Chef Drew Van Leuvan
Room at TWELVE |Atlanta
Drew Van Leuvan has some serious experience under his belt; his young face belies years spent working under some of the most established chefs in the country – Guenter Seeger, Joel Antunes, Jean-Louis Palladin – plus three executive chef positions around Atlanta. His cuisine is a blend of his interests and experiences: Seeger taught him refinement and Palladin introduced him to big flavors, and he stays up to date on trends and techniques coming out of New York, San Francisco and Spain.
Van Leuvan began cooking at age 14 as a way to earn some extra money after school. After graduating, by which time he’d been working in kitchens for seven years, Van Leuvan went to the Culinary Institute of American, ultimately spending his 8 month externship working at Palladin. In Atlanta he spent time with local chefs Guenter Seeger and Joel Antunes, plus Mark Dommen, Tom Catherall and Michael Tuohy, before opening Toast in 2005 and running the kitchen at Spice. He was the opening chef of SAGA in 2006; after the restaurant closed he joined Concentric Restaurant group, and is currently opening a number of their new restaurants around the city – first TAP, a gastropub in midtown, and most recently Room at the new TWELVE property downtown.
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AB: Where have you worked professionally as a chef?
DVL: I externed with Jean-Louis Palladin at Palladin for 8 months, and worked with Geunter Seeger and Joel Antunes at the Ritz-Carlton. I opened Toast and ran the kitchen at Spice, and most recently was opening chef at Saga, which closed this year.
AB: Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring cooks? Do you hire chefs with and without a culinary school background?
DVL: Yes, it’s really great, but you have to go to a reputable one. Getting practical experience is also important.
AB: Who are some of your mentors?
DVL: Guenter Seeger taught me about refinement, and Jean-Louis taught me about bigger flavors. Today I read a lot and pay attention to what’s going on in Spain, New York, and San Francisco.
AB: What question gives you the most insight to a cook when you’re interviewing them for a position in your kitchen? What sort of answer are you looking for?
DVL: ‘What’s your five year plan?’ Some candidates expect to be an executive chef right away, but it takes more time. I want to know what I can do for them in the next year of two.
AB: What advice would you offer young chefs just getting started?
DVL: This business will eat you up and spit you out. It will make you hate it, and you’ll laugh about it, but at the end of the day it’s great. You have to love it.
AB: Is there an ingredient you feel is particularly underappreciated or underutilized?
DVL: Salsify and radishes – I like to roast them in brown butter and then wrap them in prosciutto.
AB: What are a few of your favorite flavor combinations?
DVL: Chocolate with almonds, and olives with caramel – which I put in my barbecue sauce – make nice combinations of sweet and savory.
AB: What is your most indispensable cooking tool?
DVL: My pasta machine.
AB: What are your favorite cookbooks?
DVL: The el Bulli cookbooks are mind-boggling; Alain Ducasse’s work is a great resource for simple, old French cooking.
AB: Where do you like to go for culinary travel?
DVL: New York: everything is there.
AB: What are your favorite restaurant – off the beaten path – in your city? What is your favorite dish there?
DVL: Wysteria has wonderful Southern food; Fritti for pizza; Pura Vida
AB: What trends do you see emerging in the restaurant industry now?
DVL: Putting pastry and savory together on one plate; food that is functional and playful.
AB: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
DVL: I want people to sit down and trust that they’ll have an experience. I want to get a reaction and also educate. I want to create delicious food while watching the bottom line.
AB: If you weren’t a chef what do you think you’d be doing?
DVL: I’d be a professional golfer.
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