Long before Michael Anthony became the executive chef and a partner at Gramercy Tavern and won a prestigious James Beard award for "Best Chef in New York City," Anthony was a 20-year-old business, Japanese and French major studying abroad.
He joined a friend with a big family in France for Christmas Eve, and that's where he told Business Insider he had the most memorable meal of his life.
Anthony and his friend's family sat down to dinner at a country house outside Léon, in the southwest of France. It snowed on Christmas Eve while the group ate in a big, stone kitchen and dining room in front of a hearth. "I'm not making this up!" Anthony swore with a raised hand.
The menu for Anthony's most-memorable dinner included:
Oysters and champagne
Smoked salmon with caviar and little shots of vodka
Simple, handmade pasta dish featuring big eggy noodles with a creamy black truffle dressing
Roasted turkey with chestnuts and cabbage
"It took all night," Anthony said to Business Insider. "It was one of those marathon meals where people are standing up and stretching and coming back to the table."
Anthony's first book, "The Gramercy Tavern Cookbook," also explores how place and time at the table influences one's relationship to food, alongside its recipes.
"That meal was where I finally understood, full-on, the pleasure of being at a table in the most casual setting with family and friends, but eating the most exquisite things."
He said he'd been over the memory many times over the years, testing it to make sure it really held up as his favorite meal. Anthony decided the food he ate, the people he ate it with, and the place where he ate all had an equal impact; that's the formula for any successful meal, he said. Great meals come with as powerful a food memory as a contact memory.
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