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Erik Anderson on Changes at Catbird Seat and Collaborating with Other Chefs

Continuing Eater Lounge coverage from the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. Right now: chef Erik Anderson of Catbird Seat in Nashville.


So we're having one of the Best New Chefs 2013 Jamie Malone (of Sea Change in Minneapolis) to the lounge as well — you guys worked together, right? I hired her as a cook, as a line cook at Sea Change, then she left for a little while; my sous left and I asked her to come back as a sous. She did, then when I decided I was going to leave, she took over the restaurant. And it's been great, a year of doing it and she's doing a great job.

Seems like you guys both got a lot of attention from the work you did at Sea Change. Yeah, I mean it's a great — I hate using the word concept for whatever reason, but that's what it is — it's great, it's a really fun restaurant. It really is. Tim [McKee] who's the executive chef there, he gave me the freedom to do whatever I wanted, so it was a fun time. You're in a theater too which is a little odd, but the people you meet, it keeps it kind of interesting.

I had a big giant bear walk through the restaurant once, not the gay dudes but one of the most famous stage directions Shakespeare ever gave was "bear exit stage left." What play was that? Anyway, so this giant bear came walking through and it was pretty awesome. Their costume department was incredible. We're working and can't see the play, so it's like, bring the bear down here, we wanna see it!

So there are lot of changes happening now at Catbird Seat. How'd it all come about? Those guys are always working on opening new places, and Josh [Habiger, Anderson's co-chef at Catbird Seat] wants to help them open a new spot and eventually go into a new spot, so he's gonna start working on [Pinewood Social]. I have a friend coming from Denmark to work with me.

Who? I'm not gonna say. It's gonna be exciting, and everything's still in the company. The company is still expanding and they need knowledgeable people to help guide it.

How are you going to change things? I think it's... I don't know. We're going to shut down for a couple weeks to rethink things. I'm hesitant to say we'll take a different approach, but just to really evaluate the last few years and see how we can make it better. It's been two years, which to me is a very short amount of time. The restaurant is not a sprint, it's a marathon. I'm excited for it.

How do you feel about working by yourself now? At Sea Change before this, I did 400 to 500 covers a day and I ran the kitchen myself, so I have no qualms. We collaborate in such a unique way, sometimes one of us will take one element from the other person's dish and then turn it into a different dish. I want the restaurant to still be all about collaborating, but one day, one person just has to make all the decisions.

What else are you working on? I'm going to do a ramen dinner in Atlanta with my friend Sarah [Gavigan], she has a ramen pop-up called Otaku South in Nashville. She's doing this event in Atlanta the 23rd of June, so that's fun. I like that kind of food, I think everyone does, so that'll be a good time. We let her do a night at the restaurant with her pop-up too. I helped her, but it's kind of nice being in your own restaurant with zero responsibility, you just get to drink and handle the yakitori grill.

More and more people are doing kitchen takeovers and inviting their friends in to their restaurants. Why is that? I think it's a cool thing — you don't necessarily need your own restaurant to have a restaurant. You can use an unconventional space or a bar. I think it's neat, it keeps it exciting. It's fun to see somebody else come into Catbird Seat and see what they're doing. You see something new and it kind of makes you view the room in a different light. I don't think we do enough of it... But we gotta do our own thing too.

What's your dream collaboration? I don't know. I'd have to think about that. I just had Joseph Lenn from Blackberry Farm in, and we had a blast cooking together. That was something I wanted to do for a long time. My dream? Oh man, I don't know. I always love Sean Brock, I'd love to do something with him. And I want Thomas Keller just to come in and have dinner. Hopefully he will sometime.

What's the Nashville critic scene like? I think it's growing. I don't think you can have a restaurant scene like Nashville that's growing so much without having it affect the critics. They're growing along with the restaurant community. They've always been very supportive of what we do, so I have nothing but nice things to say, they've been great to us.

· All Erik Anderson Coverage on Eater [-E-]
· All Aspen 2013 Coverage on Eater [-E-

Catbird Seat

1711 Division St, Nashville, TN 37203