Panning out just fine

Anyone who’s ever eaten at PM, ChaChah or Suzy Wong’s House of Yum is quick to say that chef Arnold Myint is tops in their book.

Now it’s time for him to sway the judges on Bravo’s “Top Chef.”

Myint’s a contestant on the popular cooking-contest show’s new season, set to begin airing on June 16. The finale date hasn’t been set, but will likely run sometime in September. And although the contest’s already wrapped up, Myint’s guarding the outcome like a good cook guards a set of secret ingredients.

“I have been a fan of the show since it started, and I auditioned for season three and then two more times before I finally got on,” Myint said. “I can’t talk about what happened, but I was really glad to get to be in the competition.”

Having grown up in a family of restaurateurs, Myint knew what he was getting into when he began opening his own eateries. That frantic pace — he is still very much hands-on in the kitchen at all three sites — more than prepared him for the various challenges “Top Chef” threw his way, he said.

“I had PM for seven years, and ChaChah for a year and a half and then added Suzy’s as the newest member of my family, so basically I just took what I do with all the restaurants, focused on experimenting with the food and creating concepts for people to enjoy. I’m definitely in the industry I want to be in, and I think that shows.”

Having been a professional figure skater, event planner and dabbled in various other professions, Myint’s also able to bring more than just a chef’s-eye view to the kitchen and cuisine.

“The really cool thing now is the direction where dining is going,” he said. “It’s not so formal any more; people are very busy with their lives, and don’t want to commit to a two-hour sit down from beginning to end. I’m working on concepts with a more casual type of feel, where people can choose their own adventure in terms of their dietary specifications, and have portions and prices that are a lot less than they have been.”

His enemy? The “$30 plate of protein, starch and vegetable. You can still have refined, high-standard food, and do it in a casual setting.”

However “Top Chef” plays out, it’ll bring attention to Myint, his restaurants and to the Nashville food and GLBT communities. And that’s just fine with this Music City native, who confesses to some frustration upon his return from New York a few years ago when it came to educating local palates.

“The whole motivation behind my doing the show was to make Nashville a destination for food,” Myint said. “I want people here to be more receptive to more progressive ideas, and I hope through the show that will happen. I want to bring my own food philosophy into this town, and to bring other people here to see what we are all about.”

As a member of the Nashville Originals, an indie-restaurant group, he also plans to use this and any other platform he gets to promote local cuisine, the ‘mom and pop’ setups that often disappear due to chain-restaurant competition. Keeping it local is also why there’s no franchise plans for Suzy’s, PM or Cha Chah in the works, at least not for now.

“With any kind of business, you look at the long term,” he said. “You focus on your plan, you do your homework and you throw yourselves to the wolves. I was raised in this business, my whole family is in it, and so I know the daily beast inside and out. I don’t look to branch out more right now, but the time may come when I look into doing that.”

That would mean letting go of some control, something else he already does.

“I enjoy cooking with other people, having other hands in the kitchen besides my own,” Myint said. “I’m spread a little thin now, so it’s good to be able to standardize some things, have what everybody’s doing be a reflection of what I’m all about.”

That’s not to say that he’s taking a rest from creativity.

“I just acquired an ice-cream machine, and I’m having a good time making different flavors and sorbets,” Myint said. “I’m going to use that a lot this summer, and explore new versions of classic cocktails. It’s a really fun toy to have.”

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