42 E. 20th St.
New York, NY 10003
Heather Sperling: When and why did you start cooking? What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?
Michael Anthony: I worked part-time jobs in restaurants in high school and college, but never envisioned doing it professionally. I got my undergrad degree in Business and French and a minor in Japanese at Indiana University, then moved to Japan. I spent a year working in this little Japanese-French bistro in Roppongi (in Tokyo); after a year the chef told me to go back West and go to cooking school. I reluctantly said yes, packed it up and went to Paris, where I got a formal apprenticeship. I spent two years working in a restaurant and going to school at Le Ferrandi; the school had close ties with the chamber of commerce and all the great restaurants, and when I finished I had a job waiting for me in Bougival at Le Camélia with Chef Jean Delaveyne – Joel Robuchon’s “spiritual father.” He had a 3-star restaurant outside Paris. His kitchen was strict and severe and a little terrifying, but really helped me to get up and running in Paris. By the time I finished cooking school I had a job waiting for me at Jacques Cagna.
Chef Michael Anthony
Gramercy Tavern | New York
Michael Anthony grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, and graduated from Indiana University with degrees in Business, French, and Japanese. After graduating, he moved to Tokyo to hone his language skills, but ended up developing an interest in the local culinary scene. He worked in a bakery and a farm and eventually a restaurant: Bistro Shima, a small French bistro in Tokyo, with chef Shizuyo Shima.
Heeding Shima’s advice, Anthony moved to Paris in 1992, enrolled in culinary school at Le Ferrandi, and began a rigorous apprenticeship with Chef Jean Delaveyne at Le Camélia in Bougival. By the time he had completed his training, he had a job waiting for him in the kitchen of Jacques Cagna. Anthony would later return to Paris to work in the kitchens of both L’Arpege and Pascal Barbot’s L’Astrance.
After his Jacques Cagna stint, Anthony left Paris for New York, working first at Daniel and then as chef de cuisine at March, where he also played an integral role in the restaurant’s redesign. After March, Anthony returned to Paris for a summer to work for Chef Michel Guérard at Le Prés d’Eugénie. Upon returning to New York, he joined the team of Blue Hill, first as co-chef of the Manhattan outpost and later as the opening executive chef at Blue Hill Stone Barns, located on a farm in upstate New York. There Mike and chef/owner Dan Barber had the opportunity to build a restaurant that embodied the “farm to table” concept, thanks to the abundance of farm-fresh ingredients they had at their disposal.
After four years at Blue Hill Stone Barns, Anthony returned
to New York in September 2006 as executive chef of Gramercy
Tavern. From this base, he's an active part of the local community,
giving tours to students from nearby elementary schools, trying
to start a greenhouse project at Washington Irving High, and arranging
visits to local farms for his staff, teaching them first-hand how
and where the food they serve each day is grown.
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HS: Where have you worked professionally as a chef?
MA: The restaurant in Tokyo was called Bistro Shima, and the chef was Shizuyo Shima. In New York, I have worked at Daniel, March, Blue Hill and upstate at Blue Hill at Stone Barns. I was able to go back to Paris almost every year (not these past three years though), and I spent a summer working for Chef Michel Guérard at Le Prés d’Eugénie between my time at March and Blue Hill, and spent weeks working at L’Arpege and L’Astrance.
When I left Blue Hill, I had a business plan and went
to Danny Meyer for advice. After having a few conversations, he
suggested that I just come work at Gramercy Tavern. It
made sense – we had a natural fit in cooking and dealing with
people, plus stylistically – there’s a comfortable and
similar approach to cooking. Gramercy has always set the
standard for excellence in fine dining, though Tom Colicchio originally
set out to have a French bent. What we’re doing is very, very
American, but we’ll never get away from our French influences.
HS: Who are some of your
mentors? What have you learned from them?
MA: The people that I’ve
worked for and the people that I’ve worked with have all been
mentors to me in one way or another. In New York, it was Daniel
Boulud and Wayne Nish. Daniel was the first restaurant
I worked at in NYC and I had my first sous position under Wayne
at March. They couldn’t be any further apart in personality
or style but they both influenced me a lot. Also the guys I worked
next to at Daniel – they’ve all gone on to
own their own places or have become executive chefs. I still talk
to them and learn from them every week.
