At the Table with James Beard Award-winning chef Steven Satterfield, of Miller Union

steven satterfield, miller union atlanta, where to eat in atlanta

It was the night before Fire, Flour, & Fork festivities in Richmond. Steve Mangano and I found ourselves at Patrick Phelan’s Longoven, and for once, I was able to say that I had visited a restaurant before Mangano. I laid my phone upside down on the little felt phone coaster and sipped my sparking rosé. “Steven Satterfield is meeting us,” Mangano said as he looked up from the menu. This wasn’t unusual, as I was accustomed to randomly meeting extremely talented chefs throughout my time with CurEat.

Satterfield sat in the seat beside Mangano and scooted close to the bar with a gentle, welcoming smile on his face. I listened to Mangano and Satterfield chat between bites of fois gras and the seasonal risotto. I was really curious to know about Satterfield’s life apart from being a chef. After asking a few questions, I realized I knew his old bandmate, Joy, who was my friend’s boss in Santa Barbara. My worlds were colliding in a round-about way, and I was fascinated. All of that being said, I was thrilled when Satterfield agreed to join me again at the table two years later. He is a true gem, and I think you’ll agree.

Cocktails

  1. Most notable food memory? Doing the Saturday luncheon at the Southern Foodways Alliance. That was a pretty epic moment for me, being able to curate an entire menu for an important group of people. John T. Edge asked me to do the lunch during the SFA breakfast at Blackberry Farm. The theme was corn and the corn-fed south. I tried to play it cool but I knew it was such an important opportunity. I had such a fun time planning that menu, going back and forth with him. It was a beast. Executing it was a beast. I probably didn’t sleep for more than two hours that week. I have fond memories about that accomplishment because it shows how I am as a chef in so many different ways. Each course was a different side of me.
  2. Most sought after dinner guest, living or not? It would be amazing to cook for and have conversations over food and wine with Thomas Jefferson. He was a pioneer in food and beverage and loved good food and wine. He had an experimental garden to see how different things would grow in the south.
  3. If you were not doing what you were doing what would you be? I have a couple of former lives. I studied architecture and really enjoyed doing that. One side of me could have gone in that direction but my heart wasn’t in it. I used to play music. When I was young I played in a youth symphony orchestra and played in an indie rock band when I was older. If I had all the free time in the world and couldn’t sleep, I would make music. Classical, experimental, jazz, etc.
  4. You were in an indie rock band? I formed Seely with friends in 1994, and it fizzled in 2000. We made a demo tape that we sent out to labels we admired and heard back from Two Pure label based out of London. We were the first American band to sign with this indie label.

Drinks

  1. Junk food vice? I love a good plate of nachos. Not trashy nachos. I want them to be a good and crispy chips, queso, and all the toppings. I’m doing a collaboration with Frank Stitt at Charleston Wine + Food. We were bouncing around ideas for the event, and one of them was doing a southern style nacho. 
  2. What is your favorite food city that you have been to? My last visit to Raleigh, I was super impressed with the food there. I’ve been to Raleigh and Durham a couple of times and the food scene is so interesting and diverse. And, London. The food scene is very relevant right now. It was pretty impressive. The British food that we had was amazing and well-executed. The Indian food there is insane. They are really into and embrace multi-cultural cuisines. Some of my favorites: Noble Rot (has an incredible wine list and the staff is very knowledgeable), Fergus Henderson’s St. John, and Amaya Grill and Bar. Amaya is an Indian tapas bar. It’s a high end restaurant with excellent service and was one of the best meals I had in 2019. 
  3. What city do you most want to visit that you have not been to? Montreal. That’s on my bucket list! I also really want to go to Catania in Sicily, Marrakech in Morocco, and Lisbon in Portugal. 
  4. What quality do you most look for in a vegetable? It depends on the vegetable. Each one has so many unique qualities and features to them. The most interesting vegetables are the ones that have different parts that grow together that you can use in different ways. I’m all about using the whole plant. Fennel. Carrots and their tops. Beets. You can do a study when vegetables have different parts. It’a an interesting way to play with them. We talk about using the whole animal but we never think about using the whole vegetable. 

Breakfast and Lunch

  1. What’s your greatest food extravagance? Sitting down to a long tasting menu at Eleven Madison is up there. It’s a fun, extravagant experience. You get to go on a journey with them. You just have a hint of what is put in front of you. It’s very expensive but very inspiring if you’re in the culinary field. It’s a nice way to enrich and be extravagant and opulent. 
  2. What/who do you listen to while cooking? At Miller Union we don’t listen to music in the kitchen. We have to be aware of our surroundings and movement in a small space. When I’m cooking for myself, I’ll put on different playlists. I will put on a Spotify daily mix that is based on what I listen to. Because my taste varies, I have six different daily mixes. I listen to whatever mood I’m in. I also usually think about who I’m cooking with and who is in a room. When you put music on in a room, it takes over. So, I always make sure it jives with other people’s.
  3. When was the last time you cooked at home?  What did you make? We were down at our beach house on Tybee Island over Christmas and I cooked a lot. We would just buy good, fresh ingredients and wing it. I made a shrimp and broccoli fried rice with a lot of scallions, ginger, and soy sauce. I bought some beautiful grass fed ribeye steaks and cooked them over wood, made a potato gratin, a kale salad, and opened up some fat bottles of wine. 
  4. What’s the most overrated ingredient? I would say something like truffles. They’re so expensive but they don’t always add a ton of flavor. I guess it depends on the quality and the freshness.

