Q&A: Drew Van Leuvan on Seven Lamps' One-Year Anniversary
A decade and a half ago, Buckhead was Atlanta's culinary hot spot, and though there have always been good restaurants all around the city, the tony northern neighborhood was a focal point for chefs - and for diners willing to drop some cash. Over the years, though, that changed, and the city's more daring restaurateurs and chefs moved to Midtown, to Westside, to spaces with cheaper rent and a more adventurous clientele.
The past few years have seen a resurgence of quality, chef-driven restaurants in Buckhead. Seven Lamps opened a year ago and has been one of the major players in reshaping Buckhead dining, bringing a sense of creativity to a neighborhood otherwise happy with more corporate eateries.
To celebrate the anniversary, executive chef Drew Van Leuvan has organized an ambitious 10-course meal, inviting big-name chefs and mixologists from all across the city's top restaurants. Ten chefs and nine mixologists from places like Rathbun's, Miso Izakaya, The General Muir and Empire State South will prepare an extensive feast in the restaurant's modest space. (Full details and tickets are available here.) Zagat Atlanta chatted with Van Leuvan as he was preparing for the event.
Zagat: Tell us a little about what brought you the point where you opened Seven Lamps.
DVL: It's been a long journey. I've honestly been doing this going on 20 years. I had the fortune of working with two five-star chefs, here and in NYC. What I want this restaurant to be is to take those experiences, but to put them in a casual format. I think it's a reaction to the economy, but I think we've been able to bridge that challenge of fine dining experiences and approachable food. It took people a little bit of time to get what we're trying to accomplish, but I think we're getting there.
As far as the menu goes, we change the menu every day - every shift, actually. I used to own a pasta company, so that's well represented, and the rest of it is more small plates, savory snacks, smaller portions. We do offer traditional entrees but it's not like the seven or eight you might find elsewhere, it's we usually offer three or four. It's about getting into the communal experience.
Zagat: Do you feel that the Buckhead area, especially where you are around Lenox and Phipps malls, is a good fit?
DVL: Yes. It took a minute, because there wasn't a place like us before. The shopping center where we're located got a facelift, and we're glad that we could be part of that. We draw people inane keep people shopping, and it's also allowed us to have constant traffic, especially in Atlanta where foot traffic is not really a thing.
Zagat: What was the first job related to food you ever had?
DVL: I was at Pizzeria Uno. I grew up in Connecticut, and that was my first experience back in high school. I've pretty much been working my way up since then. I've worked my rear off, but I've been blessed along the way.
Zagat: What's surprised you the most about the first year of Seven Lamps?
DVL: We originally opened it as a very casual place. No host staff, just kind of come in and take part with the environment, it's all communal seating. That was a new experience for that part of Atlanta. We quickly realized that, especially being in Buckhead, people want to feel pampered and taken care of even if they're just coming in for a burger, so we immediately had to adjust to get guests to feel comfortable. And that communal experience isn't for everyone, and that's fine.
We also have a bar that isn't connected - the whole room is kind of an open kitchen - so it's a free-flowing environment that most people didn't get in the beginning. We haven't changed much, but I was a little surprised that people didn't go for it as much. But there are always changes in a restaurant when you first open.
Zagat: It's easy to fall in love with something you do and then just keep doing it over and over again. How do you keep your ideas fresh as a chef?
DVL: I think I'm one of those people that likes to keep going. I'm constantly doing something where I don't sit still well. My wife's the same way, so that works out. I'm an ingredient person, so when I get the day's ingredients, I like to think about them first rather than some idea of a dish beforehand and try to put them in there.
Zagat: So this anniversary celebration is a pretty ambitious event you've got planned. How'd it come about?
DVL: I've done similar things before, but maybe not at this scale. This is the restaurant that was kicked at the beginning - critics didn't like it so much, it was tough to get guests in when we first opened - but we've been able to succeed because the product is good. And I believe that's what it's about, good food. So I just wanted to do something to celebrate the fact that we made it this far. We've sold almost all the tickets, too, which is great! One of my owners was a little unsure because the price point's a little high, but it's going to be worth it.
I invited a bunch of chefs I knew, and surprisingly everyone seemed up for it. It's a good night, it's going to be good fun. The logistics of it have been tough and challenging but rewarding. I don't even know yet where we're going to put all the chefs, but we'll figure it out. I'm excited.
Seven Lamps is located at 3400 Around Lenox Rd. and is Monday through Thursday from 11 AM to 11 PM, Friday 11 AM to midnight, Saturday from noon to midnight and Sunday from noon to 10 PM. Tickets for the anniversary dinner are still available and cost $192 per person (including tax and gratuity) at 404-467-8950 or sevenlampsatl.com.