Robert Phalen’s appreciation for fresh, quality ingredients began at a young age, spending summers on his family’s farm, where just-picked peaches and tomatoes off the vine were daily pleasures. That foodie spark ignited, Phalen’s quest for culinary knowledge led him to the University of Mississippi, where the young culinarian earned a degree in hotel and restaurant management. Going for the “Masters” equivalent in the culinary world, Phalen further honed his skills at Johnson & Wales University in Charleston, South Carolina.
Influenced by culinary greats such as John Currence and Bob Wagner—and maybe nostalgia for a market full of fresh fruits, or even just peaches—Phalen settled in Atlanta, where he worked his way through the ranks of some of the city’s best kitchens. He first worked with Chef Shaun Doty at Guenter Seeger’s Mumbo Jumbo, where Phalen found himself in the pastry department under the renowned Pastry Chef Edouard Fenouil. After four years, Phalen moved on to become executive chef for Alon Balshon at his namesake Alon’s. Phalen’s next project was at Atlanta magazine’s 2003 restaurant of the year, MidCity Cuisine.
In February 2008, Phalen opened his first venture, Holy Taco, a casual Pan-Latin restaurant in the heart of east Atlanta. At Holy Taco, Phalen continued to create the same ingredient-driven, seasonal, and creative cuisine that has earned him praise in the past. In spring 2011, Phalen headed to Inman Park with his more reserved and casually elegant One Eared Stag. Drawing on his top-notch culinary education and high-profile history, Phalen offers a little something for everyone in the Atlanta market and remains consistent in his support of sustainability and organic farming, a nod to his own fresh-picked introduction to beautiful food.
Interview with 2012 Atlanta Rising Star Chef Robert Phalen
Antoinette Bruno: What make you pursue cooking?
Robert Phalen: I needed a job in college. I worked as a dishwasher and then worked my way up.
AB: What advice do you have for young cooks?
RP: Listen to what someone else has to say. Keep your head down, say yes, listen, and watch. Don't go into it thinking you know everything because you don't know everything.
AB: What goes into creating a dish?
RP: We change the menu here everyday. Sometimes the guys don't know what’s on the menu until 5 o’clock, but it’s fun. The jarring and preserving is fun.
AB: What is your biggest challenge?
RP: Getting the clientele interested in my food. What I am doing is something different, and I have to work to get people to come here. But when they do they are like "Oh!"
AB: What trends do you see emerging?
RP: Going back to the way things were done. I want to capture all the sugars from caramelization or roasting; flavors you don't get from cooking in a bag.
AB: If you weren’t a chef, what would you be doing?
RP: Travel. I love cooking, and when I'm not doing it I'm travelling or spending time with my kids.
AB: Where will we find you in five years?
RP: Opening another restaurant in Atlanta.