Instead of “where are they now?” or “where it all began…”, we are living in the present. We’ve rounded up the most promising and brightest culinary students who fill the coveted spots at New York’s top restaurants, to talk about their bosses, their first days on the job and their hopes and dreams. This is Young Chefs, Big Plates.
Christopher Anthony is not your average culinary student. There are many examples we can give of his extraordinary talent: being at the top of his class at the Culinary Institute of America, his 4 month long stage stint at the second best restaurant in the world, El Celler De Can Roca, and an externship at Eleven Madison Park with Chef Daniel Humm, the winner of Outstanding Chef this year by the James Beard Foundation. But that’s what you can learn about Anthony on paper. What you can’t read on his resume is his less-than-fairytale upbringing as a child aging out of the foster care system, working in a restaurant as a young adult when he entered into the independent living program, or the leaps and bounds he is taking to receive a Bachelors degree in Hospitality Management. You also wouldn’t learn that he has the blessing and support of Chef Joan Roca himself, that he one day his personal restaurant will serve his favorite sandwich: a simple yet refined Grilled Cheese or if he could cook for anyone in the world, real-fake-dead-or-alive, it would be Pocahontas… just kidding. We spoke with Anthony about his past, present and future, and how one day, he will conquer the food world. And on that day, we’ll be vying for a reservation to eat that long awaited grilled cheese sandwich that has a nice “K.I.S.S.”.
[IITK] Tell us a little bit on why you want to be a Chef!
[CA] The thought of being a Chef was innate. Coming from a disrupted personal background the path felt unconditionally right. Having the talent is only half the battle. To have the solid fundamentals that higher education offers, and to have perfected skills for practical discipline in an already risky industry, leads to championships in life.
[IITK] You are the first CIA student to stage at El Celler De Can Roca, the second best restaurant in the world. Can you tell us a little bit about what that was like and your experience working with Chef Joan, and the entire Roca family.
[CA] I was planning on doing my externship at El Celler but my visa was not approved by CIA for credit, however it paved the way for all future CIA students who want to extern there because it is now accepted. It was an incredible learning experience. What really sets them apart, and why they are so successful is because they build the team opposed to building an individual, the ladder is what most restaurants do. It didn’t matter what skills you entered with, you work together, they build everyone as a team and to make a cohesive kitchen.
[IITK]: That sounds like incredibly hard work.
[CA] Not as hard as the language barrier! Actually it was the most challenging experience I’ve ever had; there was a lot of training and fundamental work that I did. I loved working there for the diverse population, learning new techniques and I began to understand how to be comfortable when I was so far removed from my comfort zone. It’s a feeling I could never describe; it’s a unique place.
[IITK] You said it, El Celler is truly unique, what is one thing that really blew your mind while you were there?
[CA] There are two ways I have to answer that. The first has nothing to do with the food but instead has everything to do with the family. The most important thing to the Roca’s is family, and keeping the family image of the restaurant. I actually lived with the parents who keep two small homes (one female, one male) for externs, apprentices and students who stage. They offer room and board, laundry and food. It’s so warm and welcoming, that it blew my mind.
The second has everything to do with the food. One dish in particular was a canapé, Calamar, which is a squid dish. We mix it in liquid nitrogen, robot coupe it, and then reformulated it into a round mold, wrapped it in rice paper and served it with puffed rice. At the restaurant, while things don’t appear as they seem, everything they do enhances the produce they are using. For example, with the roasted beets we infused dirt water to bring out the earthiness of the beet. Ok, it wasn’t just any dirt, it was dirt from a vineyard with lots of minerals and vitamins but it really brought out the flavor of the beets.
[IITK] After El Cellar de Can Roca you immediately came back to the US and started your externship at Eleven Madison Park. What was it like on your first day at Eleven Madison Park and how were you feeling when you walked in?
[CA] Day one of Eleven Madison Park was not only a culture shock since I had just returned from being at El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, Spain. It also gave me the confidence in returning back to New York City and the backing of understanding why establishment like Eleven Madison Park are successful. The dedicated team of Eleven Madison Park made day one comfortable, the idea of not letting the team fail.
Of course the feeling of being nervous and aiming to meet the standard was intense especially working side by side with ballers like Chef Angela Pinkerton and Chef James Kent. Playing the role of an extern meant my day to day responsibilities where to hone skills, adapted, and learn learn and learn. When that was done, learn something new, weather it was talking with the fish cook to even having a conservation with the butcher about meat or fish fabrication.
[IITK] What’s the most important thing you learned and took away from the experience?
[CA] For me, one the most important aspect to the experience has been understanding the bigger picture. Taking a step back and evaluating the situation at hand, the externship experience was a difficult road to cross for the reason that it is outside of the educational spectrum; being able to manage personal matters yet staying committed to the road ahead.
The most important concept to grasp about my time spent at Eleven Madison Park would have to be the culture. The culture found within the walls that define its good will. Being a part of the team during the growth and expansion phase has illuminated my insight of business. Witnessing it from a standpoint of an employee to the higher management level and being able to question the step-by-step moves.
[IITK] If you could open a restaurant what would be on the menu?
[CA] Grilled Cheese, it’s one of my favorite down time, go-to sandwiches. Something with a nice K.I.S.S. (keeping it simple, stupid), and clean, yet refined.
[IITK] If you could cook for one person in the world, dead or alive, who would it be?
[CA] Pocahontas. Just kidding, my friends and the people I’ve worked with.
[IITK] If you could cook with one person in the world, dead or alive, who would it be?
[CA] Paul Bocuse
[IITK] What are the greatest influences on your food and how you cook?
[CA] Experience! Firsthand experience and having great mentors!
A key driver for me would be the time spent living in the foster care system, striving to create opportunity to promote the awareness that wasn’t shown to me growing up. I know what it means to have just a little less than you need, and just a little less than you deserve.
[IITK] You’ve come so far in your life, overcome hardships and really made it on your own. Did you ever think you would get to where you are today?
[CA] Looking back into it, I think why? Why the Culinary Institute of America? Why Eleven Madison Park? It brings me back to the beginning steps of what the intent of attending the CIA would allow me, a higher formal education, a larger network of professional individuals, and grand outlook on cuisine. Stepping foot into the doors of the CIA has elevated my prospective of the Food and Beverage industry. Looking at Eleven Madison Park it is the highest of refined cuisine, not only respected in New York City, but throughout the world. How do I take the sum of both parts, and produce what should be an outcome in a mathematical formula; that would be sweet success.
Want more? Check out our first segment of Young Chefs, Big Plates: Richard Chan.
All photos credit: Zoe Schaeffer/I’m In the Kitchen