Thomas Minchella got his first taste of the restaurant business as a teenager – washing dishes in a New Jersey restaurant. Today, he’s executive chef at the renowned McKendrick’s Steak House in Atlanta, Ga. Growing up, Thomas Minchella was always in the kitchen with his mom, breaking down chickens, cleaning calamari and just helping. Born and raised in a small town in Hunterdon County, New Jersey, he’s one of nine children with six brothers and two sisters. “My mom was a very talented cook and helped me to cook recipes from various cook books throughout my youth,” Minchella said. “When I reached working age, she took me down to a local restaurant, “Brunner’s Landmark” and got me a job as a dishwasher and prep cook.” Minchella’s hard work and ambition paid off, and he was soon promoted to line cook and then grill chef. He applied to the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) early on in high school and attended culinary school in 1978 – graduating at the top of his class. After graduation he moved to Atlanta, where he worked at the legendary Pano’s and Paul’s as a sous chef. He later moved to St. Simon’s Island, Georgia, to take a job as the chef with River Watch Restaurant. Then it was onto Jacksonville, Florida, as a chef at the University Club.
He returned to Atlanta in 1991 to work at Chops for six years, and then landed at McKendrick’s Steak House in 1995. McKendrick’s is one of the top 10 steakhouses in America and one of the original Great Steak Houses of North America (http://www.greatsteakofna.com/.) Minchella left McKendrick’s in 2001 to become corporate chef for Amalgamated concepts in Birmingham, Alabama, with the Copper Grill operations in Alabama, Florida and Virginia. In 2007, he returned to McKendrick’s, which is owned by partners Doug and Claudia McKendrick and Rick Crowe.
A Conversation with Chef Minchella :
Who is your culinary hero?
There are two. Tony Brunner, owner of Brunner’s Landmark, where I began my career. While there, I was taught to cook from scratch; everything was made in-house. This was such good training for me. Chef Brunner was trained in Europe and worked at some great properties in France, Germany and Switzerland.
Secondly, is Paul Albrecht. I worked with him at Pano’s and Paul’s. Chef Paul’s cooking knowledge and ability and talent to cook any item – from appetizers, bread and stocks to sauces, to full weddings and formal dinners.Times,
What is your favorite cuisine?
Tell me about the appetizer towers that are listed on your menu.
The “Towers” are a smaller portion or tastings of famous appetizer selections.
Guests may choose between Jumbo lump crab cakes, tempura fried lobster, barbecue shrimp, Bluepoint oysters, seared big eye tuna or any of our fantastic appetizers. The towers work well with larger groups and each person can have a tasting of a couple of
different menu items .
What are three must-have ingredients?
Fresh garlic (cooking with my mom we always had fresh garlic at our fingertips.
Tuscan Extra Virgin olive oil – the green, fruity and delicate flavor can be drizzled on vegetables, grilled meats and seafood before serving or simply for dipping warm crusty bread.
Ginger. I love all the various uses for ginger and the clean taste. Ginger is in many different cultures and can be used in vegetables, meats, seafood, sauces, dressings and marinades.
What would you order as a last meal?
A perfectly charred, medium-rare to medium broiled 16-ounce Prime dry-aged ribeye; fresh Alaskan jumbo red king crab with freshly drawn butter; four cheese macaroni and cheese; and a chilled iceberg wedge salad with big chunks of blue cheese dressing, oven roasted Eden Farms bacon, and vine ripe tomatoes. I would top it off with some warm crusty Italian bread and a great Tuscan Extra virgin olive oil.
What is the most valuable tool in the kitchen?
My staff I am only as good as my staff. I strive to find and train a professional staff. It is very important to hire people with great attitudes.
What do you consider your greatest culinary achievement?
Participating in a cooking contest with eight other chefs including a Master Chef. The contest was a grill off and we had to do one entrée and pair this with a wine. I actually won the contest and beat the Master Chef.
If you could sit down and eat and talk with anyone about food who would it be?
Marcella Hazan. I had the chance to train with Marcella at Veni Vidi Vici years ago. She works out ways to arrive at authentic flavors and textures, and makes you feel like you have tasted the real thing in its place of origin.
What is your main philosophy when it comes to cooking
I have been on this kick to get the freshest product in the peak of the season.There is a plethora of resources for fresh seasonal products such as Nantucket bay scallops, Wagyu from Japan, Alaskan day boat halibut with its snowy white flesh, wild king Salmon from the Yukon River in Alaska, and organic fruits and vegetables from local farmers.