Michael Anthony moved to Tokyo after graduating from college to solidify his language skills, and soon was drawn in by the local culinary scene, ending up working at a small Japanese-French bistro. From there he moved to Paris to attend culinary school at Le Ferrandi. He is now the executive chef of Gramercy Tavern. Outside of the kitchen, he remains strongly engaged with the community, leading educational initiatives about local food at PS41. Michael is also the author of The Gramercy Tavern Cookbook
What made you want to be a chef?
I had experience working in restaurants in high school and college, but I never thought I would do it for a living. Since I didn’t grow up in a restaurant family, I just didn’t think it was possible. I was 24 when I made the decision to commit, and that seemed like I had already missed the boat, which is funny because 24 is not an old age for most Americans to start working in the restaurant industry and try to become a chef.
I was living in Japan when I decided I wanted to be a chef. It was a result of my fascination with Japanese food: a combination of the discovery of Japanese food, the seductive quality of the Japanese food press, and the realism of my first professional working experience in Bistro Shima in Roppongi, Tokyo.
What do you think of the importance of having cooking experience in foreign countries?
The benefit of working in a foreign country is really the greatest gift that this industry offers. We sacrifice so much to be here. When our friends and family are enjoying holidays, meals and a normal routine, we’re in the kitchen working. When everyone else has a day off, we’re thinking what is coming next in the restaurant – just plotting, planning, and stressing. The real benefit to working in the kitchen is this wonderful chance to travel, and food is a great common denominator. Travel is an indispensable way to continue learning.
What do you think of the recent popularity of Japanese food and knives?
The restaurant industry went through an amazing transformation in the 1970’s and 80’s, but mostly through the eyes of a few famous chefs. I think Joel Robuchon’s style of cooking was marked by Japanese food. The Western world has been enamored by that style of cooking since then and so I’m not surprised. I think Japan will quickly become the number one most desired destination to learn about food. The language is less of a barrier than it was ten years ago, and the openness of Japanese chefs is also at a place where there is a real attention to bringing Western chefs into Japan, so they can understand first hand and become more familiar with the ingredients, techniques, and tools.
What is your goal for your profession?
To continue to build on the traditions that exist at Gramercy Tavern. We strive, not only to cook contemporary American food with a point of view, we also look to create a place where people who eat here genuinely feel like we’re on their side. But mostly all of those efforts and energy go into the big goal of education. Our goal is to continue to stay on the cutting edge of cooking, and to share our enthusiasm with a large group of people in the community, from children to enthusiastic staff and even to people with dietary restrictions based on sickness.
What is your advice for aspiring chefs?
Approach each day with a large sense of curiosity. Be focused and prioritize things in life, so you can stay concentrated on learning – because it is a marathon, not a sprint. Stamina and persistence is a big part of it, but just showing up is not enough. A young chef has to constantly be searching for what makes their personal style unique.
What inspires you to cook and create new recipes?
Coming from our kitchen there is a drive to want to keep our work new and interesting. Our cooks will reproduce the same dishes 20 to 30 times a night, and they will grow tired of that dish much faster than the guests will. So we have to drive forward to capture and keep the attention of the people who work here.