Chef Drew Belline
Floataway Café |Atlanta
26-year old Atlanta native Drew Belline graduated Johnson and Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island and went directly to New York City, working with under Damon Wise and Marco Canora at Tom Colicchio’s Craft, and Charlie Palmer at Kitchen 22. He spent time at Jasmine in Charleston, South Carolina before returning to Atlanta in 2004 for a line cook position at Anne Quatrano and Clifford Harrison’s Southern fine dining restaurant, Bacchanalia.
Belline was promoted to sous chef within six months, and soon after
accepted the opening chef de cuisine position at Quinones,
the intimate fine dining restaurant below Bacchanalia. Today
he is the chef de cuisine of Floataway Café, Quatrano
and Harrison’s more casual outlet, where he serves ever-changing
menus anchored in local and seasonal produce – much of which
comes from Quatrano and Harrison’s farm outside Atlanta. At
Floataway, Belline is strictly seasonal and consistently
playful. He’s a brewer on the side, making root beers and
beer foams to pair with salads and sausages, and has a great appreciation
for the pairing of sweet and savory, as with a silver ice cream
parlor cup of homemade soft serve doused in fruity Italian olive
oil and sprinkled with Maldon sea salt.
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AB: Where have you worked professionally as a chef?
DB: Craft – Damon Wise was sous and Marco Canora was chef de cuisine. That was one of the most influential experiences of my life. And when Tom Colicchio was in the kitchen it was amazing.
AB: Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring cooks?
DB: If I had to do it over again, I wouldn’t go to culinary school. The student loans were not a lot of fun, and I had already been cooking for 4 or 5 years before I enrolled. It’s great for kick-starting, but that’s it.
AB: Who are some of your mentors?
DB: Anne Quatrano taught me so much about food and business. Everything from plating to ordering – she taught me how to run a business.
AB: In which kitchens have you staged? Which experience were the most influential?
DB: I staged at Nobu, and Artisanal got me going big into cheese. I also staged with Charlie Palmer at Aureole, which was the first true fine dining kitchen I experienced. My New York experience as a whole really opened my eyes to what is out there.
AB: What question gives you the most insight to a cook when you’re interviewing them for a position in your kitchen?
DB: I ask them what they are passionate about. It gives me an idea of how much they read about the subject, and if they truly care about it.
AB: What advice would you offer young chefs just getting started?
DB: Travel. Work in as many good kitchens you can, and give each one a solid year. The more you see, the more you learn.
AB: Is there an ingredient you feel is particularly underappreciated or underutilized?
DB: Cabbage – I love the pungency of the flavor. It’s a great medium to showcase other ingredients, like truffle-braised cabbage. I also like spring onions; they are great roasted in a wood oven, braised, and served whole.
AB: What are a few of your favorite flavor combinations?
DB: Beets, horseradish, and beef; scallops and celery; asparagus with mint or morels; lamb, peas, and mint; herb salads. I like pea shells – I do a raw and blanched pea salad.
AB: What is your most indispensable cooking tool?
DB: A really good, solid spoon. I have ten of them. I’m a freak for my spoons. They’re essential for pasting, plating, and sauces. I also love a wood-burning over and grill; it produces such rustic and wonderful flavor. It’s great for making pizza – right now I like it with straccino cheese, strawberries, and arugula.
AB: Is there a culinary technique that you have either created or borrowed and use in an unusual way?
DB: Beer foams. Forty pounds of carbon dioxide go into a soda canister, then we pull off the foam and serve it with blood sausages. I’ve also developed a sassafras burdock root beer served with a dandelion salad. And I like to use one ingredient a bunch of different ways on the plate – cooked and raw, together.
AB: What are your favorite cookbooks?
DB: Return to Cooking by Eric Ripert; The River Café Cookbook by Ruth Rogers.
AB: Where do you like to go for culinary travel?
DB: New York. I’d like to go to San Francisco – I’ve never been there and this restaurant is that kind of style.
AB: What are your favorite restaurant – off the beaten path – in your city?
DB: Watershed in Decatur
has great brunch – there’s a hamsteak in a massive,
obnoxious portion. Euclid Avenue Yacht Club in Atlanta
has the best hot dog ever. It’s a great late night, after
AB: What trends do you see emerging in the restaurant industry now?
DB: The Spanish thing is happening
here in Atlanta. Fine dining is on the way out – things are
moving more toward an A16-style – more casual, like
[Shaun Doty's new restaurant,] Shaun’s.
AB: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
DB: Simplicity speaks well to my food. I don’t like fancy dining. I prefer to keep it simple and offer good service without an overly attentive presence at the table.
AB: Which person in history would you most like to have dinner with? What would you serve?
DB: I would love to cook for Jonathan Benno. I still find him intimidating and always wanted to work for him. I wish I could have tried Bernard Loiseau’s food.
AB: If you weren’t a chef what do you think you’d be doing?
DB: Brewing beer or working as a carpenter. I love working with my hands.
AB: Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years?
DB: I think I’ll have
my own place – something small and casual, where I'm making
really good food.
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