Memphis on the Rise
As born and bred Memphians who grew up in large Italian families, it only makes sense that chefs Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman cook a soulful fusion of Southern and Italian cuisines at their restaurants Hog & Hominy and Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen. This happy mash-up has garnered lots of rave reviews – last year Ticer and Hudman joined the roster of Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs, while Hog & Hominy was among GQ’s 12 Most Outstanding Restaurants of 2013 and Bon Appetit’s Top 50 New Restaurants. They also released their first cookbook, Collards & Carbonara. Below, the chefs talk about the Memphis food scene, blending Southern and Italian styles, and a new butcher shop in the works.
AndrewZimmern.com: How did you guys meet? Why did you decide to open a restaurant together?
Andy Ticer: We met in the sixth grade. I went to St. Ann’s Bartlett and Mikey went to St. Louis. We always played the same positions on opposing teams, and we got to know each other as rivals. Eventually, when we both realized that we shared this big family gathering thing that nobody else in school did, we bonded over that.
Michael Hudman: We were freshmen in high school, and we both loved cooking. We read Mario Batali’s cookbooks. We decided that we needed to do it. And we wanted to do it together. Those early drawings are pretty hilarious – think bars shaped like Italy – but it’s funny how much we really wanted to dream about it and go after it aggressively.
AZ.com: Tell us about your concepts at Hog & Hominy and Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen. What’s the inspiration behind each?
MH: At Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen, the restaurant really centers around our Maw Maws’ kitchens. We wanted a place where when you came in, somebody took really good care of you, treated you like family, and you had a meal that a lot of thought and work went into, but didn’t feel pretentious. Since the restaurant is our homage to our Southern-Italian families and our grandmothers’ cooking, pasta is the focal point. It’s the middle of your meal, and our team takes so much pride in the pastas.
AT: We started talking about Hog & Hominy six months into Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen. We’d sit on the back porch after service, have a beer with the staff, and talk about how we wished there was a place we could go. You get off of work, and you’re starving, and there isn’t anything good late night. Michael and I were obsessed with the pizza in Naples, and we realized that we could do something completely different from Andrew Michael. There, our food and experience is really crafted and composed. So at Hog & Hominy, we wanted that feeling of a southern tailgate, or walking into a family’s house in Italy. It’s boisterous. It’s loud. There’s good music, bourbon and beer. We wanted a place that felt like a good time, where the food and the experience were more casual, more about passing a plate and sharing with your friends.
AZ.com: Both of your restaurants and your cookbook Collards & Carbonara find a perfect balance of Southern and Italian food. What’s the connection between these two cuisines?
MH: I’d say that both styles of food, Southern and Italian, are about grandmother cooking, soul food. Southerners and Italians love gatherings, love to eat something with a story. Who makes the best collards? Which Maw Maw makes the best gravy or ravioli? We share these family stories through food, and I really think that both styles are about that, about passing down. And as professional chefs, I think that’s what we’re all thinking about: What am I passing down to the cooks I work with? It’s powerful.
AT: Michael also hits on a really good point there, too. Italians live to eat, they don’t eat to live. When we were in Italy, when we really understood regionality in cooking, in total utilization, and total respect for the product, it clicked for us. We were like, “Oh, yeah, that’s what we do back home.” In the South, we farm and we have great products around us. It’s an amazing thing, and it all stems from a peasant way of thinking about food.
AZ.com: How did growing up in big Italian families influence the way you approach food?
MH: For me, it made me totally respect hard work. My grandmother and her sisters would spend all day working on food for the entire family. It gave me a sense that I could work hard and make people really happy, and have fun doing it. I would watch the aunts cooking, and they would laugh and gossip and cook for hours.
AT: I always loved how food would bring everyone together. Sundays, when I was kid, it was like the smell of my grandmother’s food brought family from everywhere. We had fun, and those memories are really special. So for me, that family experience, those memories, that’s what I want people to get at our restaurants. Something that tastes great, and creates memories.
AZ.com: As a chef duo, who does what in the kitchen?
MH: We don’t have a really strict system for who does what. Lately, with the two restaurants, we actually don’t work together as much as we used to. I take one and Andy will take the other, and we switch it up each day. When we come up with menu items, we just start kicking around ideas and build off each other.
AT: We’re really lucky. We always tell people when they work with us that the hardest thing is that we share one mind. It’s amazing how we are able to come to the office and immediately say that we both want to do the same thing. We have fun.
AZ.com: Your restaurants received a lot of positive press last year. How has all this attention affected business? Any plans for another restaurant?
AT: It’s been awesome. The recognition has really been great, but what’s really been cool is that it’s allowed us to start to give some credit to our chefs and managers who work so hard to run the ship. We’ve got guys who are incredibly talented working for us, and seeing them begin to blossom and take the lead, it’s the coolest thing ever.
MH: We definitely aren’t ready to stop. When you have good people, you have to find ways to keep them in the family, so we aren’t ready to stop yet. Before any new restaurants, though, we’re focusing on getting our butcher shop open. It’s the last thing, probably, that we’re going to do on our little circle. Porcellino’s has been a long goal for Andy and I. Aaron Winters, the head sous chef at Hog & Hominy, is staging around the world right now with butchers, and his charcuterie in that place is going to be awesome. We cannot wait.
AZ.com: What’s so great about the Memphis food scene?
AT: There’s so much. We’ve got these amazing chefs, who have inspired a whole new group of chefs. We look around at our friends, and their opening new places. Memphis is working towards something really special, and that’s what Michael and I always believed the city deserved. This is home.
MH: Plus, we have some institutions that are family institutions for people. Places like Gus’s, and Bryant’s, Jerry’s Sno Cones, and Cozy Corner. My dad took me to these places, and now I’m taking my kids. It’s really special.
AZ.com: We have to ask…what’s your favorite place in town for ribs?
AT: Cozy Corner.
MH: Yep. Cozy Corner.
AZ.com: What’s in your fridge?
AT: I don’t know. I keep a mason jar of negronis in there.
MH: Hog & Hominy pizza leftovers.
Get Andy & Michael’s recipe for Garganelli with rosemary sugo, meatballs, and fonduta.
Born and bred Memphians, Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman opened Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen in 2008 to feature innovative Italian cooking rooted in Southern tradition. The Chefs trained at Johnson and Wales University in Charleston, South Carolina and the Italian Culinary Institute in Calabria, Italy. Their newest restaurant, Hog & Hominy, is a wood burning, neighborhood eatery and has been named one of the top new restaurants by GQ Magazine, Southern Living, and Bon Appetit as well as a semi-finalist for Best New Restaurant from the James Beard Foundation, which also named the chefs semi-finalists for the Best Chef: Southeast award for 2012 and 2013. In 2013, they were awarded Food & Wine Magazine’s Best New Chefs Award, and Pete Wells of the New York Times called the restaurants “A sibling rivalry worth diving into” in his review of the restaurants in 2013.