NEW YORK (Reuters) - Irish chef Trevor Moran is putting his stamp on the Nashville restaurant The Catbird Seat since taking over this year as executive chef of the popular eatery.
He follows in the footsteps of its original chefs, Josh Habiger and Erik Anderson, who won praise for their modern, seasonal cooking when the restaurant opened in 2011.
Dublin-born Moran met Anderson while they were working at Noma, the Danish eatery that was named the world’s best restaurant for three straight years from 2010 to 2012 in a list compiled by Britain’s Restaurant Magazine.
Moran, 33, spoke to Reuters about moving to America, working at Noma and the Nashville dining scene.
Q: What was the biggest challenge in taking take over a restaurant that has garnered so much attention for your predecessors?
A: The main challenge is that the restaurant is already a success and has high standards. I watched it from a distance before it opened. I have been watching it online from Denmark. I suppose it’s to take the fan base that’s already there and not to rock the boat too much. I want to give it a bit of my idea of what a meal is. I have an idea what a meal experience should be from start to finish so people feel a lot of fun, a lot of informality and a lot of freedom. So it’s to incorporate that with very simple, delicious ingredients and not to frighten people.
Q: What attracted you to Catbird and to relocate to Nashville?
A: I didn’t want to leave Denmark particularly. I was there for 4-1/2 years or so. I just wanted to experience America. America is an amazing place where there are so many different varieties of things. I visited Nashville before the job opportunity came up ... In the week I was here, I really liked it. I helped out Eric one day at Catbird. I liked the southern style and the people were really lovely. My girlfriend is from Charleston so she’s a Southerner too. She was more than happy to come back to America.
Q: You knew Eric since you both had worked at Noma. Has that opened the door for you to work anywhere in the world?
A: Yes it certainly opens a door, but it’s what you do afterwards. You’re dedicated. You love food, which you have proven by working there. At the end of the day, you are not in Noma anymore and you have to do your own thing and assemble your own team. It opened a network of chefs that I could call on from a different continent.
Q: Does Noma’s influence show up on Catbird’s menu?
A: We are trying to make the menu fun, fast and light. We lightened the menu quite a lot. We are putting more vegetables. That’s obvious. One thing everyone knows is you’re from Noma. You’re going to go vegetable base ... You take the whole menu with 16 courses. We take a lighter approach, making it easier on people.
Q: What is the dining scene like in Nashville?
A: My girlfriend and I eat out at least once a week. There is a nice sense of community here. All the chefs know one another. A lot of people are coming to the state to eat here. Some come just to eat at Catbird Seat.
Grilled Flat Fish with Hickory and Burned Butter Broth
1 fillet of dover sole, turbot, or any firm fish that will stand up to hard grilling.
1 bunch spring onions, spring garlic or mustard greens
2 tablespoon canola oil
1 garlic head (preparation for burnt garlic below)
1 tsp. cracked black pepper
Juice of half a lemon
Salt to taste
For the broth:
2 cups light chicken stock
2 liters filtered water
100 gram kelp seaweed
¼ cup dried pine mushrooms (morels, ceps, shiitakes)
15 gram hickory chips
For the Browned Butter:
¾ cup butter, diced
For Burnt Garlic:
Wrap garlic head in aluminum foil, and place directly on the hot coals of your grill, turning occasionally until it appears completely charred. Remove from the coals and once cool, remove the blackened cloves from their skins. Grate and reserve.
In a 5-liter pot, cover chicken carcasses, legs and wings with water and gently simmer an hour (can simmer for up to six hours). Strain and reduce, skimming regularly until you have approximately 2 liters. Cool and reserve. Meanwhile, toast the hickory chips in the oven at 300 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes or until golden brown.
In a separate pot on high heat, combine kelp and filtered water and heat until just before it reaches a boil. Remove from heat and let sit for 20 minutes. Strain the water and add the dried mushrooms and toasted wood and reduce by half. Strain again and flavor with the light chicken stock. Reserve until ready to re-warm.
For browned butter:
In a separate pan, melt and heat the diced butter until the milk solids start browning, whisking occasionally. You will know it’s ready when it takes on a slightly acidic, caramelized aroma. You’re better going off going too far with this one. Allow to cool gently. Reserve browned butter until ready to serve.
For Fish and Plating:
Brush one side of the fish with oil and place on a very hot grill. When the skin starts to blacken and blister around two minutes, brush the top side with oil and flip it over. Add smoking wood of your choice to the coals and add the spring onions, also brushed with a little oil, and close the lid.
Depending on the thickness of the fish, cooking time will be anywhere between 1 and 4 minutes or until it appears slightly opaque with medium-well doneness. Remove and rest the fish for a few minutes. When ready to serve, pull the burned skin off with your fingers. Remove the fillet from the bone with a sharp slicer and place in a warm bowl.
Top fish with the grated burned garlic and cracked black pepper and set the charred greens to the side. Re-warm the hickory stock, making sure it doesn’t reach a boil, and add a spoon of brown butter, a few drops of fresh lemon juice, and salt to taste. It should be sharp enough to cut through the smoky charred flavors. Pour over your fish.
Note: Chef Moran recommends getting the flat fish with the skin on and the fillets, top and bottom, still on the bone.
Reporting by Richard Leong; Editing by David Gregorio