13 Questions is a weekly series where we ask chefs 13 questions to get to know them outside of the kitchen. Gerry Klaskala is the co-owner and chef at Aria, as well as a co-owner of Canoe.
What was the first recipe you ever learned?
I was working for this French chef—this was way back—and he made this incredible lobster bisque. And I made a point of learning how to make a great lobster bisque.
A lot of Atlanta chefs leave, but what keeps you in this city?
That’s not true. There’s a handful of chefs that have left the city for whatever reasons. Most of them were just ahead of their time. They were brilliantly uncompromising artists, the likes of Guenter Seeger, Sotohiro Kosugi. I left [in the 1980s for six years]. I moved to Savannah and Boston and then came back, and when I came back, I kissed the ground and never wanted to leave. I came back for opportunity and love of the city. It’s a great livable town with wonderful museums; the culture of symphony, opera, ballet, theater; the universities; and the diversity here in Atlanta makes for an interesting town. And now, the restaurant scene is at a par in so many other cities.
What’s the worst culinary trend you’ve seen throughout your 45-year career?
The experimental phase that’s going on right now is pretty dismal. I can’t think of anything that’s cravable or going to stick, like any of the foam junk that’s going on right now or has gone on. It’s just creativity for creativity’s sake. A cronut’s okay, but I’d rather have a great doughnut or a great croissant.
What’s one thing you wish you could cook?
I’ve been doing this so long; I think I’ve got them all down.
When you’re not in the kitchen, what are you doing?
I love to garden, especially vegetables and flowers. I love to draw and paint. It’s just for me, but I do abstract/nonobjective subjects for painting, and my drawing is abstract but very graphically driven.
Who is your favorite artist working today?
Gerhard Richter—I think the best artists have such great eyes but are so cerebral.
What’s one Atlanta restaurant you wish was still here?
The Midnight Sun—it was the restaurant created by John Portman in Peachtree Center. With Scandinavian food back, it would be on fire now.
When was the last time you were nervous cooking for someone?
I am nervous all the time. Cooking for someone is such a responsibility. It’s not necessarily nervous, but all of your senses are very heightened. Cooking for Julia Child, that was incredible experience right before she passed away. Marcella Hazan, cooking for her was such a thrill; I was a bag of nerves. I did a luncheon for the president of France once, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, that had me all, “Am I good enough to cook for him?” The list of celebrities I’ve cooked for is almost endless—Paul Newman, Elizabeth Taylor, Woody Harrelson, Scarlett Johansson—but I get more on edge cooking for food people than celebrities. God forbid Eric Ripert has dinner with us.
What’s the last show you binge watched?
I love bingewatching baseball—especially the Braves, but it’s a little tough right now. I also watch The Big Bang Theory or Seinfeld.
Do you have any pet peeves?
My pet peeve is lazy people. I think I am very tolerant, and I love quirky people and all different kinds of people; I found in this industry that I can talk to pretty much anyone because most people are just people. But if there’s an ambivalence toward doing something, where you’re going through the motions—that’s my pet peeve.
What’s your death row meal?
Who can think about eating? That would be the last thing I’d be thinking.
What neighborhood has gone through the most change since you moved here in 1976?
The whole city has just changed so much. Drive out to Alpharetta; when I first moved here, that was nothing but farms and fields. Look at Westside. Midtown was nothing for years, and Midtown is like the hottest neighborhood in the city. And now Buckhead is on fire. Get in a car and drive 30 miles any direction, and I see nothing but positive change.
You are from Western New York originally. Is there anything you miss?
The people. In my mind, they’re the nicest people, most polite that you could ever meet. More people were more interested in experiencing life than acquiring things. It was more about being with family and being with friends, spending time with each other.