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From Atera To Austin: Meet Chef Zach Hunter

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With experience at not one but two two-Michelin-starred restaurants under his belt, chef Zach Hunter has his eyes on Austin. "I've followed the food scene in its growth and it's come to be such a great place," Hunter tells Eater Austin.

The 31-year-old currently calls New York City home, but only very briefly: he's set to depart from his gig as sous chef at Atera—the tiny avant-garde tasting room where dinner runs $165 before drinks, tax and tip—and make a quick pop-up stop in San Diego before landing in Austin this August to begin work on an as-yet unnamed, un-sited restaurant with Eddie V's veterans James Robert and Keith House.

"We have a lot of great ideas," says Hunter, but "we don't have a space, we don't have a name. We just have a common goal just to try to do something really special that we hope people will like."

In the absence of details about Hunter's upcoming restaurant, what about the chef himself? To start with, "chef" wasn't an original part of the plan. He started out as an aviation major at the University of Illinois.

"I always cooked for myself and my friends," says Hunter, before finally admitting to himself: "I think I want to be a chef. I don't want to fly airplanes."

Hunter enrolled in culinary school in Arizona and quickly rose to the position of executive chef at an Eddie V's sister restaurant, Wildfish, in Scottsdale. But from there, his career took a turn for the decidedly more avant garde, with Hunter putting in a year's work at two-Michelin-starred Mugaritz in Spain.

"That's, in my opinion the best restaurant in the world," says Hunter. "The beauty that they see in food and how they hold true to that, it's really something special."

After a year in Spain, Hunter returned to the states to work in Southern California before hopping back across the country to New York City as one of the very first employees at executive chef Matt Lightner's Atera in Manhattan.

"Atera was very humbling and very big in my development," says Hunter. The restaurant earned two Michelin stars during Hunter's time there. "What Atera is, it's hard work and it's the idea in your head of something beautiful and you want to nurture it at all costs."

Hunter says he's not at all looking to recreate the Atera experience in Austin.

"We want to keep it much more approachable," says Hunter. "I can't speak to whether it'll be a tasting menu or a la carte, but this is going to be something completely different."

Right now, Hunter says he's "super into southern-inspired dishes" like shrimp and grits, and is a "big seafood guy," but his main focus at the Austin restaurant will be on local, seasonal food.

"If I had it my way we wouldn't have a menu," says Hunter. "We'd just cook from the market." And he means it: "Coming out of spring, I ate so much asparagus I don't think I can eat any more until next year. That's how I like to eat and how I like to cook."

But ultimately, says Hunter, "We're not trying to reinvent the wheel. We just want to cook tasty food."

· Zach Hunter: A Chef's Journey Part 1 [-EATX-]
· All Eater Interviews on Eater Austin [-EATX-]

[Photo: Courtesy of Zach Hunter]