For our final interview of 2015, I had the pleasure of talking with famed Chef Arnold Myint, owner of successful Nashville, Tennessee restaurants PM Nashville, BLVD Bistro, and co-owner of restaurant Suzy Wong’s House of Yum. If Chef Myint’s face looks familiar, it is with good reason: not only has his work been featured in publications like Epicurious, GQ Magazine, USA Today, and Eater.com, but he competed in season seven of Bravo television series Top Chef and season 11 of Food Network’s Food Network Star. The list of his impressive accomplishments (which includes but is not limited to having traversed the globe as a professional competitive figure skater, started his own wine label, and worked for Jean Georges Vongerichten’s restaurant empire) could fill volumes. I still don’t know how this high-energy culinary wizard found the time to answer a few questions from me on varied subjects, but I’m honored that he did. Among our topics were the current Nashville food scene, his charming mixologist/drag pageant queen alter ego Suzy Wong, and his experiences in the world of competitive cooking television.
Flavorful World: Tell us what’s happening in the Nashville, Tennessee restaurant/food scene this season in terms of popular ingredients, techniques, and food presentations. How do your menus align with the current trend(s) and why? How do your menus diverge from the current trend(s) and why?
Arnold Myint: Nashville’s food scene has taken off. It’s crazy to see the boom. We are eating everything from biscuits to ramen and of course our signature “Nashville Hot Chicken.” At one point I felt pressure to stay trendy, but with all this new exciting stuff popping up everywhere, my goals have shifted. I want to provide a staple of a product, one that transcends a “flash in the pan”; one that will be around of my neighborhood to enjoy for years.
FW: Your restaurant group was the top fundraising restaurant group of 2014 in the Nashville Cares Dining Out For Life initiative. Suzy has hosted events for charitable organizations such as NoH8 and The Trevor Project. Your life as an executive chef, pageant queen, television personality, and restaurateur has afforded you a unique public forum to address philanthropic issues that matter to you. What advice have you for other chefs and restaurateurs who might lack the reach that you have, but still wish to take an active role in charitable missions?
AM: Monetary contributions tend to be difficult considering the overhead of day-to-day operations. And solicitations of gift certificates and food donations don’t bring in adequate returns. I find hosting events in your space always benefits everyone involved. You get to feature a chef or a product and also have foot traffic that most likely will guarantee return clients. Also, in most cases, should food be your contribution, when in-house, bar sales helps subsidize operational costs.
FW: Among Suzy Wong’s list of laudable accomplishments, is her prowess as a cocktail mixologist. What guides and inspires Suzy when it comes to creating new recipes?
AM: Food is the motivator behind the cocktails. Based on menus, and trends, cocktails are approached with a chef like mentality; considering seasonality and approachableness for the consumer.
FW: You are the son of legendary restaurateur Patty Myint, and have spoken of what it was like growing up in the restaurant kitchen environment. What is the most valuable and lasting lesson you learned from coming of age in that setting, that you have carried with you into running your own thriving restaurants?
AM: My Mother is a rock star. She has taught me to not waste anything and has instilled a work ethic of efficiency and good ‘ole elbow grease.
FW: You competed in season 7 of hit television series Top Chef on Bravo. What is one beneficial way in which doing so defied your preconceptions, either about yourself or about a particular aspect of the competitive cooking experience? How does that benefit continue to influence and inform your evolution as a chef?
AM: Top Chef introduced me to a fraternity of like-minded people who are passionate and intensely invested in curating food culture in America. Because of the show, I have traveled and experienced my friends’ hometowns, restaurants and food. By all this I am continuously inspired.
FW: If you and Suzy were to sit for brunch together right this minute at any restaurant in the world (excluding those in your restaurant group), at what establishment would you choose to eat, what would your respective orders be, and what would you each drink with your meal?
AM: Pok Pok. I’d drink Thai Beer, followed by a bourbon rocks and order stinky herbaceous papaya salad (som tum) with fermented crab, half grilled chicken and sticky rice, and Suzy would have a glass of white wine with a steamed prawn and cellophane noodle hot pot.
FW: As a finalist in Season 11 of Food Network’s television series Food Network Star, you received praise during the comedy club-themed challenge for your on-stage presentation in which you skillfully involved your audience. How do your recipes and style in terms of cooking and/or presentation likewise seek to make your guests feel involved in the experience of enjoying your food?
AM: I like to create and share recipes and dishes that have a bit of nostalgia and familiarity. I like to reference ingredients and techniques that are approachable. If my audience has a reference, it makes my job way easier and their experience for relaxed.
FW: Tell us what name you would give to your memoir about your culinary exploits?
AM: Haha…. “Memoirs of a Gay-Chef” – a journal celebrating the rituals of food.
FW: When you aren’t cooking/eating delicious things or touring the country on missions of philanthropy and spreading the food love, how do you most enjoy spending your time?
AM: I enjoy writing and shopping for plate ware, and honestly, I love nothing more than to cook, just for myself…I go to the market pick up a bunch of interesting ingredients and throw down for hours. I don’t necessarily eat what I make….I just love to play with food and hope I have a couple friends around to serve it to.
*Note to readers: Chef Arnold Myint’s website ArnoldMyint.com is a wonderful read that allows visitors to know him (and Suzy Wong) better, and added several restaurants to the list of places I must experience before I die. Follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to keep abreast of the goings-on at his restaurants, as well as his/Suzy’s social events calendar, philanthropic endeavors, and of course, all things delicious being poured and plated in his kitchens. If that isn’t enough to quench your thirst to know more about Chef Myint’s many ongoing projects, check out his wine label Show Pony Wines.