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5 Questions with Chef Marvin Woods

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Photo by Heidi Geldhauser
Chef Marvin Woods

Chef Marvin Woods, a fixture on the Southern culinary scene for years, recently opened Asante in Atlanta, Georgia, a new spot he is calling his signature restaurant. The focus of the menu is “Coastal Soul,” so I wanted to learn more.

What is Coastal Soul?

Well, I’ve been working on this for quite some time. I first opened a Lowcountry restaurant in Manhattan in 1993, and I was telling the story of the rice culture. But there is much more to the story than just Lowcountry, so I started approaching it in a different way. Coastal Soul is about showcasing the “middle passage,” those places where the African diaspora touched. And it’s taken me a long time to get to this point. I needed to travel, which I’ve done, and now I am ready to be an expert.

What did you have for lunch today at Asante?

I’m an at-the-minute eater. So today I had a braised short rib sandwich with our homemade chips and fermented cabbage. We have three types of braised rib preps on the menu now: the po’boy, a braised rib hand pie, and an entrée we do for dinner. I had the po’boy today.

How did you develop the menu for this restaurant?

Well, we are a 21st century restaurant, which means we speak to guests’ needs. A lot of people have food challenges, and there are not enough places with options. The menu showcases raw, vegetarian and vegan to “whole hog” with cream and butter. For instance, the fermented cabbage is right out of the “raw” handbook, so to speak, and it’s good for the digestive system. It has an agave and lemon juice dressing that is healthy and tastes good. “Healthy.” I hate to use that word, because I dislike that some people try to use it against you. But it is, and it tastes good.

Chef Woods was chosen as the first chef to kick off Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! cooking series, and he was invited into the White House kitchen to create nutritious and affordable menu plans for busy families.  

How was the White House experience?

For me, a call from the White House was amazing. And that kitchen is surreal. Get this: On the day I was there, I was in that kitchen cooking alongside José Andres and Art Smith. That definitely was a great day, and for me, it helped validate my work. I started out on this journey and stuck with it. A big part of my message is that you do have options. You can do something differently. And this validated that.

With returning to Atlanta, you returned to the land of “Turner South” where you thrived for years. How has it been opening a restaurant in Atlanta?

I had a restaurant in Miami, and at that time, Miami wasn’t a year-round environment. So you have to have deep pockets, and for me, I was adamant about being able to control my next project, be the main partner, the captain of my ship. This was about seeing the right space, the right opportunity. Asante is my signature restaurant with the location I want. The Atlanta food scene has grown tremendously here in the last few years, and it’s even getting better. It was great to plug into the success already happening.

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Marvin Woods