The sweet smile of success

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Cameron Mitchell never seems to stop smiling. I noticed this one night while polishing off a spicy, rich and deeply flavored bowl of gumbo in the room where it all began.

You see, 15 years ago to that day (Oct. 6), Mitchell opened his first and namesake restaurant out in Linworth, and the man was celebrating his anniversary by mingling with fans and regulars and (throughout the month) offering part of his original menu at original prices.

Moving through the crowd and working the room like a pope, Mitchell was laughing and shaking hands - and heck, wouldn't you be, too? Last year, in a still-pre-economy-meltdown climate, he presciently sold off his Fish Markets and Steakhouses for a very cool $92 million.

That evening, as my massive double-cut pork chop was being delivered, I eyeballed Mitchell gliding toward my table. Suddenly, over the house speakers, I heard - I swear - Tony Bennett crooning, "Out of the tree of life I just picked me a plum," and realized in the movie version, this is where we'd sepia-tone our way back to a daydreaming boy leaning over a restaurant kitchen sink. Later that night, the boy would (as Mitchell's website bio reads) race home to scribble down his lofty goals of graduating from the best cooking school in the country, parlaying that into a head cheffing stint and, by his mid-30s, becoming the president of a super-successful and prestigious company.

If that drive and ambition seem to separate him from most of the rest of us, I found out through meeting him and the following e-mail interview that Cameron Mitchell is a surprisingly modest and down-to-earth guy with a great sense of humor. And a very big smile.

This week is Alive's Bar Guide issue, so I have to ask if you prefer beer, wine or cocktails - or are you an equal opportunist? Which specific labels do you favor?

It really depends on my mood, but I guess you'd say I'm an equalopportunist. My favorites would be Tanqueray gin, Far Niente Chardonnay or Bud Select.

What are some of your favorite food and drink pairings?

I don't really like to pair. When I'm drinking, I'm drinking. When I'm eating, I'm eating!

You seem to be very busy on the business end of things lately. How much cooking do you do these days - whether professionally, creating dishes for restaurants, or while at home?

Not much. I am surrounded by a terrific team of executive chefs who are extraordinary. And at home, my wife Molly really does the lion's share of cooking.

What did you have for dinner after you sealed the deal to sell your fish and steakhouses?

After the deal was signed, my executive team and I went to Press Grill for some cheeseburgers and beer, and then we went bowling!

What are some of your favorite dishes from your various restaurants?

The Veal Chop at thenew Martini Modern Italian. The[small plate]Grilled Zucchini at Marcella's.The Sonoma Goat Cheese Ravioli at Mitchell's Ocean Club. The Thai Curry Chicken at Molly Woo's. Honey Glazed Duck at Cameron's. Halibut and the wild mushroom pot stickers at M.Romano Crusted Chicken at Cap City Diner.

What misconceptions might the Columbus public have about you?

That I'm a goodcook.

What are your non-food-related hobbies?

Golf, travel, and spending time with my wife and mythree children.

Are there any restaurant concepts you started cooking up that you later discarded or allowed yourself to be talked out of?

Yes, I wanted to do a Mexican rock 'n' rollrestaurant ...

Besides your own, what are your favorite restaurants in town? In the country?

Rigsby's. Morton's for steak. The Rossi. Press Grill forcheeseburgers. Marshall's for breakfast. My favorite cities outside of Columbus to dine: New York, San Francisco, Napa Valley, Chicago, Las Vegas and L.A.

What's your favorite food movie?

I particularly like the prison scene [in Goodfellas] where Paul Sorvino's character is slicing the garlic with a razor blade so it "liquefies" in the pan.

What are some of your guilty food pleasures?

Too much of a good thing: I love my dairy!Cheese, ice cream ...

What restaurant trends do you dislike?

I hated the"no carb" fad, and forecasted that it would leave before it ever really got started. And I didn't like the "healthy low fat" cooking trend. Fat is flavor!