There’s an old adage in the restaurant industry – “Never trust a skinny chef” but after meeting with Mogan Anthony, the almost 40-year-old restaurateur and chef behind several successful area restaurants, I’m ready to abandon that notion. He’s clad in a black T-shirt and skinny jeans and by all accounts is svelte thanks to regular CrossFit workouts and an emphasis on healthy cooking techniques.
Full disclosure: I am a fan of Anthony’s cooking, particularly the menu offerings at Village Social and Pub Street, both of which are close to my house. I just celebrated my birthday at one of his newest outposts, Locali in Mount Kisco. Situated in the historic Metro-North train station, we had a delicious meal bursting with flavor and inventive rifts on Italian classics plus cocktails infused with fresh ingredients, all in a swanky setting.
His culinary roots
There is a beautiful and precise attention to detail on the plate and in each restaurant’s ambience. After hearing about Anthony’s unique background, this makes perfect sense. Anthony grew up in Malaysia and as a child enjoyed watching his mother who is Hindu and vegetarian, cook meals with a healthy dose of fresh produce and spices. “Malaysia is a melting pot with Indian, Chinese, and Christian populations,” Anthony explains and each one brings their own culinary traditions.
As a teenager, he worked in the hospitality industry at some of the leading hotels in Southeast Asia including the Four Seasons and the Shangri-La. He did all types of jobs from pool service waiter to a food runner. But it was his job at the Four Seasons Hotel in Singapore where he was first introduced to some leading Michelin-starred chefs brought in from Europe, which spurred a strong desire to work in the kitchen. He loved how these chefs were disciplined and precise in their cooking. This sensibility ultimately helped to shape his culinary outlook combining it with a passion for Asian street food.
Anthony’s wife, Seleste Tan is a former pastry chef of Malaysian and Chinese descent so “Asian foods are very close to my heart,” he says. He ultimately worked at the Four Seasons in Singapore (where they met) for almost a decade before landing in New York City working for Jean-Georges Vongerichten at leading restaurants such as Perry Street and Spice Market. After several years working for Jean-Georges, they decided to move out of the city due to the high cost of living and settled in Greenwich, Conn.
An emphasis on healthy cooking
Anthony joined Village Social as culinary director in Mount Kisco in 2011 (there’s one in Rye too) and completely transformed the menu. “I injected my ideas, so we added a lot of small plates and eliminated a lot of butter, creams, and stocks and instead used lighter flavors – things like vinegar, citrus, fish stock, and Japanese bonito flakes.”
Anthony thinks a lot about food and frequently visits the city for inspiration. He went to New York City’s Hudson Yards the week it opened to see what was trending at the restaurants. He likes to do his due diligence before incorporating menu items or conceptualizing a new restaurant which is the case with his latest restaurant scheduled to open this month, Fatt Root in Pleasantville. It will feature friendly Asian street foods (think: ramen and rice bowls) and have counter service. “I do a lot of research,” says Anthony. “I went to Japan to learn how to perfect ramen noodles.” In Chinese, fatt means lucky and root can either be interpreted as vegetables or where you come from. Much of the offerings will have a fusion of flavors.
Cooking with the family
As a father of two young children, 1 1/2-year-old son Lavin and 4 1/2-year-old daughter Laxmi, Anthony enjoys making simple dishes for his kids. “I wake up early and make the kids and my wife breakfast and a simple lunch to heat up.” A family favorite is vegetable fried rice (see sidebar). He also makes a lot of ramen for them. His wife is in charge of dessert and enjoys making chocolate cookies or muffins with the children. After cooking for the family, he heads over to CrossFit for his early morning workout and then drives Laxmi to school.
When he grocery shops for the family, he purchases a lot of fruits and vegetables. They also puree baby food for Lavin and freeze it. “I like to buy healthy snacks for the kids like seaweed and these potato chips made in avocado oil that they have at Whole Foods.” Naturally curious, Anthony often purchases products that he may not be familiar with such as goat milk powder and then experiments with it in the kitchen. “It’s got a nice tang and pleasant flavor,” he adds.
In an industry with notorious long hours, Anthony feels fortunate that his wife has a culinary background and understands the demands of the restaurant business. “She’s also my toughest critic. She helps me adjust a lot of my recipes and she also helped with the creation of some of the desserts at Village Social, which are still on the menu today.”
Right now, Anthony is focused on getting Fatt Root up and running. “It’s crunch time with a new opening,” he says, but after that he plans on taking a well-deserved break and not opening any new restaurants for at least a year. If his current restaurant’s successes are any indication of how this newest one will do, it won’t be long before it flourishes and becomes a staple in the community.
Stacey Pfeffer is a writer and editor in Chappaqua.
Mogan Anthony’s Kale Fried Rice
Serves 2 people
1 cup chopped black kale
1/2 cup chopped shitake mushrooms
1/4 cup edamame
1/2 cup cooked quinoa
1/2 cup brown basmati rice
1/2 cup farro or any ancient grain
(Note: you can substitute any grain for the above three ingredients)
2 whole eggs or just egg whites
2 tbsp. chopped garlic
4 tbsp. chopped shallots
2 tbsp. chopped ginger
6 tbsp. avocado oil / more or less
1 tbsp. Bragg seasoning (Available at Whole Foods)
1 tbsp. tamari (gluten-free soy)
1 tbsp. yuzu juice (Available at Whole Foods)
2 tbsp. chopped scallion for garnish
Crispy shallots for garnish (Available at Asian supermarkets)
1. Make crispy kale by heating up 2 tbsp. avocado oil and stir-fry the kale until crispy and season with salt. Set aside on a plate lined with paper towels to absorb excess oil.
2.Use 4 tbsp. avocado oil in a large nonstick pan and add the garlic, shallots, and ginger and cook over medium heat until fragrant. Add mushrooms and cook 10 seconds.
3.Add rice/grain to the pan and increase heat and use a wooden spoon to really stir the rice. Add more avocado oil if needed.
4.Season with yuzu juice, Bragg seasoning and tamari. Taste for more seasoning.
5.Push the rice to the edge of the pan and add eggs and fold the rice in slowly.
6.Always check the seasoning one last time before removing from heat.
8Top with crispy kale, crispy shallots and scallions.
Tips: Finish with a tiny drop of avocado oil on top. You can substitute any vegetables, or even buy crispy kale from Whole Foods to save time. Enjoy!