and sometimes it’s simply about taking a minute to teach someone else what I have learned.”

What are you excited about on your menu?

“Really just trying to focus on where I’m sourcing stuff. I’m working with Mike at Aioli for bread. Pasta, from Mama Gizzi. Some produce from Swank Farm, some from GreenLife Farms; Bedner’s Market is right here. Capt. Clay’s seafood. He calls and tells me what he’s got—our fish is so fresh. Have you ever had yellow tilefish with the scales on? They puff up when they bake, and it’s like little fish potato chips.”

How do you test a potential cook in your kitchen?

“When I interview chefs, I ask them to cook a chicken breast with a pan sauce. Being able to get it right is harder than it seems. If you do it well, it’s satisfying. The trick? Cook skin side down, cook without flipping—and no basting. No pressing. Rest it properly—that’s key—then spoon the sauce over. Some work so hard to get the skin so perfect, and the meat is dried out.”

You tried private cheffing, but left quickly. What happened?

“The money was awesome, but I hated it. The waste. They spent so much money on product, then they’d eat three bites and throw it out. When they asked me to make Philly cheesesteaks out of A-5 Wagyu and put it on a hoagie roll with Cheez Whiz, onions and peppers, I snapped. I couldn’t take it any more.”

You go to markets and search out cookbooks for fun. What’s your favorite?

“Fannie Farmer’s. I love it. It’s a timeless snapshot of Americana. And Larousse Gastronomique. It’s good general knowledge. You have no ability to improve upon something without knowing where it came from in its original form.”

Favorite dish ever?

“One guy I grew up with, he’s Lebanese. It was his sweet potato gnocchi served with fire-roasted tomatoes and this whipped goat cheese. They looked like cylinders. They were perfect.”

3RD AND 3RD: 301 N.E. Third Ave., Delray Beach, 561/303-1939;

This story is from the April 2020 issue of Boca magazine. For more content like this, subscribe to the magazine.