Food & Thought by Mitchell Anderson
For my Birthday, two of my very best friends gifted me this cookbook. One of them lives in Atlanta, frequents MetroFresh restaurant and uses her own copy of Food & Thought on a regular basis (she made special mention of Mitchell Anderson's Marinated Chopped Kale Salad with Red Pears, Golden Raisens and Wanuts). I guess my girlfriends know me well enough to know I LOVE FOOD! My copy is currently hanging out on our kitchen counter with over twenty book marked recipes that I'm jonesing to try. I got the chance to chat with chef and author of Food & Thought,to find out more about him, his restaurant (MetroFresh) and the book. Here's what I found out:
What is MetroFresh, what was the inspiration behind it and will they expand?
"MetroFresh is located in the Midtown neighborhood of Atlanta, GA and was created with the idea that fresh, creative and healthy food should not be out of reach for the casual diner. It’s more than just a fast casual “salad and soup” place. It’s really a gourmet dining experience in a casual setting that offers diners a menu that changes daily. We're hoping to both challenge their guests with interesting flavor profiles with soups and salads that one wouldn’t see in the usual fast casual setting, and comfort them with amazing food. We are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner six days a week and brunch on Sunday. Each day our breakfast entrees, soups, salads, sandwiches and dinner entrees change. While we do frequently bring back favorites, we try to expand their horizons and try things on a daily basis we've never done before. We are inspired by whatever is fresh and in season, which is what I learned from my mother as a little boy.
I was mentored by the amazing Jennifer Levison, whose Souper Jenny restaurant is an Atlanta institution. She taught me to approach food from an artistic, improvisational perspective rather than a menu driven one. Many of MetroFresh's ingredient choices are based on color and texture as much as they are on flavor. Over the years, I have passed along that valuable approach to my kitchen staff, especially my Executive Chef, Bryan Kraatz. Along with our nighttime chef, Miguel Naverette, the three of us work as a team creating the best menus we can, each and every day. Because we change the menu daily, serve all three meals a day, we have many customers who eat at MetroFresh multiple times a week – sometimes more than once a day!
While I have had many opportunities to expand in the last 12 years, I have always come back to what makes me happy – that is, this one location in Midtown where me and my team have fostered the most incredibly loyal customer base. Every time something new comes along, each time a new realtor or developer puts a new potential location in front of me, I realize I'm happy doing what I already do. I'm in the kitchen 3 days a week, and know adding locations would take me away from that. I feel strongly that one of the keys to our 12 years of success is that I am always at the restaurant, whether I'm creating the food, or just running the business. My life philosophy, now that I'm in my late 50s, is that one should know what enough is. I simply can’t see how expanding to multiple locations would add to my happiness."
What is your background?
"I am the the fourth of six children. I grew up in Jamestown, NY. I got a BA in theatre from Williams College and went on to study at The Juilliard School. I began a professional acting career when I was “discovered” at an Upper Westside pub in New York City. I auditioned for a musical about the Civil War and after landing the role, left school to start my career. From there I went to Hollywood where I spent about 20 years as a professional actor on TV, in films, and always returning to my first love, the stage. I was by any measure successful and loved what I did. But, as I entered my late 30s, I began to feel like I wanted a life where I didn’t have to wait for someone to allow me me work. I began casting about for a second act. After moving to Atlanta to be with my partner (now husband of 20 years) just as I turned 40, I decided to learn how to be a professional chef. I had always been a good cook, learning from the women in my life – my two grandmothers and my mother. And I always loved what food did – that is, bringing people together over a meal and fostering conversation. So entering into a new phase of life, I discovered that I was a capable cook, and I essentially got to continue my life as a communicator."
Why the title Food & Thought?
"The cookbook is in two parts. “Food” is a traditional cookbook with a cross section of items you’d find on the MetroFresh daily menu – breakfast entrees, soups and salads, and dinner entrees. It is sort of my “greatest” hits.
The second part, “Thought” is a collection of the blog pieces I began writing when the restaurant first opened. It was 2005, and there was no Facebook/Twitter/Instagram. My instinct to get my potential customers to open an email with the daily menu, was to give them a little personal message. So I started writing little “stories” about the restaurant each day. It gave them a person “buy-in” to me and the restaurant, and made the whole experience much more personal. At first I just called it the “Daily E-mail” because that’s what it was. Then over the years, it evolved into something much greater. I tell stories about my childhood, my family, my influences, how I see the world. Sort of whatever pops into my head, that’s what I write about. It’s a discipline I started on day one, and to this day, 12 years later, with few exceptions, I write something. I think the “Thought” part of the book is what makes it different. It’s a peek into what happens in the background while life goes on in the foreground. I think the daily blog resonates because the themes I touch on are universal – whether I’m dealing with love and loss of family, aging parents, or training a new puppy. The blog has been what keeps me and the restaurant grounded in the community we’ve created."
What do you want at home cooks to most enjoy about your cookbook?
"A couple things: I want home cooks to know that creating interesting and healthy food for the family is not hard. And that the cookbook is just a jumping off point, a start of passing along inspiration!"
Food and Thought can be purchased here!