Of all of Danny Meyer’s revered New York restaurants, Gramercy Tavern—the Flatiron classic that opened in 1994—is the one where you’d most want to be a regular. Whether you’re settling in for a multi-course feast back in the dining room, or grabbing a lunch-only burger with a pickled-cherry-and-rye cocktail in the buzzing tavern, the restaurant feels timeless in a way that so few recent New York restaurants do—elegant yet unstuffy, with seasonal American cooking that can still win over any new-school foodie. The driving force behind this magic is executive chef and partner Michael Anthony, who first stepped into Gramercy Tavern’s kitchen in 2006, gracefully filling in for his mighty predecessor, Tom Colicchio.
Anthony, a Cincinnati native armed with degrees in Business, French, and Japanese, didn’t set out to be a chef. But moving to Tokyo and working for Shizuyo Shima at the French-style Bistro Shima changed his course. “She was a tiger of a chef, dogmatic and generous,” he recalls. “She taught me in an old-school, gritty way what a kitchen is made of. While [working for her] was an introduction to technical skills, she was quirky and iconoclastic, and she taught me to think.”
Cooking school in France followed, as did stints in Paris at the likes of Jacques Cagna and L’Arpège, and in New York at Daniel and the dearly departed Midtown restaurant March, where he served as Wayne Nish’s sous chef. “Wayne turned out to be an amazing teacher, another one who instilled the same lesson of listening to your own voice. Cooking should be what you like, not just a re-representation of history and tradition,” he Anthony says.
But it was at the West Village’s Blue Hill, as well as the idyllic Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Westchester County, where Anthony’s style became synonymous with the deft transformation of Greenmarket ingredients and pristine presentation. At Gramercy Tavern he has built his reputation on this approach, and even snagged a James Beard Award for Best Chef: NYC in 2012 for his efforts.
This philosophy is distilled in The Gramercy Tavern Cookbook, which will be published on October 29th from Clarkson Potter. Instead of merely rehashing the restaurant’s signature dishes, Anthony says the book is intended “to convey the spirit of the place. [It’s a chance to document the last seven years here, an evolution rather than a yearbook or scrapbook. It marks my progression as a chef, drawing the line of how far Gramercy Tavern has come and where it’s going.”
But what were the foundations that set Anthony on this course to greatness at Gramercy Tavern? Here, he looks back on the 10 dishes that inspired his thoughtful, focused cooking career, from calf’s head in Paris to barbecued eel in Tokyo.