Zach Hunter, 30, is sous chef at Atera, the highly acclaimed tasting room in Tribeca which New York Times food critic Pete Wells called eating at the restaurant “one of the most fascinating experiences you can have in a New York City restaurant.”
When Hunter decided to pursue the culinary arts after high school, his ambition led him to train and work at some of the best culinary institutions and fine-dining restaurants in the world. Read on for more info, whether you are a card-carrying New York eater or interested in the culinary arts!
1. Where was your culinary training and what was the experience like?
I graduated from the Arizona Culinary Institute with a degree in Culinary Arts. Also trained for 1 year at Mugaritz (ranked #3 in the world) for 1 year. Culinary school was great for building a foundation of knowledge and establishing a strong skillset. And my training in Spain taught me the ins and outs of fine cuisine, more importantly how to be organized and how to push myself harder than I ever have. I cooked with and for the best chefs in the world.
2. How did you get into the restaurant scene in New York? Was it hard, easy, etc.
I moved to New York to open Atera. I had been in touch with Chef Lightner before, and heard he was opening a restaurant. New York is by far the biggest stage for food, so there was a lot of pressure, but we did it. And got 4 stars NY Magazine, 3 stars NY Times and 2 Michelin stars. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but the rewards were big, and made it all so worth it.
3. What is being a sous chef like, as in what are the responsibilities of your job?
Being a sous chef for Atera is 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I spend 90 hours a week at the restaurant, and much of my free time is spent finding new product, and organizing new menus. I am in charge of ensuring that every component of each dish is as close to perfection as possible. As well as staffing and scheduling.
4. How do you explain atera to people not familiar with the restaurant/people who are not necessarily familiar with tasting menus?
Atera offers one menu each night. It ranges from 25 to 30 courses, and features a naturalistic, new American cuisine. We have no boundaries in the way we cook or the products that we use. We simply cook to make food taste the way it should. We stay on the cutting edge of techniques and new ideas, and spend much of our time on research and development of these new ideas.
5. What are your goals in terms of your culinary career?
My personal goal is to have my own restaurant serving simple, delicious food. For now, I am happy to help run a 2 Michelin starred restaurant, surrounded by amazing cooks and chefs. I continue to be inspired every day by great products and super talented people.