HS: 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
MA: I ask them to visit
the kitchen and I make sure they taste the food. After we spend
two days working together I ask them if they found what they expected
– I’m curious to hear how people see it from the outside.
I also ask about commitment – I ask them to give me at least
HS: What advice would you
offer young chefs just getting started?
MA: Be devoted and patient.
HS: Is there an ingredient
that you feel is particularly under appreciated or underutilized?
MA: Onions, cabbage, carrots
– modest ingredients. When I sketch out a menu, the first
thing that hits the paper is the vegetable, and then the rest sort
of fills itself in. I love to promote modest ingredients over luxury
ingredients. Foie gras and truffles find their way into the dishes,
sure, but as a celebratory, height of the season-type thing.
HS: What are a few of your
favorite flavor combinations?
MA: Cauliflower and briny
seafood, like lobster or langoustine reduction. In the spring we
buy as many ramps as we can get our hands on – pickling the
stems but going crazy trying to use the greens – grilling
them, sauteing them, pureeing them and serving them with lobster.
In the lobster sauce we sweat the whites and deglaze with pickling
liquid, splash with stock, and finish with a chiffonade of the greens.
Ramps, like sorrel, have a fleeting flavor so we finish with the
chiffonade and a splash of lemon.
HS: What’s your most
indispensable kitchen tool? Why?
MA: A Vita-Prep –
I use it for everything.
HS: What are your favorite
MA: Cooking by Hand
by Paul Bertolli, which is beautiful because it’s poetic,
and The Zuni Café cookbook by Judy Rogers. I especially
love Alain Ducasse’s Grand Livre de Cuisine –
every single page of that book makes me both salivate and dream.
It’s very technical, too.
HS: Where do like to go
for culinary travel? Why?
MA: Roanne, France because
I’m dreaming of eating at Troisgros. Of all the places
in the world that’s where I most want to eat.
HS: What are your favorite
restaurants off-the-beaten-path in your city?
MA: Sushi Yasuda
– I always sit in the first 2-4 seats (that’s where
Yasuda works) – we never walk out without having at least
5 mouthfuls of overwhelmingly delicious sushi. At Al di La in
Brooklyn – you get a little sense of soul and it’s great.
HS: What trends do you
see emerging in the restaurant industry now?
MA: The ability to trace
the food that we use back to its source – it’s a passionate
interest in the foods that we eat and the way they get to us. Everyone
has always been interested in how foods are produced, and great
chefs have always had amazing, mysterious contacts. But now there’s
a sense of openness – and the information is there for the
taking, and that’s cool. My diners are much better educated
about what they’re eating, and their expectation levels are
higher. The demand is not as much for the refined as for the real
and soulful. And then there’s also a strong movement of chefs
who are focusing their attention on experimentation.
HS: What is your philosophy
on food and dining?
MA: The approach is celebrating
rich flavors by leaning on the craftsmanship in cooking and layering
with light seasonal flavors. I try to balance rich soulful flavors
with lighter seasonal flavors. I’m very committed to seasonal
cooking and very inquisitive about both searching out local sources
and bringing those sources into a community that is eager to connect
– both the restaurant industry and our guests.
HS: Who would you want
to cook for you? Which person in history would you most like to
MA: I think I’d choose
David Bouley to cook for me. He is all over the place but so unbelievably
artistic. My most recent meal was one of the best I’ve ever
had and it was so simple! I always joke to my cooks that they should
cook like they’re cooking for the person they care most about.
Or the King of Spain.
HS: If you weren’t
a chef what do you think you’d be doing?
MA: I think I’d like
to be a journalist.
HS: What does success mean
for you? What will it look like for you?
MA: In 5 years I hope to
be exactly where I am right now. There is limitless potential within
the company right now.
HS: How are you involved
in your local culinary community?
MA: We may be able to work
with Washington Irving high school on 16th and Irving – they
have greenhouse that’s out of use, and we may get to go in
a revamp it and work on a curriculum with the kids and the teachers.
We’ve been working with PS41 – we’ve had 3 groups
of 1st graders come to the restaurant for a tour. Line cooks and
managers give them a tour and introduce them to vocabulary and sounds
and sights – we do a cooking demo and then we sit down and
have lunch. It doesn’t take much to get kids talking about
their food related memories. There are a lot of awesome causes to
support, but kids are a great place to start. We can keep it on
a very basic level, and it opens a window into what good eating
is all about.
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