Chef Todd Ginsberg is famous in Atlanta for his take on ethnically diverse food. Whether he’s serving kugel at The General Muir, Mediterranean fare at Yalla or sandwiches inspired by his travels to Vietnam at Fred’s Meat & Bread, he knows how to prepare a variety of dishes and make them agreeable to Southern sensibilities.
Ginsberg is hosting a class at the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival, which is June 1 to 4 in Midtown (tickets and other details at atlfoodandwinefestival.com). During that class, he’ll do what he does best: introduce a new approach to a Mediterranean staple, the eggplant.
Ginsberg talked to the AJT about what it means to experience culture through food.
AJT: You have opened three restaurants that focus on ethnic food. Is this your way of introducing these foods in the Atlanta community?
Ginsberg: As far as I’m concerned, I think the Atlanta community would like more than what we’re offering. I would like to open up an Israeli sit-down restaurant. If you can take things people are emotionally connected to, like food and Jewish food, then you have something. I opened up General Muir right when I was about to have a son, so I could give that to my son.
AJT: Is it true you couldn’t make a pastrami sandwich when you opened The General Muir?
Ginsberg: It’s true. I ate a lot of Jewish food growing up, but I cooked French food.
AJT: What was your reasoning for becoming involved with the Jewish Food and Farm Alliance?
Ginsberg: For the last couple of years I did the Sukkot dinner, and I think it’s the same reason why I opened General Muir: to be close to the community and the Jewish community. I felt myself leaning more toward Judaism in a cultural way and wanted to get back to the religious. … Whenever it comes to my religion and community, I always want to be a part of that.
AJT: What is the inspiration behind your sandwiches at Fred’s Meat & Bread? You offer a variety from different countries.
Ginsberg: The sandwiches are based on sandwiches I had growing up in New England. You know, the Philly cheesesteak. I’ve traveled to Vietnam and had different sandwiches which have all been a part of the menu. My favorite thing to eat is the Italian grinder.
AJT: Fred’s Meat & Bread and Yalla are located in Krog Street Market. What is it that appeals to you about the dining space?
Ginsberg: I think the biggest thing is you could have several people come to one location and appeal to different tastes. I was just talking to someone about how big menus are dying and menus are becoming more curated. This is the way other countries and places have been doing it for centuries. When you go to the shuk in Israel, one guy does hummus, and one guy does shawarma. At Krog you can concentrate on one thing.
AJT: What will you be focusing on during the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival.
Ginsberg: We’re going to do a pairing with eggplant. Eggplant is one of those vegetables people don’t understand. I went to Israel and found out, when done right, it’s delicious. I’ll be making three types of dishes with eggplant, and they’re all from Israel. I’m doing baba ghanoush, eggplant carpaccio, and matbucha, a charred eggplant with red pepper and salad.
AJT: What kind of food do you like outside your professional cooking?
AJT: What do you think makes Atlanta a culinary destination?
Ginsberg: I think we’ve had talented chefs that have lived here for a while. There are people who have moved here from all over the country and brought their experience with them. What I’m most proud of is how supportive we are of one another.