People Who Make NY Special

In the Kitchen With Chef Michael Anthony

The man behind Gramercy Tavern and the Whitney's Untitled talks about cooking with his kids and what he wants to eat on Father’s Day.

Photo by Ellen Silverman

We are big fans of Michael Anthony, the executive chef at Gramercy Tavern and Untitled at the Whitney Museum of American Art. We interviewed Anthony last year right as Untitled was set to open, and we couldn’t resist following up with him. In just 12 months, his museum restaurant has defied all expectations of what a “museum restaurant” can be—with dishes as artful as what’s displayed in the rest of the building—and Anthony’s spot as one of the country’s top chefs has been sealed.

But being a world-renowned culinary master does not give him any leeway in the kitchen with the most important food critics in his life: his kids. Just in time for Father’s Day, we asked Anthony about being a dad in New York City, what he cooks at home, and his favorite spots in Gramercy Park.

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Photo by Ellen Silverman

What Should We Do?!: Do you cook with your kids?
Michael Anthony: I have three daughters and they are all pretty interested and patient in and around the kitchen. Sometimes I resort to all sorts of tactics to get them to participate. For example, I show them how to aim for and hit a target when they shuck heirloom shell beans. Whatever it takes to get everyone in there, I’m willing to do.

I also spend a lot of time cooking with elementary-school kids at the restaurants. We have a long-standing relationship through Gramercy Tavern with both Dalton and P.S. 41, and Untitled has a connection to P.S. 3. We write our own curriculum in conjunction with the teachers to build on what they’re learning at school. We’ve been educating for 10 years now, and it has defined who we are [as a restaurant group]. I’ve learned a lot of teaching techniques throughout the years from the teachers and administrators I work with, so I try to employ them with my own kids. Sometimes they work, and sometimes it’s a rowdy crowd.

WSWD: Is there a dish that they could make that would win your heart over for Father’s Day?
Anthony: Probably lasagna or chicken parmesan. Something very homey that uses techniques that I know the girls are familiar with—and can’t get into too much trouble doing.

WSWD: How would you spend your ideal Father’s Day in New York City?
Anthony: I live in Midtown East, so we love going to Central Park—or the park along the East River, which we call “the Bridge Park”—and just hanging out. Maybe we’d sleep in late, possibly get a massage (sometimes that supersonic reset is what helps the most) and enjoy a little brunch together. We’ve gone to Governors Island a couple of times the past few years, and that sort of feels like a whole vacation built into one day in the city. It’s a special treat to go there.

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Governors Island: Photo by Danielle Murphy

WSWD: What’s the best thing about being a dad in New York City?
Anthony: Well, it’s funny, because I grew up outside of the city, and as a young married person here, it was kind of unthinkable to have children raised in the city. It seemed like an oxymoron. As it turns out, I feel like this is an incredible place to raise a family. I love that my kids are introduced to art, culture, music, and theater in a fast-paced, moving city with so much stimulation. The fact that they are familiar with Bloomingdale’s and the American Museum of Natural History, and that we have the best backyard in the world and I don’t even have to mow the lawn, is incredible.

WSWD: Gramercy is a very charming neighborhood. Do you have any secret spots?
Anthony: Oh, a lot. If you look at 20th Street between Broadway and Park [Avenue] today, it’s exciting. Just a couple of doors down from Gramercy Tavern is a handful of the city’s hottest, most exciting restaurants. There’s Nur, the brand-new contemporary Israeli restaurant that features one of Israel’s most recognized chefs [Meir Adoni]. The food is extraordinary; it’s exotic and introduces New Yorkers to flavors that are hard to find in the city and on the East Coast.

On the same side of the street right next door, there’s Le Coq Rico, owned by Antoine Westermann, who is a famous French chef who has been at the top of the pecking order of Michelin-celebrated chefs for the past couple decades. When I started cooking, he was one of the people I wanted to emulate. It’s amazing to have him there; I see him walking down the street.

And if you look across from there, you find Sugarfish, for which people have no limit as to how long they’ll wait in line to eat there. If you dial back 20 years ago, it was only Gramercy Tavern, and people were like, “Huh? A restaurant here?”

WSWD: If you had just one (or two) hours in NYC, what would you do?
Anthony: So let’s just say that it’s a little bit before noon. I would catch the end of breakfast at Daily Provisions and get a cruller, which is the new Cronut but much more interesting because of its simplistic nature. Then I would swing by Gramercy Tavern and have the soup and sandwich special that is cooked over the wood-burning fire. If you ask them to step on it, you could be done in less than 45 minutes. So that’s about an hour. Then I would make my way to the East Village to Momofuku Noodle Bar to have a bowl of noodles, some pickles, and a vegetable preparation that came from the greenmarket that day (because that’s what they do).

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Daily Provisions: Photo by Liz Clayman

WSWD: What is your favorite slice of pizza in NYC?
Anthony: I’m not just saying this to celebrate my own colleagues, but I think Marta makes the best pizza.

WSWD: What are three wishes you have for NYC?
Anthony: So my three wishes for New York City: I want New York to celebrate diversity and welcome people from all over. I would like for New York to continue to protect our access to the wide variety of fresh, delicious, and nutritious foods that are grown in the tristate area. I’d also tack on protecting our drinking water to that. Third, I want New York to continue to be the creative capital of the world. That means that it sets trends and prioritizes creativity over profit.