Hot Chef: Michael Anthony on the Gramercy Tavern cookbook

Based on this picture, it's hard to believe White is 45! Credit: Provided
Based on this picture, it’s hard to believe White is 45!
Credit: Provided

As executive chef of the revered Gramercy Tavern for seven years, Michael Anthony has served and pleased countless diners with his simple, seasonal, yet impactful approach to American cuisine.

But one diner, his not-yet wife, was a bit harder to please. Recently, Anthony recalled courting her with a dish involving baked clams – and winning her over with it. Fortunately for the rest of us, the chef manages to work magic on pretty much anything that comes out of the GT kitchen, and with the “Gramercy Tavern Cookbook” hitting shelves this month, Anthony’s recipes are that much more accessible.

We spoke to the James Beard Award-winning chef about adapting his renowned recipes for home cooks.

This book is filled with gorgeous photos and recipes — a few which seem a little intimidating. Did you have non-professionals in mind when deciding which recipes to include?

We weren’t willing to say you can kind of cook from this cookbook or you can cook some of the things from the book. We wanted to say you can really use this. It’s a big, solid, beautiful book, with a lot of textures and a lot of colors, but we wanted that to play a dual role of something that would live in someone’s kitchen; we wanted it to have the ears turned down and splattered in sauce.

It was real work; I had to be very open-minded and really channel the home cook. My parents live in rural Ohio and these recipes were written so mom could make them. When this book goes out, my mom will have the first copy in her hands and the phone is going to ring [if anything is inaccessible]. I wrote it to minimize the number of calls — love mom, but wanted to keep that under control.

As our Hot Chef you have to tell us: What did you make for your wife to win her over?

My wife’s family has a house in the Hamptons, and as a girl she went out there and loved summertime with her family. I asked her what were the things she remembered eating during her childhood, and she said baked clams. I started cooking versions of baked clams that were kind of complicated, and would give to her and she’d say, “That’s really good … but it doesn’t evoke any nostalgia.” I got so fired up about the idea. Once I nailed it — and preserved what she remembered about the baked clams and made it just a little bit better (we folded chopped scallops into the mix) — she fell in love with that. And what’s funny is it became a very popular thing on our Tavern menu, especially with our own staff and regulars. Those are things that have a charming story, they’re a part of the fabric of the restaurant family, but it’s also so easy to reproduce at home.

In the book you have a little section on pickling and I heard you love the technique. What’s your favorite thing to pickle?

People think things like pickles are out of their reach when anyone can do it, and it works for so many different vegetables. Carrots and cucumbers are the most obvious, but I also like things that are less obvious … like burdock and ramps. My point is, you can pickle nearly anything, and the same technique that’s used to make delicious carrots can be used on things that are a little less familiar. What you come up with is a way to utilize the stuff you bought at the market and capture the season and extend the seasonality.

The book gives people who don’t cook a chance to make something cool, like little pints of pickles to keep in your fridge. If you’re having friends over for cocktails or beers you can put that on the table and say, “I made that!” Or you might incorporate that into a pan of sautéed zucchini and serve with corn and peppers and add those pickles on top, and all the sudden you have something that’s ridiculously beautiful and kind of complex. (And you still don’t need a cooking degree or five years’ experience cooking in a crazy kitchen). The GT cookbook is all about taking the spirit of what happens at GT and making it accessible to the average home cook.


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