Michael Anthony is a big deal chef in New York City, earning the beloved eatery Gramercy Tavern three stars from The New York Times and James Beard Awards for Outstanding Restaurant—plus Best Chef honors for himself—over the past 10 years. But you wouldn’t know it from chatting with him. Thoughtful and earnest, Anthony prefers to talk mostly about vegetables. He opened up with us about making veggies—and museum food—appetizing and accessible at his new restaurant, Untitled at the Whitney Museum.
You grew up in Ohio, as did one of our editors, where she ate a lot of tuna casserole. What did you eat as a kid? I was a really picky eater. My mom was a good cook, but we were always on the go. My brother and I were into athletics, so we ate [the convenience foods] that I think a lot of kids grow up on. We did have some nice family traditions, though. My dad’s side of the family is Italian, so there were these nostalgic table traditions with very simple foods like Grandma’s spaghetti and meatballs and bresaola. But I didn’t become an adventurous eater until I left home. In college, I spent my junior year abroad in France and that’s where I first discovered the notion that you can have an amazing time around the dinner table with food and wine. And it wasn’t until after college that I even contemplated the idea of cooking myself.
That gives hope to parents of picky eaters! I write about that in V is for Vegetables [his vegetarian cookbook]. Not everybody grows up automatically translating the notion of vegetables into deliciousness. I want people to easily make the connection between raw foods and delicious meals.
You source a lot of your produce from urban farms. Do you think they have helped New Yorkers make that connection? Urban farms have definitely increased people’s recognition of the hard work, planning, expertise, and time that goes into growing food. And that helps us approach eating more mindfully. [At Gramercy Tavern and Untitled], we rely on Gotham Greens for fresh greens, especially during the cold months. I also admire Brooklyn Grange rooftop farms, which has been the leader in urban farming. Eagle Street Rooftop Farm has allowed for large-scale production to happen. And Radicle Farm Company is an up-and-comer on the scene that was started by someone who used to work with us at Gramercy Tavern. And that’s just a small collection of the community gardens that have popped up around the city. They provide people with a bit of hands-on activity and a little time out from their crazy days.
Since you spend so much time in restaurants, do you prefer to eat at home when you can? No, I love doing both. I especially like to expose my daughters [ages 6, 14, and 17] to different dining experiences. We live in Midtown Manhattan and I have a friend [Florian Hugo] who opened a small modern bistro nearby called Maison Hugo. Everyone should be so lucky to have a restaurant like this in their neighborhood. It’s low-key, well run, and delicious. I love Japanese food and there’s a little ramen shop right around the corner from us, Hinata Ramen, that feels very homey. If we’re really fancying it up for a date night, my wife and I go to Daniel. We’re lucky that we can go to one of the fanciest restaurants in the world and it feels like eating in a very hospitable restaurant in Lyon, since so many of my former colleagues work there. I also love to eat at The Bar Room at MoMA. We spend a lot of time with the kids at the museum, and while I think The Modern is one of the most beautiful restaurants in the world, The Bar Room there is accessible for the whole family.
It used to be that museum restaurants were merely functional. But in the past decade, museum restaurants have become destination places to eat, whether you’re visiting the museum or not. Yeah, it’s new territory. And leave it to Danny Meyer [of the Union Square Hospitality Group, of which Gramercy Tavern and Untitled are a part] and his wonderful team at The Modern to open that door. They showed people that you can have interesting, wonderful food in unsuspecting places. They were pioneers. At Untitled, we are so inspired by the Whitney. It was a bold move for them to move downtown from the Upper East Side, where they were a bastion of comfort. We want to be daring, too, but also to help people feel comfortable in a museum and creative space. We want people to see that we are cooking artistic food with intent, but that doesn’t mean we are pretentious or expensive.
Untitled at the Whitney Museum
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