There are a few things you might not know about Michael Anthony, the French-trained chef at Danny Meyer's New American stalwart Gramercy Tavern.
He is a confirmed Japanophile. He speaks Japanese passably. And he learned to make karaage fried chicken under the tutelage of a housewives club in a rural village outside Tokyo.
"After college I was living in this small town and would trade English lessons for Japanese home-cooking lessons," says the Ohio native and 2012 James Beard Best Chef NYC winner. "I became the mascot of this local housewives club. We studied poetry, went on long hikes, watched French films together--and I learned to make this down-home version of Japanese fried chicken."
Anthony is the author of a handsome new book, The Gramercy Tavern Cookbook ($50). He and his team came to our Test Kitchen & Dining Room to stage a "Gramercy Izakaya"--a one-night-only pop-up celebration of the chef's formative culinary influences.
"At Gramercy we set out to say something about contemporary American food, but I see things through the same Japanese lens I learned when I lived there. It's a sense of seasonality and under-manipulation of the food, a search for natural deliciousness that's very much inspired by Japanese cooking."
We asked him for the recipe for one of the dishes from the menu that night at our Test Kitchen, karaage, the popular home-style fried chicken that's cut into pieces and marinated in ginger, garlic and soy (see the recipe). It's a staple of school bento boxes, but Anthony says this particular presentation was inspired by a recent trip to Michelin-starred Nihonryori RyuGin in Tokyo, where the chef topped fried sea eel with roughly chopped shiso leaves and Sansho powder.
Like so much that's obsession-worthy about Japanese food, the taste of the crispy bird is one that is, in Anthony's apt description, "a little nostalgic and super delicious."