Chef Mitchell Altholz, the classically trained, highly renowned, and widely respected executive chef of Highlawn Pavilion, is a soft spoken man, whose demeanor exudes quiet confidence and passion for his craft.
The pristine plates that Chef Mitchell and his team of young chefs at Highlawn Pavilion create are a product of Mitchell's well-rounded culinary career.
Mitchell, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, worked in New York City as a Sous Chef at Maxim’s from 1985 – 1989. Mitchell then sojourned to France, where he spent seven years cooking at such fine restaurants as Maxim’s, Paul Bocuse, Le Saprien and L’Iboga, and was the only American in Bordeaux to hold the position of Chef de Cuisine.
When Mitchell returned to the States he opened the acclaimed Jocelyne’s in Maplewood, which received an Excellent from the New York Times.
Most notable about Chef Mitchell's cooking style is his dedication to the freshest ingredients. During his time in France Mitchell became acquainted with the farm to table ideology that was, then, lacking in the States. Today, Mitchell has incorporated farm to table style into his cooking. As Executive Chef at Highlawn Pavilion, Mitchell regularly (and perhaps, religiously) visits the gardens at the Pleasantdale Chateau, where he avails himself of the freshest produce and herbs, and passes it on to appreciative diners.
I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Mitchell, who in his trademark soft-spoken fashion told me about his background, his kitchen at Highlawn, promising young chefs, his influences, and his hobbies.
MK: What were the challenges you encountered in the transition from Jocelyn’s, an intimate, nine table restaurant, to a much larger venue like Highlawn Pavilion?
M.A. Well, I worked in large restaurants before in New York City and in France. But then I worked in a small restaurant like Jocelyn’s and I did everything almost myself. But the big challenge is to delegate jobs to other workers and be comfortable with that. I’m still not comfortable with that but I have great workers and I do that. That was the biggest thing.
MK: What are the advantages to working at a property like Highlawn?
M.A. I have access to everything. I can show workers how to do something. I can spend more time working on different menus. I have more time in the fields with the farmers at the Chateau. I can do things out of the kitchen as well. I can spend time developing the sous vide program at the Highlawn, while the other people are cutting the vegetables, making the soup and butchering.
M.K. Other than your wife, what did you bring back from your experience in France?
M.A. When I was in New York City we really didn’t have that much farm to table. Living in France you really get to appreciate going to the market and picking out your produce. I went to the market every day before work. Back then in France you had chickens tow ways: alive and dead. And we went hunting with our neighbors and picked mushrooms, and really got a feel for where food comes from.
M.K. What chef has been most influential and inspirational to your cooking?
M.A. I worked with Paul Bocuse in France and that was great. And then I worked with a chef at Maxim’s, Patrick Pinot, and in my early days I worked with Dennis Foy at Tarragon Trail; they were very influential.
M.K. In a sentence, how would you describe your style of cooking?
M.A. I would say it’s French technique with the freshest ingredients. We use a little bit of modern techniques as well, like sous vide. We do a lot of slow cooking like poaching fish in olive oil, but it’s also growing and changing.
M.K. In Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain describes they dynamic inside restaurant kitchens as raucous, and likens the cooks to a band of pirates. Is the dynamic in the kitchen at Highlawn similar?
M.A. No, it’s a bunch of young cooks who want to be chefs. They’re all working for their resumes. Everybody here is legal. Everybody approached me because they heard about us and want to learn, and see what we’re doing.
M.K. Could you name any young, up and coming chefs that you’ve got your eye on?
M.A. I have three guys who are really good, my Sous Chef at Highlawn, Jeffrey Schrieber, and another Sous Chef Tristan Tevrow. And at the Manor I have a phenomenal sous chef, Mario Russo.
M.K. You’re very soft spoken and reserved, how do you cut loose? Any hobbies?
M.A. Well I have my motorcycle, and I play guitar.
M.A. Well I’m not that good, I’m trying to get good. I do a little surfing, I have a place in long branch. I like hiking with my golden retriever.
M.A. You’ve received many accolades as a chef, what was the greatest honor?
M.A. The first time I ever got an excellent from the New York Times. I really appreciate that. It put me on the map, and I still love looking at it.