In the Resy Questionnaire, we play a game of 20 questions with the industry folks behind some of our favorite restaurants. What’s your most memorable restaurant experience? Your favorite food movie? What restaurant would you want to time-travel for?
In Atlanta’s very first edition, we talk to Zeb Stevenson, the executive chef and partner behind Redbird, a lofty open kitchen restaurant where the ingredient-driven philosophy shines.
The Resy Questionnaire
1. Favorite thing you’ve ever cooked?
Every Tuesday evening, I roast a whole chicken for me and my better half. It’s an important ritual for us that acts as a weekly marker in our lives, brings us together, and provides a sense of time, place, stability, and grounding that we have come to treasure. I truly look forward to it in ways that are hard to explain and it never ever gets old.
2. Kitchen tool or equipment you couldn’t live without?
Double-sided plastic bench scraper for the win.
3. What pantry items would you bring on a desert island?
Is salt a given? I’m basing this answer on the premise that it is … Olive oil, Dijon mustard, honey, Maggi sauce, and white wine vinegar.
4. What’s your favorite place to get barbecue in Atlanta?
Heirloom Market BBQ is where it’s at. Cody [Taylor] and Jiyeon [Lee] have combined Southern and Korean barbecue to make pure magic.
5. Favorite cookbook?
Jacques Pépin’s Complete Techniques. It’s not a flashy “food porn” cookbook, but I open it far more frequently than any other. Everyone who cooks owes it to themselves to have a copy.
6. Your drink of choice?
Champagne is always appropriate, no matter the circumstance. It doesn’t have to be expensive but I’m never disappointed if it is …
7. Favorite food movie?
8. Your ideal dinner party guest, dead or alive?
9. What restaurant industry person do you admire the most?
José Andrés. How one person can make such a difference in so many lives is beyond me.
10. The greatest restaurant experience of your life so far?
St. John in London circa 2007. What a delight! I remember every bite. At a time when molecular gastronomy was all the rage and food had started to feel like more of a science experiment than anything, St. John’s cooking felt genuine and heartfelt. Their devotion to the idea of elegance through simplicity informed and inspired much of what we practice at Redbird.
11. Your greatest professional achievement?
I’m proud of how Redbird has navigated through the last two years and for the personal progress that I’ve made as a leader. I still have a lot to learn, but I have emerged from all of this a better listener and a stronger, more understanding chef who values his team more than ever.
12. What single dish best describes your personality?
Grilled peaches with pickled bamboo shoots, cucumbers, and buttermilk dressing. Some version of this dish appears every year when all the ingredients line up. The bamboo shoots are available for a week or two and we get all we can, but still, the dish is gone before we know it and leaves us wanting more.
13. If you could go back in time, which restaurant would you dine at?
I had dinner at wd~50 many years ago and it was a wonderful experience. Chef Wylie Dufresne invited us back to meet him in the kitchen after the meal, which was a real thrill for me. But unfortunately, I had too much to drink and really felt like I looked foolish in front of him. So, if I could go back in time, I would re-do that meal, practice moderation, and represent myself better.
14. Your favorite meal from childhood?
The stuffed cabbage that my grandmother used to make. She didn’t make it often because she hated cooking, but I will never forget what a treat it was.
15. Your wish for the restaurant industry?
To demand a higher level of professionalism from us all. Let’s get over the “Pirate Ship” mentality and start taking pride in not just the product, but also the process.
16. What do you wish you did better? What do you do well?
Better: I wish that I was not so rigid and that I had the ability to deal with unexpected change more positively.
Well: I build strong, precise, and stable systems for kitchen operations for that exact reason. My entire career revolves around the fact that I hate surprises.
17. If you could eat through a city for a day, where would you go?
I had a one-day layover in Madrid a few years ago and regret not having more time to explore. I’d love to revisit one day.
18. The one thing you can’t resist splurging on when you go out?
Refer to Question 6: I will throw down for great Champagne with little sense of consequence.
19. What do you value most in restaurants?
Thoughtfulness. It’s such a rare and special thing to feel. Restaurants seem to have drifted so hard toward transactional.
20. It’s your last meal on earth, what are you eating?
Refer to Question 1: Tuesday chicken will do just fine. I sound like a broken record, but a bottle of bubbles would be kindly appreciated with that.