Q&A: Jarrett Stieber Starts 2014 With New Pop-Ups

People took note of Atlanta chef Jarrett Stieber in 2013. The guy left his fine-dining jobs to head out into the shakier terrain of do-it-yourselfism, and quickly established a following thanks to his creative, attractive and locally sourced dishes. His semi-permanent pop-up restaurant in the back of the Candler Park Market produced some of the year's more delightful dishes, and his involvement in the series of restaurant-within-a-restaurant projects at Gato Bizco maintained that sense of playfulness. 2014 sees Stieber's CPM project wrapped up, but he's setting up shop behind the deli counter of The General Muir on Wednesdays through Fridays, from 10:30 AM to 5 PM, beginning today, with a focus on Israeli food (fingers crossed for sabiches). Sunday evenings beginning in February he's relaunching his dinner service at Gato from 7 to 11 PM - diners in the know should also ask about a possible speakeasy nearby featuring different bartenders. We chatted with Stieber about his new projects, all of which fall under the moniker Eat Me Speak Me he's adopted.

Zagat: How'd you celebrate the New Year?

Jarrett Stieber: I just went by Kimball House. Couldn't think of anywhere better to ring in the New Year - I love it! Stayed there until just after midnight, got a smooch, headed home to rest up for 2014.

Zagat: Talk a little about what you have planned for your time at The General Muir.

JS: I wanted to make sure to get some new stuff for myself lined up for the start of the year. Last year there was a lot of flux in my job. I was leaving Empire State South where I'd worked, and was planning on moving to Asheville, but that didn't work out - the restaurant where I was going to work didn't open in time, so I moved back to Atlanta.

The General Muir - it's always busy at lunch, and their chef Todd Ginsberg had approached me about doing a pop-up at some point. I guess they've been open for a year now, and restaurants always change a lot in that first year. They wanted some more interesting food out of the deli. And while they focus on things inspired by New York Jewish delis, they wanted some things that are more Israeli Jewish using seasonal ingredients, brighter colors, brighter ingredients

Zagat: What's going to be on your menu?

JS: i'm going to open with a menu the way I want a lunch menu to be. I haven't ever permanently cooked in a lunch-service environment, so i don't really know what to expect. I'll make my opening menu the way i would want to eat lunch and see what it sells, and then adjust from there down the line.

We'll have soup at all times, probably different each week, usually some sort of warm grain dish with veggies and different condiment, probably staples, and then one composed meat plate that'll be still veg-heavy but still feature some sort of kosher meat. I think we'll also have a tofu dish and one completely vegetarian dish. i want to keep everything at app-sized portions and easy to take with you, kind of in line with the to-go nature of a deli. It's super, super important to me that my food is locally sourced. I can't stress that enough. And my dishes will reflect seasonality. I cook with a sense of humor and a little irreverence, so that'll play into it, too.
We want to make the deli as exciting as the rest of the restaurant.

Zagat: What important lessons did you learn from your time at the Candler Park Market?

JS: Candler Park was great for a semi-permanent pop-up. Doing it five days a week really gave me a great understanding of ordering food, prepping food and of just being myself, working, and how to share space with people. We had agreed that it would be temporary - Candler Park Market has a lot of great things planned for the coming year, so this was the best time to go in new directions.

it definitely was  a huge benefit for figuring out what works, what doesn't, finding out a way to develop my own food. And reacting to what people like to eat, too. That's been really important to keep that in mind.

Zagat: And what's the plan with Gato in the new year?

JS: Gato's going to be awesome as well. I think it'll be a little more of an adventurous menu, fun things, a bigger menu, and without the dietary restrictions like no pork or no shellfish like at the General Muir. It'll be Sundays starting the first weekend in February, so it's still kind of coming together, but people can keep up with it at EatMeSpeakMe.com

Zagat: What's the appeal of doing pop-ups?

JS: What I like about this is that any form of art is constantly evolving and changing. Food is no different. Food is a trade and a skill set, but also a medium for expressing artistic license that comes with interesting food. In the confines of a brick and mortar place with four walls, things can be kind of rigid. Pop-ups give me the freedom to try a lot of different things. You know, once you establish a place's identity, it's tough to play around with it, it's structured and rigid. There's something to be said for predictability… but right now I want to play.

Zagat: Any plans down the line beyond these pop-ups?

JS: This thing with the General Muir is open ended, so it'll just keep going until it seems like it's time to stop. Like any other ambitious cook, I have visions of my own place. But I'd like to learn more about my voice as a chef and learn more about being a businessman. Nobody wants to fail, so until I feel like it's 100 percent the time, that's not going to happen.

Reposted from Zagat.com

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