NYC chef talks sustainability

Mike Anthony, the executive chef of Gramercy Tavern, spoke at a Calhoun Master’s Tea Tuesday about sustainable food practices.
Mike Anthony, the executive chef of Gramercy Tavern, spoke at a Calhoun Master’s Tea Tuesday about sustainable food practices. Photo by Sarah Strong.

Mike Anthony admitted he was a “finicky eater” growing up, but the executive chef of New York City’s Gramercy Tavern restaurant praised the diversity of food while speaking at Yale on Tuesday afternoon.

At a Calhoun Master’s Tea co-sponsored by the Yale Sustainable Food Project that drew around 50 students, Anthony spoke briefly about his culinary training in several countries and his passion for sustainable cooking. Anthony — who earlier this year won the James Beard Foundation’s award for best chef in New York City — described his restaurant as “the standard-bearer of American cooking.” Speaking primarily about his restaurant’s sustainable practices, Anthony said he focuses on using local food. When the ingredients come from the surrounding community, he said, the food better represents the city’s culture and the diner feels more invested in the food.

“Every bite should tell a story,” he said. “In New York, we can tell that story any way we choose, but I think the story is more powerful when it’s the story of the region.”

Anthony said that after graduating from the University of Indiana-Bloomington, he traveled to Japan and worked on a dairy farm, a bakery and eventually a restaurant. Seeking Western training, he left Japan for France, adding that once there, he noticed the similarities between French and Japanese cooking.

“I was really floored with the way both of these societies dealt with seasonality and with regionality,” he said.

At Gramercy Tavern, Anthony employs a specific “farm-to-table” approach — where chefs draw on ingredients from certain local vendors. Gramercy Tavern buys produce at the Union Square Green Market, a farmers’ market three blocks from the restaurant to which regional farmers commute four times a week, he added.

Anthony said his interest in sustainable eating practices emerges from his responsibility to his wife and three daughters to provide them with healthy and environmentally friendly food options.

“Ultimately, it is true that eating is a political act,” Anthony said. “I want to know where food comes from.”

Anthony noted that his regional approach was part of a general trend toward sustainability, though the larger population had for generations lost interest in agriculture.

Still, the chef said that while healthy food was “real food — that is, unprocessed food,” many segments of the population do not have access to those options. Instead, he added, the best alternative can be farmers’ markets.

Anthony also introduced the audience to Micah Fredman ’10, a line cook at Gramercy Tavern who graduated from Yale with a humanities degree and discovered a love of cooking when working at Miya’s Sushi the last few months of his senior year.

Hallie Meyer ’15, whose father owns Gramercy Tavern, attended the tea and said she admires Anthony greatly.

“He’s probably one of the chefs that I respect the most of my father’s restaurants,” she said. “Gramercy Tavern’s ethos is the one with which I feel the most connected.”

Rachel Schoening ’15, who spent two summers working at fine dining restaurants, said she was disappointed that despite Anthony’s “eloquence” he “didn’t really get down to the nitty-gritty of being a chef.”

The tea was followed by a private dinner hosted by Calhoun College Master Jonathan Holloway. The five students at the dinner — which the students cooked together with Anthony and Fredman — earned their seats through a haiku competition on the topic of food.

The restaurant’s owner is Danny Meyer, whose Union Square Hospitality Group includes Shake Shack.

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