Chef’s Corner with Robert Holley of Atlanta Fish Market
Chef Robert Holley brings a classic formal background combined with a simplistic Country French approach to one of the nation’s most popular seafood restaurants, Atlanta Fish Market.
Born and raised in Long Island, New York, Chef Robert studied at the famed Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. Under the tutelage of New York Times’ Four Star Gilbert Le Coze, Chef Robert learned the special skills of fish preparation at La Bernadin. After 4 years of cooking at one of New York’s most esteemed French eateries, he moved down south to open Brasserie Le Coze in Miami. In 2000, Chef Robert was hired by Pano Karatassos to lead the kitchen of the incredibly successful Atlanta Fish Market.
journeyPod got the chance to dive into the kitchen with Chef Robert Holley…
When did you get your start in cooking?
I started cooking at home as a kid–making cakes and bugging Mom in the kitchen. At the age of 17 I landed a cooking position at Good Samaritan Hospital on Long Island. This was a great starting and learning experience. This experience led me to enroll in the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY.
Tell us about the Atlanta Fish Market:
AFM is the coolest restaurant you could ever work for or eat at–we have it all! The energy is amazing, we have fresh fish by the tons, lobsters, crab, and shrimp. We have a retail market and over 60 cooks; there is a lot going on! I think the key to our success (even in economic hard times) is good family value and fresh, tasty food. We have a wide menu variety of fresh fish and seafood, along with great steaks and chops. Our food is prepared for every diner’s tastes, whether you are a connoisseur or an average Joe.
Do you attend many events, cooking shows throughout the year?
Atlanta Fish Market is involved in many cooking and charity events throughout the year. This allows me to cook with other local chefs and also cook in people’s homes, which is a great compliment to my cooking. We are involved with Share Our Strength (SOS) every year, which is a benefit for the homeless and hungry, as well as the local food bank. Taste of Atlanta is always exciting–it is the place to be, with many of the hottest local restaurants participating. People that attend Taste of Atlanta will be eating the best food in the city, without a doubt. There are many other events that we participate in, the list is long!
What are 3 things you can’t cook without?
Salt & Pepper, Fresh Ingredients, and Love. Cooking is simple, and you must season your product with salt and pepper. This is the foundation of good flavor. Fresh ingredients (in my case seafood) is also very important. Using the freshest possible ingredients ensures a delicious and high quality end product. Most importantly, you must have love for what you are doing. Without love going into your food, all of the best and most expensive ingredients are wasted.
Who do you admire in the culinary world?
There are many people to admire in the culinary world. I have great respect for my boss Pano Karatossos. He is fair but also strict, and is able to encourage a Chef’s creative side–pushing him/her to put out newer and better food. Of course I also admire and respect the Chefs at the CIA and Le Bernardin who gave me the skills to become the Chef that I am today.
What was your worst dining experience?
I try not to dwell on poor dining experiences, but there is one that comes to mind. While eating at a diner on the side of the road in NY, I ordered a salad and it arrived with a large LIVE catipillar in it! I sent it back, and a new salad was delivered with a long, dark hair amidst the lettuce. Obviously I lost my appetite and left the diner!
What’s an upcoming trend in cooking?
I think upcoming trends will circle back around to bistro style casual dining. There will be an emphasis on farm fresh, organically grown products, and fresh seafood and steaks. I believe the trends will stay value oriented.
On a night off where do you like to dine in Atlanta?
Typically I like to entertain at home, so cooking a meal with friends and family is what I enjoy most. Barbecue was at the top of the list this summer, and I’ve actually gotten pretty good at it. Knowing most of the chefs in town makes for a lot of fun when we go out. We always try to check out the new restaurants. Having a 2 year old daughter has opened my eyes to a different kind of dining experience–satisfying both my palate as well as hers. If I had to pick my family’s favorite Atlanta restaurants, I’d say we always enjoy the Buckhead Diner, Hong Kong Harbor, and Pricci.
Would you kindly share one of your signature recipes with us?!
Of course! Please enjoy these festive and easy appetizer bites. They’re perfect for entertaining!
4 oz. Tabasco or your favorite hot sauce
3 oz. red wine vinegar
2 tbsp. yellow mustard
2 tbsp. ketchup
½ lb. butter, cut into cubes
Combine all ingredients except for the butter and bring to a boil. Whip in the cold butter until the sauce thickens. Set aside.
Crab fingers are sold by the pound at the retail counter of the Atlanta Fish Market. Cover the crab fingers with milk, drain and lightly coat with flour. On your gas stovetop, lightly fry the crab pieces in canola oil heated to 350ºF, until golden brown. Drain and toss with hot sauce. Serve warm with your favorite blue cheese or ranch dressing. Enjoy!