Erik Anderson and Josh Habiger
Won Best New Chef at: The Catbird Seat, Nashville.
Born: (EA) 1972; Downers Grove, IL. (JH) 1979; St. Joseph, Minnesota.
Experience: (EA) The French Laundry, Yountville, CA; Auriga, Porter & Frye and Sea Change, Minneapolis; Noma, Copenhagen. (JH) St. John’s, London; The Fat Duck, Bray, England; Craft, New York City; Alinea, Chicago; The Patterson House, Nashville; Aviary, Chicago.
Previous career: (EA) “I spent several years managing bands, like Alkaline Trio.”
How he got into cooking: (EA) “My dad was a sous-chef at The Drake Hotel in Chicago. My mom had a breakfast/lunch place, the Village Restaurant, in North Aurora, Illinois. I’d wash dishes when I was 12 or 13. She was the only cook in the kitchen; she was a pretty awesome line cook. Watching her make eggs for 150 people—it started with that.” (JH) “I grew up in a small town; my parents lived in a trailer park when I was born. My mom worked as a waitress at the diner on the corner when she was pregnant with me, and years later, I washed dishes there. I’d stare at the cooks. One of them said this: ‘Perfect over-easy eggs—every time you get that order, you have the opportunity to make them.’ I loved that. We didn’t have money, we didn’t go out to eat, so this was my chance to see the world of food.”
Memorable cooking experience: (EA) “My last week at The French Laundry, I was in the back kitchen, cracking apricot pits for the bitter kernels. Thomas [Keller, The French Laundry’s chef-owner] walked by and said, ‘Let me help you with that.’ He came back with a brick and helped me crack the pits for an hour-and-a-half. That meant a lot to me. He gets how important that is.”
Pet peeve: (EA) Hats in the kitchen. “I hate baseball hats, I hate bandannas. I’m not the most pristine-looking gentleman, but it irritates me. And other small things too, like not using trivets when you set down a hot pan. Don’t put a hot metal pan directly on your cutting board. It’s a kitchen, not a playroom.”
Ingredient obsession: (EA) Yogurt. “I’ve been infusing yogurt with sweetgrass hay and serving it with pigeon. The hay turns the yogurt a really pretty light brown and gives it a delicious roast-hay flavor. We can’t roast whole birds in hay here, but then I thought, maybe the hay aspect of the pigeon dish can be used for yogurt.”
Childhood food memory: (EA) “Sunday dinners were always big around my house. You’d always eat whatever my mother put down on the table. Once she made taco pie, and it was one of the most disgusting things ever. She took two bites and said, ‘OK, we don’t have to eat this.’ ” (JH) “My parents tried to get me and my brother to make dinner: I think we did chow mein and sauerkraut, two things that did not go together. It was supposed to be the start of a once-a-week thing, but my parents decided it wasn’t such a good idea after that.”
Favorite kitchen tool: (EA) “Can I say [co-chef] Josh Habiger? The Vitamix we always have to have. And the dehydrator—we use it quite a bit.”
Memorable meal: (EA) El Bulli, in Roses, Spain, two summers ago. “When I was working in Minneapolis, one cook bought an El Bulli book, and we’d pass it around. El Bulli is a mythical place you don’t think anyone will ever get to, and then I got a reservation. I walked in, met Ferran [Adrià, the chef-owner], got a book as a gift, had 28 courses. It was definitely the most thought-provoking food and the best restaurant experience.”
Fantasy splurge: (EA) Tokyo. “I went to Tokyo when I was touring with rock bands; I didn’t have time to eat then. I’d like to go back and go crazy with sushi and ramen. I’d take Andrew Zimmern with me.”
Cheap eat: (EA) Fried chicken. “When I was in New York City, I had Korean fried chicken at Bon Chon, and the fried chicken is pretty amazing in the South. I make fried chicken for my girlfriend. I’m lucky, I have access to Ultra-Crisp [a type of starch], but when people ask why my chicken is so good, I say, ‘I guess I just cooked it right.’ ” (JH) “A quesadilla is always my go-to. Or a Reuben sandwich. I live near a car-dealership area, Nolensville Road, so I go for a quesadilla from a food truck on Nolensville Road.”
