Music City’s Most Innovative Chef
After honing his skills at The French Laundry, Noma and Sea Change, Erik Anderson moved to Nashville to helm the kitchen at The Catbird Seat, a restaurant where free expression is encouraged and interactivity is the norm. Scoring a reservation may be a challenge, but once you’re in, you won’t forget the experience: a mere 32 seats face an open kitchen where Anderson and his team prepare an inventive multi-course meal with equally creative beverage pairings. A Food & Wine Best New Chef in 2012, Anderson talks about his mentors, interacting with customers and the Nashville food scene.
AndrewZimmern.com: What lessons did you learn while working for some of the world’s best chefs, including Thomas Keller, Rene Redzepi, Tim McKee and Doug Flicker?
Erik Anderson: The greatest thing I learned was probably from my friend Doug Flicker. He really taught me to love food and to love kitchens. It’s a lifestyle, it isn’t just a job.
Take a place like The French Laundry. It’s very structured. Technique is what’s hammered into you. It’s certainly one thing to conceptualize a dish in your brain but the real skill lies in having the knowledge and technique to see that dish to the plate.
Rene Redzepi looks at food different than almost anybody – the idea of using parts of the plant that most people traditionally wouldn’t use. Just training your mind to see something in something that most people would overlook, and then having the skill to turn it into something delicious on the plate, I love that.
AZ.com: Dining at The Catbird Seat is a pretty unique experience. What’s the inspiration behind the concept?
EA: It was really just about getting ourselves closer to the food and the guest. I think some cooks spend years working to get to a point where they don’t have to work the line. I am kind of doing that backwards. It is a place for me to get back to the actual act of cooking, which honestly is why I do this and what I love to do. The act of putting heat to food and food to plate is something I never tire of. And then the other side is getting to speak with people and tell them about the food being served and answer questions and develop relationship with guests. I love it.
AZ.com: What’s the best part about interacting with your customers at such a close distance? Disadvantages?
EA: The best part for me is being able to look at their face after they take their first bite. That gets me every time. The ability to interact makes the whole dining experience closer and more intimate. It’s hard for me to say a disadvantage. Sometimes I wanna yell and say the f* word a ton, and I can’t do that.
AZ.com: What is new at the restaurant now that your partner, Josh Habiger, has left?
EA: We are trying to change the menu even more than we ever have and really trying to push ourselves further and further.
AZ.com: How would you describe your cooking style?
EA: I don’t know, that’s a difficult question. First I have to ask myself, do I really have a style all my own? I don’t know if I do. David Kinch, Rene Redzepi, Ferran Adrià and Thomas Keller – they have a style all their own. I honestly don’t know if I am there yet, it takes years.
It’s a difficult thing to find your own voice. But I will say, I may lean more towards a modern approach to cooking, but I certainly have a deep love for classic French cooking and technique. Gotta crawl before you walk I suppose.
AZ.com: What’s so great about Nashville? Any new chefs to be on the look out for?
EA: It’s a very supportive community. People really get behind new projects, whether it’s food, music, fashion or art. People are ready to see Nashville grow.
I really love what Philip Krajeck is doing at Rolf and Daughters. Not only is his food fantastic, but he is also one of the raddest guys I have met in a long time.
AZ.com: What’s in your fridge?
EA: I suppose I need to tell the truth on this one. Ok see, I am not very good at checking my mail, so one day last week the power got turned off at my house and I just so happened to be on a plane on my way to visit my lady friend. When I got back, the power was restored (thanks to Alan Hlebaen) and I needed to empty and scrub my whole fridge, so the answer is currently there is absolutely nothing in my fridge. On the up side, I finally checked my mail and I have three issues of Food & Wine to catch up on, which will come in handy for my plane ride Friday.
Get Erik’s recipe for Maple Thyme Custards.
With a style that’s constantly evolving, Erik Anderson’s culinary career is a culmination of his unique upbringing, artistic spirit and wide range of culinary experiences. Born and raised in Chicago, Anderson spent much of his childhood at his parent’s restaurant where he uncovered his passion for experimenting with various ingredients and techniques – an experience that laid the foundation for an impressive and exciting culinary career.
After graduating from culinary school, Anderson embarked on his adventure in the hospitality industry at the three Michelin-starred French Laundry in Yountville, CA. Under the direction of Chef Thomas Keller, he was exposed to a number of fundamental techniques that he has carried with him throughout his career, as well as an understanding of the importance of each ingredient involved in a dish.
After nearly six months in Yountville, Anderson returned to Minneapolis and became the Sous Chef under Doug Flicker, whom he now considers his mentor, at Auriga. It was during his stint at Auriga that Anderson met fellow chef, Josh Habiger. The two quickly developed a friendship and began discussions of one day opening their own restaurant and working as a two-chef team. After honing his culinary talents under Flicker, Anderson departed for a position at Hotel Ivy’s Porter & Frye, where he served as part of the restaurant’s opening team alongside Habiger.
In 2009, Anderson brought his creativity and passion for sustainability to Tim McKee’s Sea Change Restaurant and Bar, where he worked as chef de cuisine and managed the kitchen and staff. He was given complete creative freedom, curating a menu focused on sustainable seafood and seasonal ingredients that garnered attention nationwide. Sea Change marked a pinnacle point in Anderson’ s career, having been named a James Beard Foundation nominee and Food & Wine magazine’s People’s Best New Chef Midwest finalist. Just two years later, Anderson received a call from Habiger, who had been busy working at Grant Achatz’s Alinea in Chicago. Habiger was delivering news about a new project in Nashville by Strategic Hospitality, the group behind the wildly successful Patterson House cocktail bar. The chance to work with Habiger again and the creative freedom that came along with the job opportunity, made it a project Anderson simply couldn’t refuse. After eight weeks of staging at the prestigious Noma restaurant in Copenhagen, he relocated to Nashville to co-helm the kitchen at The Catbird Seat.
As head chef of Nashville’s most ground-breaking restaurant, Anderson creates an ever-changing seven to 10-course tasting menu of sometimes modern, sometimes classic, haute cuisine. Night after night, the talented chef strives to create a memorable experience that’s upfront and intimate for each and every diner at The Catbird Seat.