Dinner

  1. If you had the chance to redo one meal/cocktail you’ve ever served? I would say cooking for Alice Waters and a group of people. I loved everything we made and would love to redo that meal. It was spring on every plate. It was an interesting group of people and unique conversation. My food made her want to know more about who I was, and it was the start of a great friendship. I like to think of that as the genesis of our friendship and how that changed my route. I would happily relive.
  2.  If you were only allowed to keep one sense, what would it be? That’s hard. I don’t want to give up hearing because you don’t have music. But if I had to pick one, I would give up eyesight. I think touch would be the worst thing to lose. If you can’t have human connection or feel the textures around you, you would lost. 
  3. If you could bring back one deceased relative to cook for, who would it be? Definitely my grandmother on my mother’s side, who was an amazing cook. She was a country cook but her food was refined in a rustic way. She had a way with vegetables. Perfectly seasoned. The right texture. She made the best biscuits and pound cake I’ve ever had in my life. Her cellar was filled with jars of jams, jellies, and pickles. When I was a kid, I would anticipate opening the jars. I used to help her make her biscuits and I found out later in life that no one was allowed to be in the kitchen with her. But for some reason, she allowed me to be in the kitchen with her.
  4.  Biggest culinary inspiration? Why? Edna Lewis. I really just think she had such an amazing perspective on food being both pleasure and sustenance. It was highly seasonal and she learned how to live off the land with cultivated and wild products. She understood the difference between scarcity and abundance. There is a purity about her food. In a similar way to how my grandmother cooked but in a more refined, worldly view. She was the granddaughter of a slave on a plantation and ended up becoming one of the most revered chefs of the 20th century. But, so many people don’t know who she is. Her cookbook is beautiful, poetry. 

Brunch

  1. What book are you currently reading? Sean Brock’s “South”. He sent me a copy and I’m so appreciative. I’ve also been reading a lot about French wine and looking at wine maps and trying to refine my knowledge about the region. I don’t really read novels. I get sidetracked and not finish. I’ll get mad at myself because I like to perfect things. I don’t like to half ass anything. 
  2. Biggest threat to Food & Beverage industry? I think the biggest threat is our greed. We overproduce in unsustainable ways. That goes from monoculture crops to feed lots where animals are mistreated for meat without care. Food waste is a major, tragic system of industrialized food. We have this idea that food is disposable. If we don’t use it or eat it, we just think we can throw it away. It just skews everything in this weird direction. We have to reclaim valuing food and taking it seriously. We have to be careful because we have created a monster.
  3. How would doctor up store bought Ramen? I think the obvious choice for me is to add some things you would see in traditional ramen like boiled egg. Add some vegetables like napa cabbage or roasted broccoli. If we happen to have some bones in the freezer, make a bone broth and let it sit over night. Put it in your pressure cooker or let it cook overnight. You could save all your mushroom stems and make shiitake mushroom broth. It’s noodles with seasoning so there are so many things you could do. Fresh ginger. Chili oil. Pork Belly. Soy sauce. Fresh herbs. Cilantro.
  4. What imaginary figure would you most want to cook for? What would you serve?  I’d like to cook for Mr. Fox from “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” a film by Wes Anderson – because the way he devours food cracks me up but yet he has very refined taste.  If you’ve never seen the film it truly is fantastic!  Based on a Roald Dahl children’s novel from 1970. The film is about a fox who steals food for a living.

Desserts

  1. What would you tell your 20 year old self? I would say “don’t worry about the decisions you’re going to make. They’ll work themselves out.” Go with your gut. I was really conflicted after college because I realized I didn’t want to be an architect and didn’t want to disappoint my parents. My heart wasn’t in it. I came to terms with it.
  2. What do you most value in your peers/team? Honesty and loyalty are important. Honesty for telling you like it is whether you want to hear it or not. That’s a real friendship. It’s worth so much. Calling somebody out on their bullshit is an important task friends should do. A real friend, you go through everything with them whether it’s good times or bad. You’re going to persevere. Like any relationship, it takes work. Sometimes they are challenging.
  3. What’s your death row meal? This sounds boring. I want the perfect roast chicken and perfect green salad. Simple and satisfying.
  4. What is your motto? Trust your instincts. Be in tune to who you really are. Be authentic and vulnerable. 

You can follow Steven Satterfield on CurEat for all of his restaurant and bar recommendations for Charleston, Atlanta, and NYC. If you don’t have the CurEat App, it’s available for iOS and Android.

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