The Purple Parrot has a new chef, only the sixth in its 32-plus years. Marty Anklam, who arrived on the scene in the spring, has had time to get his feet wet – having survived Mother’s Day and graduation weekends and a south Mississippi summer, helping launch a catering division and a new fall menu for the Parrot and feeding more than 600 at a recent fraternity tailgate at Mississippi State.
A Mississippian by birth, his parents moved to Washington, D.C., when he was just 18 months old (not much say in that).
With both a mom and dad who enjoyed being in the kitchen and cooking, Anklam came by it honestly.
“There are great pictures of me and my mom or dad making cookies when I was three years old,” Anklam said.
Much to his grandmother’s confusion, he received his first paring knife from his mom when he was three. It was a Christmas gift.
His mother, who worked in special exhibits at the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum, was into classical stuff.
“She always wanted to cook good stuff, so we were making fresh pasta, and had a freezer full of chicken stock she was always making, because you couldn’t just buy it to make red beans and rice,” he said.
He got his first job at the age of 14 as a pastry assistant for a family friend.
A football player, he’d get up early on Saturdays, pretty sore after a Friday night game, and head in to start the 35-pound batch of bread for the restaurant.
His high school senior project dealt with becoming a pastry chef. He fed everybody desserts as part of his project and aced it.
Anklam has always had a love of desserts. He likes the attention to detail as well as the technical side. “I like that you have to follow a recipe,” he said. “You need exactly this much baking soda or else you will get something totally different. Then there are times I don’t want to deal with the pressure and I go make pasta or a sauce. Some of the intricacies are not ideal, but I’m always down to try a brownie or a cake out.”
After graduation he moved to Oxford to attend Ole Miss, where his Army brat parents had met.
“I lived there for about five years and did two years of school, as we do in Oxford,” Anklam said.
He got a job at Oxford’s Downtown Grill, which he found to be a great learning experience. His plan was to go to college and get a business degree and then pursue the culinary stuff later. But once he started working in the restaurant, that’s all he wanted to do. He soon found himself working double shifts so he could be there all the time.
After about three years he was off to Hyde Park, New York, and the Culinary Institute of America. Upon graduation he headed west where he started as a line cook before working his way up to executive sous chef at the five-star Devil’s Thumb Ranch in Colorado, where he handled a variety of food tasks.
Then it was back to D.C. where he and a friend opened a popular farm-to-table restaurant, Homestead Food & Beverage. They used locally-sourced seasonal food which Anklam called “polished comfort food.”
“We tried to use small purveyors,” he said. We wanted to make something very approachable, comfortable and unique.”
He spent two-and-a-half years there, described as a wild and crazy experience.
Anklam took some time off and moved to Jackson. Burned out from working 70 hours a week, seven days a week running the whole shebang, he’d lived the dream he’d had since 14 of owning and running a restaurant.
In Jackson he ended up working as operations manager at Cultivation Food Hall.
“By happenstance and luck, my mom and a family friend are on the board of MPB. The friend asked for my resume, saying he thought Robert (St. John) might be looking for some help,” Anklam said.
Within a day or two he was in Hattiesburg meeting the man who would within days become his new employer.
Anklam said he was not familiar with the New South Restaurant group; however, he knew of Robert and his cookbooks as well as his Italy trips a few family members had gone on.
“It was funny,” Anklam said. “My grandfather grew up in Hattiesburg and as I got into cooking he continually told me I needed to get to Hattiesburg to meet Robert. And here I am, so it’s come full circle.”
This is Anklam’s favorite time of year, his favorite kind of foods – squashes, shepherds pie, gravy, potatoes and roasted things.
“For me, comfort food warms you up from the inside out,” he said.
The Parrot’s new fall menu roll-out includes such items as Duck and Salmon Rillette, Cajun Caviar Remoulade, Braised Lamb Shank, Acorn Squash and Blackberry Crème Brulee.
“We’ve got some fun things going on here,” Anklam said. “We’re finding great products, finding the best way to present them and helping the food showcase itself. The food is the star.”
These days he’s enjoying the many challenges and will always enjoy playing with his food in order to come up with just the right mix to make it memorable.