The Chastain chef and owner Christopher Grossman shares his secrets of sustainability

The Buckhead restaurant won a Michelin Green Star in 2023

The Chastain sustainability
The Chastain sous chefs Alex Dabbiere (left) and Avery Doig in the restaurant’s herb garden

Photograph courtesy of The Chastain

Two Atlanta restaurants—Bacchanalia and the Chastainwon Michelin Green Stars in 2023. Started in 2020, the Green Star recognizes an establishment’s commitment to environmental stewardship. We talked to Christopher Grossman, owner and executive chef of the Chastain, about cooking and his secrets of sustainability.

Atlanta magazine: Do you classify your culinary training as traditional in the typical sense of the word, or nontraditional?

Christopher Grossman: I never went to culinary school. I assumed I was to pursue engineering or tech fields (like friends and family). Cooking was an interim activity until I could finish my computer science degree. I never intended to stay in the kitchen.

After my wife, Laura Charon, graduated, we left Michigan for Atlanta in 2007. I started at Aria under chef Gerry Klaskala, and worked my way through his kitchen. When I became sous chef/chef de cuisine, I returned to school, working at the restaurant at night. One day in philosophy class, I found myself writing down dish ideas, my prep list and grocery list, and drawing pictures of food. I asked myself, What am I doing? That’s when I returned to cooking, to do what I love.

Our time here is limited and precious. Anything I am going to do is worth doing well. I wanted to change my life and perspective on food, so I pursued working for the French Laundry; they finally gave me a call, and we moved to California in 2013. We returned to Atlanta in 2014.

AM: How did your background shape your approach to food and foodways?

CG: Thomas Keller said it best: All other things being equal, the chef with the best ingredients wins. If you’ve never walked a field looking for old fence rows to pick asparagus for dinner, have you really ever tasted the true flavor of asparagus?

I focus on sourcing the absolute best while being mindful and ethical. We supplement what we grow with produce from local farmers who deliver once or twice a week. We purchase just enough. Farmers put in a lot of work every day. When they’re grown well, and ethically, and gathered at their peak ripeness and freshness, I feel it is a disservice to impose our will on ingredients. I want people to experience the magic of freshly picked fruits or vegetables that have never seen a refrigerator.

AM: We are only now seeing sustainability actively celebrated in the restaurant space. When did this shift happen for you?

CG: The French Laundry is an incredible leader and industry standard. They taught me that the only limits we have are the ones we set for ourselves.

Sustainable living has always just been who I am; that’s how I was raised, and how I live my life. Growing up in Michigan, we recycled, gardened, foraged morels, fished trout and cooked our catch—it was the norm.

There is a disconnect between us and what we eat. People don’t know the origins of food. Fresh ingredients just taste different. I want to grow and serve the freshest, best ingredients.

While in California, Laura and I would forage for fruit and miner’s lettuce throughout our neighborhood, just like we did in Michigan. We recycled and used reusable containers, and have continued in Atlanta.

If we ruin our food sources, we ruin the flavor of food and its nutritional content, in turn harming ourselves. Sustainable practices create better food.

Farmer Jeff Collins leads our regenerative gardening techniques using three growing rules: It is edible, it benefits pollinators, and it rejuvenates the soil.

Sustainability means taking care of the world that we live in—doing everything I can, no matter how small—to reduce, reuse, recycle, repurpose, or find alternative uses. It’s been challenging at every step, but worth every struggle. The Green Star was a validation and appreciation of those teaching and explaining it before we were recognized.

This article appears in our April 2024 issue.