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All Back Issues » March/April 2007 Issue

Happy Fete
Less is more at the Four Seasons Hotel Atlanta.
By Susan Bard Hall

Executive Chef Robert Gerstenecker
usiness and leisure guests alike are beating a path to the Four Seasons Hotel Atlanta to savor Executive Chef Robert Gerstenecker’s “Artful Taste” dining option, his innovative and imaginative “small plates at big events” offered at banquets and weddings.

Following the Four Seasons’ acquisition of this 244-room property in Midtown Atlanta in 1997, Gerstenecker joined the hotel’s culinary team to help renovate the kitchen and restaurant, which reopened as the Park 75. Gerstenecker began offering his “two- to three-bite size” masterpieces at the hotel’s Sunday brunch in 1998 because the hotel wanted to distinguish its brunch from the competition. So instead of going “bigger and better,” they went “smaller and better.”

“Back then, we offered a small Bananas Foster Waffle, a small egg dish, and so on, letting guests enjoy several small tastes or a sampling of seasonal items,” Gerstenecker says.

Today, guests find such mouth-watering selections as a mini-Belgian Waffle with Peach Foster Sauce, Saffron and Vegetable Risotto, and Soft- Scrambled Egg scented with Black Truffle. It’s no small wonder it has earned a “best brunch” designation from the Zagat® Survey.

The success of this brunch concept inspired Gerstenecker—after rejoining the hotel as its executive chef two years ago—to introduce “small plates at big events,” aptly named “Artful Taste” because of the hotel’s close proximity to Atlanta’s trendy art scene.

“Instead of the typical three- or four-course meal, I’ve injected table conversation and small plates for a ‘more than typical’ gathering of food and diners,” says Gerstenecker. “In keeping with my preference for presenting the most seasonal of items, an evening of courses might range from Kobe Beef Sliders to Crawfish Gumbo plated along side a Field Green Salad with Blue Cheese and Blood Orange Vinaigrette.”

Even the desserts have been scaled down so guests can enjoy, for example, a Creme Brulee Tasting of Honey Vanilla, Red Currant, Lemongrass-Ginger, and Ancho Chili Chocolate.

According to Gerstenecker, the concept works equally well for buffets as sit-down events, and, currently, the hotel can accommodate as many as 300 guests for banquets and weddings. While labor and equipment costs can be higher because of the abundance of dishes, food costs are more controllable “because portions are small,” Gerstenecker says.

“I can serve one ounce of tenderloin, one scallop, and one ravioli, layer the flavors, and together it’s a meal,” Gerstenecker says.

He says the concept lends itself to theme dinners, and he tried it for the first time this past New Year’s Eve. However, the lack of tabletop space coupled with the need for an assortment of wine glasses has kept Gerstenecker from undertaking a typical wine dinner.

Brian Ettelman, Four Seasons Atlanta director of catering, says “Artful Taste” has definitely generated new business for the property.

“After a guest attends a function here with the small plate concept, they call and say they want to hold their event here,” says Ettelman. “It elevates an event from the standard sit-down meal to a culinary experience. It gives attendees the opportunity to sample a variety of food and flavors while letting the Four Seasons culinary staff demonstrate the finest in food, flavors, and service.”

At the helm of that team is Executive Chef Gerstenecker, Ettelman says.

“Both as a person and as a chef, Robert is a comrade for us,” Ettelman adds.

Gerstenecker graduated from George Brown Chef School, part of the hospitality, tourism, and culinary school in downtown Toronto. Having worked part-time for Four Seasons while in school, this native Canadian has now been with the company for 17 years. Although 37-year-old Gerstenecker has moved several times during his tenure with Four Seasons, he says his short-term goal is to focus on this hotel as he has half a dozen exciting projects on his plate for 2007. They include the opening of a new spa early in the year; completion of a 50th floor banquet operation during the fourth quarter offering the best view of Midtown Atlanta and accommodating up to 200 people; restaurant renovation; Chef’s Table in the kitchen; cooking classes; plus menu creation for breakfast, lunch, dinner, room service, Sunday brunch, and banquet operations.

“Other chefs have cycled through. I want to stay and make the hotel what it can be,” Gerstenecker says. “I continuously ask myself— ‘what can we do better’? In my opinion, you have to push yourself every year. Doing well is not good enough any more these days.”

To help make the Four Seasons Hotel Atlanta a cut above other properties, Gerstenecker says his favorite kitchen tools are his knives. His collection includes an assortment of brands such as Shun and Wusthof because, in his opinion, certain knives work best for particular tasks.

“I don’t have a set of any one thing,” says Gerstenecker, adding that the feel of the knife is key to his selection.

One of his newest additions is an AeroGardenTM that lets him grow herbs and lettuce indoors year round. Yet to be acquired is a Fish File, which according to Gerstenecker keeps fish at the proper temperature.

Gerstenecker says his love for food began as a child. “My mom was a fantastic cook. I was always in the kitchen helping her,” Gerstenecker shares. “I love to eat. There is nothing better on my day off than to have a glass of wine and cook dinner.”

While other chefs seek to start their own restaurant, Gerstenecker says his dream is to open a 20- room inn, possibly on the East Coast.

Susan Bard Hall is a frequent contributor to HOTEL F&B.

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