Shaking things up at a beloved 34-year-old steakhouse is hard, but Gilles Schreiber does it with a smile. The newly appointed executive chef of AG (Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star The Ritz-Carlton, Atlanta’s signature dining room) is more than up to the task, bringing a knowledge of French fine dining and fresh Caribbean cuisine to the table — not to mention stints under celebrity chefs like Gordon Ramsay and Eric Ripert.
We recently caught up with the talented toque to dish on his rustic roots, discovering Atlanta and the reason you should spend the holiday season in his charming hometown.
What sparked your interest in cooking?
From a young age I was intrigued by food. My mother was always the host for big gatherings in our family. My family used to celebrate once a year by dining at a Michelin star restaurant to experience new trends and flavors. When visiting L’écrevisse d’Alsace, we toured the kitchen and I immediately fell in love. Chef Michel Orth saw my passion and at just 15 years old I worked as an intern for four months in the restaurant. From that moment on, I knew I wanted to be a chef.
My training took place at the Alexandre Dumas culinary school in Strasbourg. From there, I joined some of the most prestigious kitchens, first with Hôtel Martinez in Cannes, working under Christian Sinicropi, and then Restaurant Clairefontaine in Luxembourg. Then, with Gordon Ramsay in Powerscourt [Estate, House & Gardens], Salt in Amelia Island, Blue by Eric Ripert [at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman] then joining The Ritz-Carlton, Atlanta.
You’re from a town in France near Germany. Did you enjoy this blend of cultures in the local cuisine?
I am from Mutzig, a small town in Alsace, France, which is about 30 minutes from the border of Germany. Throughout my childhood, our local food had a lot of German influence, such as flatbread with a crème fraîche base, smoked bacon and onion called flammekueche baked in a firewood oven. It’s delicious!
If we were to come visit your hometown, what should we do?
I recommend visiting during the holiday season and visiting Strasbourg. It’s the best time and place to come to France, as it is the capital of Santa Claus.
Throughout the entire month, you can feel the Christmas spirit in the streets with lights, decorations and music and, of course, treats. Everyone enjoys a nice warm glass of glühwein [mulled wine], snacking on roasted chestnuts and bredele [Christmas cookies].
Coming from such a small town, did you enjoy working in a big city like New York?
New York is a big dream to all Europeans! There are endless things to do in NYC. I still remember the first time I came out of the subway. I was amazed by the height of all the buildings surrounding me. It was a big change coming from the French countryside.
I didn’t really live in NYC, but being the sous chef of Eric Ripert in the Cayman Islands, he sent me a few times to work in Le Bernardin to see new trends, develop myself and [have] the opportunity to share all the information with my team.
Was it a big change moving from New York to the Caribbean?
There was a big change in moving, but it was a positive one. The people there made all the difference. They are so friendly, genuine. The islands were so small it really created a sense of community.
How are you enjoying Atlanta? Have you had a chance to explore?
I call Atlanta my “new hometown.” I can’t ever see myself living somewhere else. What I love most about Atlanta is you can be in middle of the city and still feel like you are surrounded by nature, with so many parks and trees nearby.
During my free time, I love to take my family on adventures, exploring the region, finding little producers, a local brewery or an amazing restaurant.
What was your inspiration for AG’s new menu?
My inspiration comes from local farmers’ fresh and simple produce, prepared with respect. I love to meet new people, try new food, read kitchen/food magazines, and every day while I drive to work, I process what I have absorbed. That is when I start to develop different ideas and ways to make the ingredients come to life in new, amazing dishes.
What are some of your favorite new dishes at AG?
I have a lot! Grilled octopus reminds me of my childhood, when I visited Spain with my parents and my mother would grill fresh octopus.
I have had this foie gras brûlée recipe since I started cooking. The first chef I worked for in Alsace, France, taught me this secret. Restaurant to restaurant, I love to repeat this recipe, each time with a little twist. Here [at AG], we pair it with Georgia peaches.
I discovered dry-aged Colorado lamb rack when I did a supplier tour. It is the best meat I had ever eaten — very tender and not a strong flavor of chestnut.
Several members of AG’s culinary team are new to The Ritz-Carlton, Atlanta. What has that collaborative experience been like?
We all complement each other very well. The diversity between chefs is very important. My sous chef Alexander Gut is from Canada, and he brings a fresh perspective to the menu.
While we also have chefs from Peru, Puerto Rico, Colombia and Jamaica bringing in different culinary backgrounds and different tastes, we successfully find ways to mix our ideas together, becoming the new AG: more modern, more refined, with a lot of surprises.
What are some of your future plans for the restaurant?
We are working on the fall menu for lunch and dinner featuring apple and pumpkin. These are flavors that always pair well with amazing and tender cuts of prime meats.
At the end of October, we will participate in Out of the Kitchen to support CURE Childhood Cancer. And in January 2020, pastry chef Katrina Pagan will represent The Ritz-Carlton, Atlanta during Cayman Cookout hosted by Eric Ripert.