Food Chatter: Q&A with Ted Lahey of Table & Main

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Last week Ted Lahey, executive chef of Roswell’s Table & Main, beat out several of Atlanta’s star chefs in a two-week long contest sponsored by Eater Atlanta national food fan blog to earn its first Hottest Chef in Atlanta title. The win means Lahey represents Atlanta in Eater’s national Hottest Chef in America contest that began yesterday (February 21).
 
The Athens native and twenty-year industry veteran shared some of his background in a recent email interview.
 
Q:  First question: How does it feel to be the “Hottest Chef in Atlanta?”
TL:  Ha! The biggest thing I take from my being a finalist is how incredibly lucky we are at Table & Main to have such a loyal fan base. Ryan and I joked about my initial nomination, and, to be honest, we didn’t take it that seriously. Then, to see the response from our friends, fans, and guests that first round … we were blown away. When someone votes for me, I know that’s really a vote of support for the restaurant (however much my wife thinks I truly am the hottest chef in Atlanta!).  For being just six months old, we’re very humbled to have had so many people voice such strong support for the restaurant.
 
Q:  Both you and Ryan have backgrounds in the New York dining scene—you with BR Guest, and Ryan with Danny Meyer. How did that experience drive your career arcs?
TL:  Working for Michael White at BR Guest was probably the single greatest change I made in my career path. BR guest is very focused on procedures. The role of support staff is monumental in any kitchen, and, under chef White, I remember being told to “forget everything you know about food and only do as I say.” I learned the importance of the menial tasks and how those tasks affect the outcome of the restaurant.

Under a great chef, I was taught the importance of every little detail, from how to wash the mushrooms to how to execute complex dishes while under the watchful eye of the guests. I wouldn’t be the chef I am today without learning the ropes, and having the opportunity to do so under such a great group definitely motivated me to strive for the best!

Q:  What motivated you to go the entrepreneurial route with Table & Main and why downtown Roswell?
TL:  It has always been my goal to “be my own boss.” After twenty years in the business, I feel confident that I have the knowledge to run a restaurant that combines my experience with my dreams. Downtown Roswell was an easy choice for Table & Main. For us, Roswell is home, and we wanted to see the community grow and have a hand in that. The Canton Street restaurant scene is very unique and has been evolving over the last few years; Ryan and I feel lucky to be a part of it.
 
Q:  How would you describe your culinary approach and who have been some of your biggest influences?
TL:  My favorite foods are simple. I enjoy eating things that are delicious, yet not pretentious. One thing that I carried away from my training at Fiamma was that food should taste like what it is. Certainly there are elements of flavors that must be coaxed out with salt, vinegar, etc., but in the end, I don’t want the basic nature of something to be hidden by a laundry list of spices or unconventional treatments. Although I have great respect for chefs who continue to push culinary boundaries, my biggest influences are the ones who value simplicity.

Q:  When you have the time, where do you and your family like to go out to eat?
TL:  Being a chef and the father of a two-year-old, I’d say it’s pretty tough to find the time to go out. I could more easily provide a list of places I’d love to try! Not long ago, I enjoyed dinner at Kyma in Buckhead. Chef Pano Jr. is a good example of a chef who really lets the ingredients shine. I guess for me that’s what it’s all about.

Photo Credit of Ted Lahey: Iain Bagwell
 
NEWS AND NOTES:

The James Beard restaurant and chef semifinalists were announced yesterday. Atlantans/Georgians who received a nod were:

Best Chef: Southeast
Hugh Acheson, Five and Ten
Billy Allin, Cakes & Ale
Linton Hopkins, Restaurant Eugene

Outstanding Pastry Chef
Aaron Russell, Restaurant Eugene
Cynthia Wong, Empire State South

Rising Star Chef
Kevin Gillespie, Woodfire Grill

Outstanding Bar Program
Holeman and Finch Public House
The Porter Beer Bar

Outstanding Restaurateur(s)
Mike Klank and Eddie Hernandez, Taqueria Del Sol

Outstanding Wine Program
Five and Ten, Athens, GA

On Saturday, February 25, Anne Quatrano will be honored by Georgia Organics as the 2012 “Farmers Feast Executive Chef” at its fifteenth annual conference (with the theme of “Plow Forward”) in Columbus, Georgia.

Ford Fry is hosting the Local Lunch Break for Schools Fundraiser at his JCT Kitchen & Bar during lunchtime on Wednesday, February 29. The event will raise money to support the American Culinary Federation’s efforts toward programs that encourage kids to eat healthier.

The Atlanta Business Chronicle is reporting that Mexican fast food chain Del Taco is planning on opening sixty locations within the metro area in its return to the Atlanta area market. The first location opened in Snellville on February 15 at 1895 Scenic Highway, in the Presidential Markets Shopping Center.

Buckhead. St. Regis Atlanta Hotel has opened a new power breakfast spot, Astor Court, featuring a mix of Southern dishes and health-minded options, open Monday through Friday from 6:30 a.m. until 10:30 a.m.
 
East Atlanta. Foodie Buddha first mentioned that We Suki Suki, a Vietnamese bubble tea and bahn mi shop, has opened at 479 Flat Shoals Avenue.   

Marietta. The AJC is reporting that Ali’s Cookies has opened a brick-and-mortar location at 1255 Johnson Ferry Road. The thirty-year-old company specializes in over twenty varieties of hand scooped, certified kosher cookies as well as cakes and cupcakes.
 
Midtown. Cucina Asellina, the Italian concept from the owners of STK that features wood-fired pizzas and meatballs along with pasta, opened on Monday, February 20, next door to its steakier sibling at 1075 Peachtree Street NE.

Virginia Highland. Atkins Park turns 90 next month, and, in celebration, the restaurant will host a special Prohibition Dinner on Wednesday, February 29th and a Prohibition Party on Thursday, March 8th.
     
Question of the Week:  What former Atlanta headliner chef is now at a Dean and Deluca in northern California?
     
P.S. The answer to last week’s QOTW—what Atlanta chef will be among the first chefs to receive Georgia Olive Farms’ product?—is Jon Wolf of Terrace on Peachtree in the Ellis Hotel, mentioned in a Garden and Gun article. (We also ran a story on the subject.)

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