Local chef Matt Marcus is taking up all the oxygen as the new fawned-over food darling by dining critics after his takeover and reinvention of Watershed on Peachtree. Remembering Marcus as an individualistic (and a tad mischievous) boy hanging with his skateboard in the Ahavath Achim Synagogue parking lot is a charming passage to his current status as a gutsy artisan who knows his charred watermelon from his trout burger.
A self-described “flavor chaser,” Marcus concentrates on soulful Southern cuisine and stated, “We allow farmers to help us dictate our menu. Instead of telling them what we want … Most everything is local at Watershed, including our sparkling water! We take pride in helping our neighbors.”
Beth McKibben (Eater, August 2018) said, “Diners can expect a quirky meets casual spin (at Watershed).” Condé Nast Traveler “22 Best Restaurants in Atlanta” (Allison Entrekin, August 2018) boasts, “The servers are so good at extolling the virtues of each dish that you’ll be tempted to throw up your hands and order it all.”
Marcus, imprinted with tattoo designs of carrots, grapes, kitchen knives and utensils, talks about his recent media attention.
Jaffe: You originally got buzz with your $350 French fry platter with Krug Rosé Brut.
Marcus: We put the fries on as a playful way to get people to enjoy an epic bottle of pink bubbles at a very reasonable price. It also happens to be one of my and (Watershed celebrity customer) Madonna’s favorite pairings!
Jaffe: Your reputation for creativity is unmatched. Is Atlanta ready for nasturtiums, dwarf pear fig empanadas, Feinschmecker dressing, and passion fruit curd?
Marcus: We have local chefs with the ability to cultivate change and progression in food. I hope the community will get behind us and realize how hard we work to be on the forefront. It’s not easy.
Jaffe: You are a third-generation Jewish cook.
Marcus: Growing up, I was surrounded by family “feeders.” My wonderful mother will still, to this day, try to feed me at the dinner table. Now I love feeding others, getting a little out of their comfort zone, and watching them have a realization.
Jaffe: Describe your talent for haute cuisine?
Marcus: I am a perfectionist and crazy person. I let the product speak to me, then rely on those around me and a good amount of knowledge. It’s about the common goal for my team – pushing ourselves daily to be better than before.
Jaffe: What’s the ultimate dream … opening in South Beach? Manhattan?
Marcus: Hopefully we develop into a learning mecca for cooks giving back to the culinary community and fostering the next generation. We are trying to keep the “old guard” alive. My dream would be to link a Southern product research center to Watershed that helps recognize and categorize heirloom and indigenous plants and animals to a public database with tasting notes and uses. Hopefully we can serve and protect the things that make up the part of the world that we call home.
Jaffe: Who are your best customers … condo building residents, special occasions, society dames, Midtown hipsters?
Marcus: The wine community in Atlanta has shown us serious support along with chefs and foodies. Our happiest patrons have been those who show up with an open mind.
Jaffe: What are some of your most ravishing cocktails?
Marcus: The “Basic Bee” is a fave … Serrano pepper, chamomile, infused Cathead vodka, lemon juice, honey syrup.
Jaffe: What’s the tab for two?
Marcus: Lunch would be around $40-50, dinner around $70-100.
Jaffe: Here you are on this journey, having earned your executive chef stripes, and culminating in your crowned jewel. You’ve been open five months, what have you learned versus what you expected?
Marcus: Trust, understanding, patience and compassion. I expected to work harder than I ever have, and I haven’t disappointed myself yet.
Jaffe: What is your personal favorite meal?
Marcus: Literally anything that my wife makes is my favorite meal (she is also a classically-trained chef).
Jaffe: Last word: Being your own boss is really cool because … ?
Marcus: I am able to make impactful decisions that directly translate into action. I watch the staff grow on a daily basis. Knowing that I had something to do with it makes me feel a serious amount of pride.
Watershed was originally founded by Emily Saliers (Indigo Girls) in Decatur in 1998. Now located at 1820 Peachtree in The Brookwood of Atlanta condominium. Parking is free and easy.
During a lunch tasting, we experienced this feast of flavors:
Chilled cucumber soup: Lemon, okra seed oil, trout roe, espelette, farmer’s cheese
Arugula salad: Buttermilk feta dressing, peach, oats, harissa croutons
Grilled gem: Smoked salmon, peas, radishes, cornbread, green goddess dressing
Broccoli salad: Currants, buttermilk, hazelnut, pepitas, Tillamook cheddar
Smoked trout burger: Okra tartar, pickles, shallots, sprouts, fries
Red fish: Corn maque choux, beurre monté
Peach churros: Nasturtium, whipped buttermilk, peach consommé
Chocolate ganache: Passion fruit curd, chicory, Italian meringue, rosewater, sea salt
Lemon yuzu granita: White chocolate, blueberries, crème fraiche, rolled oats, hazelnut
What we went crazy over:
Arugula salad: Terrific summer mix, peppery sparks with crunchy seasonal upside-down fresh peach slices. The touch of feta sang out; and the oats balanced it.
Red fish: Totally “killer.” Reminiscent of a meal in the French Quarter. The skin was super-crispy and kept the flavor sealed in. The firm, white meat was oh, so succulent. The corn had 14 spices including harissa. This would do well for even non-fish eaters.
Lemon yuzu granita: The shaved ice danced like pink lemonade with the burst of fresh blueberries. The rolled oats were like thin chunks of candy bar. And who could ever complain about white chocolate?
Peach churros: Brought squeals of delight. Served like a carnival tornado swirl of pink cotton candy. (Matt called it “space ice cream.”)
What’s next for Matt:
“I’m looking into putting a spice display out front with descriptions and textures of what we use inside. Who knows what a pawpaw is? Would be a fun Instagram shot too!”