I had the pleasure of interviewing Chef Michael Gottlieb.
Michael Gottlieb is the Executive Chef of The Anchor and Tchefuncte’s, located in Madisonville, LA in Northshore New Orleans.
Chef Gottlieb grew up in Savannah, GA where he was born into a 110-year food legacy, lending a hand at his family’s bakery from a very young age. His passion for food and cooking led him to enroll at Johnson & Wales University, where he graduated in 1999 with an associate degree in Culinary Arts and bachelor’s degree in Hotel Restaurant Management. While in school, he put his culinary education to practice at The Gate House in Providence, RI under the direction of a chef with strong ties to Louisiana, where his love for the Bayou State was solidified. Soon after graduating, Chef Gottlieb headed to Saint Michaels, MD, where he further perfected his skills in the kitchen at the Inn at Perry Cabin and later at The Inn at Little Washington in Washington, VA.
After Virginia, Chef Gottlieb returned to Savannah to open the AAA Four Diamond restaurant, Gottlieb’s Restaurant & Dessert Bar, with his two brothers. After some time, he found himself in New Orleans where he cooked for the Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group and later at the landmark French Quarter hotel, Omni Royal Orleans. Chef Gottlieb ended up back in Savannah, where he reopened his family’s establishment, Gottlieb’s Bakery, while developing restaurant concepts for a private hotel group. Ready to helm a kitchen once again, Chef Gottlieb jumped at the opportunity to develop a dual-dining concept on the Tchefuncte River in Madisonville, leading him back to Louisiana to head up The Anchor and Tchefuncte’s as Executive Chef.
Recognized for his excellence in culinary and hospitality, Chef Gottlieb has been awarded the Creative Excellence Award by the James Beard Foundation, Best Restaurants in Georgia by Georgia Trend, Best Oyster Po’boy at the Poboy Fest, a Gold Medal at the World Championship Gumbo Cookoff, and multiple Silver Medals at New Orleans Wine & Food Experience.
When he is not working, Chef Gottlieb enjoys foraging adventures, music in all its forms (playing, listening and attending concerts), and traveling, especially in the pursuit of good food.)
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share with our readers a story about what inspired you to become a chef?
Born into culinary royalty in the Southeast, I was immediately immersed into daily conversations and weekly family outings revolving food and hospitality. I knew I would someday carry the family tradition and passion, becoming a chef and overseeing operations of various restaurant ventures, including my family’s famous Gottlieb’s Bakery in Savannah.
Even our family vacations were planned around culinary adventures and food destinations. I absolutely loved traveling and having breakfast run straight into lunch, lunch into dinner and dinner into a midnight snack.
Do you have a specialty? If so, what drew you to that type of food?
I am an “equal opportunity foodist.” That said, I like to think that the foundation of my cooking is French rooted with hints of Southern USA, Louisiana, the Mediterranean and Asia thrown into the mix.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started working in the hospitality industry?
I am not sure the funny stories are appropriate, but the experience that sticks out the most when reflecting upon my career is when I was a very young cook and found myself expediting the retirement event of a prominent food writer surrounded by an all-star lineup of worldly chefs.
When it was one of the chef’s turn to present their dish, the pace slowed down in the kitchen. The director of operations noticed the pace of food into the dining room, came to expo line, and asked the chef to pick up the food flow. The chef looked at the director and said, “No problem, we will push the food out.” When the director walked back into the dining room, the chef turned to the kitchen staff and told them to slow down the pace and make every dish perfect. The kitchen did exactly that. The dish was Butter Poached Lobster Mac & Cheese. That should be a good clue into who was the chef executing the dish.
What is your definition of success?
Simply stated, my definition of success is: Quality food and beverages, happy guests, and an equally happy team.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
The hospitality industry is a rollercoaster ride and, if properly prepared for that ride, it is overly rewarding. Being addicted to the ride is simply the reason for staying in the game.
What are your “5 words of advice I would give to anyone interested in working in the restaurant industry,” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Learning is the best gift you can give yourself. Staying current with trends, ingredients and technique are the only way to stay ahead of the curve and to stay in line with others in the industry.
- Always be prepared because anything can happen. You never know who, what or when someone or something that can amplify your career will present itself, so always be ready.
- Always treat your coworkers with respect, and you will receive it in return. A strong bond with fellow co-workers is the only way to nurture a kitchen and personal relationships. Those relationships directly affect the ability to grow.
- Pay attention to the little details. They make great experiences and build loyal guests. Little details set you apart. A properly polished glass or the clean edge of a plate will set you apart from others.
- Never stop, and always keep pushing. It’s the only way to grow. It is ok to take a breath now and again, but if you pull back for too long, someone will blow right past you. In this world of hospitality, it is always important to stay relevant.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
The only current projects are the two restaurants on the Northshore of New Orleans in Madisonville, Louisiana: The Anchor at Tchefuncte’s and Tchefuncte’s. The Anchor is a casual riverfront dock and bar, and Tchefuncte’s is a French-rooted, Southern-tinged American Regional restaurant, offering culinary delights with a worldly twist and a nod to Louisiana.
If you could talk to your younger self, what advice would you give him and why?
Read more. Knowledge is everything and, after analyzing what you’ve read, practice it daily.
In your experience, what is the key to creating the perfect dish?
I believe everyone’s creative process differs, and mine is very organic. I stumble across a really nice ingredient, and I “listen” to what it wants to be. The flavor profile might start as one thing in my head or when on paper, but by the time it rolls out as a dish, it might be completely different.
I get excited for the seasons and usually break out my favorite dishes for seasonal ingredients but strive to come up with a new dish for the time of year, as well. Constantly adding to the repertoire is what keeps my cooking fresh. Dishes are always being reworked, even if they aren’t visible changes. The base flavor is always being developed and, during that process, new dishes usually pop out from there.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
If I could inspire a movement, I would want everyone to help feed the hungry. To give those who need a meal the nourishment they need is the most important act of kindness you can do.
If you could meet any chef or restaurateur living or no longer with us, who would it be and why?
It’s a loaded question, but I’d like to sit down with a variety of chefs and restaurateurs. I’ve had inspiration from all around the globe, both living and dead, and simply can’t pick one. However, if I had to choose just one, I would pick David Chang and would like to get the uncensored talk concerning the many rises and falls of his empire, as well as how he decides when it’s time to make a change to keep his guests engaged. He always seems to revamp a concept right as the trend is going stale. It has to be a hard decision, not one that is solely based on financial numbers but one that is based from the heart. These are the topics I would like to broach through general conversation.