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Q & A with Untitled’s Michael Anthony

manthony.0.0Danny Meyer’s hospitality group tends to inspire an unprecedented amount of loyalty, which is especially evident in the case of Michael Anthony, who’s been the executive chef and driving, culinary force behind Gramercy Tavern for nearly a decade.

“He’s one of the most inspired leaders I’ve ever met,” Anthony explains of his steadfast allegiance to Meyer.  “His commitment to investing in the restaurant infrastructure and our team in order to keep Gramercy Tavern relevant, and an educational environment for everyone, is what keeps me working hard.”

And that’s why, when Anthony finally elected to take on a second project after nearly 10 years, it was again within the Union Square Hospitality Group — heading up the modern American Untitled at the revitalized Whitney Museum in the Meatpacking District.  The through line between both restaurants is an unabashed adoration of vegetables.  In fact, Anthony recently published a cookbook, titled V is for Vegetables, further emphasizing his produce-focused mission and providing home cooks with recipes & techniques for preparing everything from artichokes to zucchini.

We spoke to the devoted chef about the most over and underrated ingredients, where he eats in the city on a rare day off, and why making foie gras torchon for a family in France was one of the greatest highlights of his career!

Did you always want to be a chef growing up?
No, I was a really finicky eater as a little boy and didn’t decide to cook professionally until I graduated from college and was living in Japan.

What job would you say really kick-started your career?
My very first job cooking at Bistro Shima in Japan taught me how to think and work like a chef.  It trained me to always think three steps ahead, choose the right tool for the right job, and confirm that every single dish was executed correctly.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received from a chef friend or mentor?
Chef Daniel Boulud said to me, “No matter what, never accept a second rate effort from yourself or your team.”

What advice would you give to a chef just starting out?
Be patient but persistent in developing your own personal style of cooking.  Try to identify what makes you unique and amplify it.

You’ve been at Gramercy Tavern since 2006.  What has inspired your loyalty, and what’s kept you interested and excited to work there after all these years?
Gramercy Tavern is made of a team that knows how to celebrate a hard day’s work.  They take time to pat each other on the back and recognize each other’s efforts and most importantly, they have the courage to come back to work the following day to try and improve on their effort.  

After all of these years, what inspired you to take on a second project with Untitled?
For a number of years, we’ve nurtured many talented people here and I’ve been yearning for the chance to give them an opportunity to grow while we pursue our expression of a few new ideas.  Untitled and its casual counterpart, Studio Cafe, have given us all a chance to grow in a new and exciting environment.  What’s better than that?

How are you dividing your time between the restaurants right now?
I am working on dividing my time evenly between, however most of my time has been dedicated to building the culture at Untitled.  Ultimately, my hope is to be in the right place at the right time.

If you were to eat at Untitled as a guest, what would your order, and why?
Personally, I would order some of our vegetable dishes as they mark the evolution of my style of cooking from Gramercy Tavern to Untitled and Studio Cafe.  I still aim to cook with seasonality in mind while highlighting regional ingredients.  Gramercy Tavern’s dishes express luxury, and Untitled’s dishes express spontaneity.  We play off the minimalist lines of the Rezno Piano’s design for the space as well as the High Line.  We try to capture the sensibility of nature overflowing those boundaries.

What current culinary trends can you really get behind, and which do you wish would just die already?
I love that flavors from Korea and Mexico are entering into our lexicon.  The spiciness of peppers in those styles of cooking have brought a whole new and exciting chapter to our dishes.  I also love seeing more and more restaurants express a hyper local attitude.  This makes dining out a distinctive experience.  I would like for home cooking to no longer be treated as a spectator sport, and I’m excited by a growing number of people who are fired up about cooking their own meals.

What do you consider to be some of the most overrated and underrated ingredients?
The most underrated ingredient is shio koji, and I think the most overrated ingredient is foie gras.

On a rare day off, what do you do (and eat) in the city?
Every Friday, I get a CSA delivery from Norwich Meadows Farms at home, and I love to craft dishes for my family inspired by those surprise ingredients.

Besides your own, what are some of your favorite places to go when you’re really looking to treat yourself, and what are your favorite casual, divey restaurants?
For a rare celebratory meal out with the entire family, I like to go to Daniel where the food is delicious and the staff makes you feel right at home.  My favorite divey restaurant is Hinata Ramen, right around the corner from my apartment.  On Sunday’s after my kid’s gymnastics class, I enjoy going to Co Pizza on the West Side.

What do you consider to be your greatest professional achievement thus far?
The first achievement came early in my career after I completed cooking school in Paris and I was working for a 2 Michelin star restaurant called Jacques Cagna.  I was celebrating the Christmas holidays with some family friends just outside Lyon in a small town in the Beaujolais wine region and my friend’s grandparents, who originally introduced me to the pleasures of cooking and dining, agreed somewhat reluctantly to have the American – which was me – prepare the foie gras torchon, one of the focal points of their Christmas Eve celebration.  I was beyond flattered, and I am very proud to say that they continued to use my recipe for years and years to come.  The second achievement was being named the Outstanding Chef in America by the James Beard Foundation last May in Chicago.  There’s no greater feeling than having your work recognized by your peers.

While you’ve accomplished so much, what’s your ultimate career goal?  Is there a brass ring you’re still reaching for?
I feel lucky to get to do what I love for a living and I feel fortunate to still be standing.  After 25 years of working in the restaurant industry, I’m proud to have achieved most of the dreams that initially got me into this business and I’m glad to be in a position to keep dreaming.  If we continue as a team to reinvest in our restaurants and stay committed to being relevant, I’ll be the happiest person in the business.

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