Guilty pleasure: (EA) Totino’s pepperoni and sausage Pizza Rolls. (JH) Gummy bears. “The really bad ones that you find in the dollar store. Or a Cadbury egg.”
Favorite cocktail: (EA) Ramos gin fizz. “Hands down. Josh was a bartender, so he’s really well-versed in classic cocktails—he gets sick of me talking about it. If I get hooked on something, I’ll make it over and over again. Sometimes I change the recipe a little bit, and take a photo and write the recipe on my wall at home. A gin fizz is so simple but it’s fantastic. When it’s done right, it’s borderline tropical.” (JH) Negroni, or a derivative of it. “Something bitter and pretentious, just like me.”
After-hours hangout: (EA) Banquette No. 1 at The Catbird Seat. “I drink the leftover wine and talk about the guests.”
Fantasy next restaurant: (EA) “I still like French brasserie food, like oysters. I love modern cooking, and it challenges me, and the plating is beautiful, but I still truly love classic French food, like terrines and coq au vin.” (JH) A French bistro. “In Chicago, Maude’s Liquor Bar has really solid food. I think their execution is ambitious, even though they serve basic dishes like cassoulet, bone marrow and steak tartare. Eating raw beef in a candlelit room, that’s really sexy.”
Favorite thing about Nashville: (EA) “People here are pretty awesome. In Minneapolis, there’s a phrase, ‘Minnesota nice,’ but the people are not really nice. People here are genuinely nice. If they like something, they’ll get behind you.” (JH) “It’s the best of both worlds: big-city aspects but also small-town aspects. Since I’ve lived in both, I appreciate it. It’s not a 24-hour city, but it’s pretty awesome.”
Food trend he most dislikes: (EA) The farm-to-table thing. “I’m all for it. As a chef and as a responsible human being, you should be sourcing your ingredients. But it shouldn’t be a vehicle for getting more press. A lot of that just disguises people who aren’t good cooks. If you get a gorgeous piece of grass-fed meat, then you destroy it, what good is farm-to-table then?”
Favorite cooking show: (EA) “My dad would watch Julia Child, Jacques Pépin and Jeff Smith; those were classics. My dad and I would watch those three shows together.”
Favorite cookbook: (EA) The Noma cookbook, by René Redzepi. (JH) “Eleven Madison Park is my current go-to. It’s beautiful. I love just about any book with great photographs.”
Twitter heroes: (EA) Mario Batali (@mariobatali) and the Food Snob (@foodsnob). “If you ask Mario a question on Twitter, he’ll always answer it. And I like checking out where the Food Snob is and what he’s doing. He’s a fun dude with a good story. He likes to promote new chefs.”
Favorite app: (EA) Units, the weight converter, which translates pounds and ounces to grams. “I also like the Oysterpedia app.”
Previous job: (JH) Salmon fishing on a commercial boat in Alaska.
On cooking in England: (JH) “When I was in cooking school, I did an internship in Minneapolis with Doug Flicker. He talked me out of spending $25,000 to finish school; he said to take a few thousand dollars and go to Europe instead. I went to London. I was working at St. John, my friend and I got kicked out of the place where we were squatting. I talked to Fergus Henderson [St. John’s chef/owner]. He said, ‘Have you heard of The Fat Duck? They can help you find a cheap place to stay.”
Unsatisfactory job: (JH) “I went to Vail, Colorado, for a winter to be a snowboard bum. The chef was more concerned with finding the Paris Hilton video on his computer than cooking.”
Biggest influence: (JH) Doug Flicker, now the chef at Piccolo in Minneapolis. “He’s so underrated. His food is spot on.”
Favorite beer: (JH) “I’m into sour beers lately.”
Dream app: (JH) “I’ve always thought they should turn The Flavor Bible [by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg] into an app.”
Favorite website: (JH) Mariobatalivoice.blogspot.com from home cook Steve Albini, channeling Mario Batali. “Steve Albini used to be in a band called Big Black. He went on to record Nirvana albums. He’s the kind of dude that would play guitar until his hand was bleeding. Mariobatalivoice is about Steve cooking for his wife. He said that when he started cooking for her, he’d describe dishes in Mario’s voice; that’s his blog.”
Congratulations to Mei Lin, winner of Top Chef Season 12.