q & a with amelia zatik-sawyer

There are a lot of blogs I try to keep up with on a regular basis, from cooking to marketing to a few topics in between. One of those not-to-miss blogs is Chef’s Widow. The widow in question is Amelia Zatik-Sawyer, aka Mrs. Jonathon Sawyer of Bar Cento and the highly anticipated Greenhouse Tavern. Her blog is honest, real and extremely entertaining. And she’s more than just funny and insightful. She knows about business, sustainability and has figured out a few things about our city that others still can’t seem to grasp.

1. What is your favorite restaurant in town (other than Bar Cento)?
I am a fan of that guy who is on the Food Network. I think his name is Mike Symon??? He’s ok and that restaurant of his, Lola, isn’t so shabby.

2. What restaurant do you miss? Franny’s in Brooklyn, NY.

3. Any restaurant or hidden gem you frequent that the rest of us have yet to discover? #1 Pho in Middleburg Hts. is a new fave of mine.

4. Where do you grocery shop? In the winter I go to Heinen’s. In the summer, I go to the Peninsula Farmer’s Market.

5. Favorite meal from your childhood? Pimento & Cheese Sandwich

6. Last meal on Earth? My husband’s chicken & root veggies that he used to make when we live on the lower east side of NYC.

7. What’s the first thing you notice when you walk into a restaurant? How long I sit at a table before someone comes up.

8. You obviously know and have worked with a lot of talented and successful chefs. What is one trait they all have in common? Their borderline insane work ethic and love of tattoos.

9. What is the inspiration behind your blog? It started as an outlet for my frustration with Jonathon’s insane hours; now it’s more of our diary about our journey through this crazy life.

10. What is one thing about Jonathan the rest of us would be surprised to know?Have you ever been at a concert and noticed an extremely loud clapper? Well if you have, then you were probably sitting next to the chef. We went to The White Stripes a couple years ago and I noticed this loud, annoying clapping. As I looked for the clapper, I realized it was Jonathon. We haven’t been to a show together since.

11. If you could choose any profession in the world, what would you be doing? I would be a PAID writer.

12. Do you cook? If so, what’s your specialty? Not really. Nowadays, I am a pretty bad ass at meatballs. But really I suck at cooking. That’s kinda why I married a chef…Don’t get me wrong, I married Sawyer for love and all but it helps that dude can take a half a carrot, tofu and a piece of chicken out of our empty fridge and turn it into the best thing I have ever tasted.

13. Where will the Sawyer family be five, even 10, years from now? Who knows! We are such vagabonds. Since Jonathon and I graduated high school, we have lived in Cleveland, Dayton, Akron, Miami, Brooklyn, Manhattan Proper, Jersey, Italy and The Hamptons. Hopefully in five years, we will be out of debt and kicking ass at The Greenhouse Tavern. Ten years I’ll almost be forty and we just don’t talk about that. I am sure wherever we end up there will be lots of food and wine involved. And kids. And dogs.

14. You might just be the first person in town with the title of eco manger. What will you be doing in this role at The Greenhouse Tavern? I will probably be doing exactly what I am doing now except on a more full time level. Right now I pretty much act as Jonathon’s accountant, publicist and agent/manager. At The Greenhouse Tavern, I will have my hands in all of that as well as making sure that everything we do in the restaurant complies with the the aspects of green living/business. Jonathon and I both believe that treating the land with respect and knowledge directly affects the quality of food as well as the business. I will go off of this and try to educate myself in different areas of sustainability and the eco movement. I would like to say that I (and the restaurant) am embracing the environment through food. Oh and I’ll probably answer phones, too…

15. What’s the best plate of food you have ever had? Franny’s pizza in Brooklyn, NY. And that new Wild Ramp pizza and Cento. Damn it’s good.

16. What’s your favorite thing about Cleveland and what drives you nuts? I have a hard time with the media in Cleveland. I feel like the papers and the news focus WAY too much on the things that are wrong with our city. Last week I saw a story titled “Which city is better, Cleveland or Detroit?” Are you kidding me? Why not focus on the positive aspects of Cleveland? There are many things happening in our city that are never promoted. We have a fantastic culinary landscape. We have MANY amazing chefs in this city. We have many growing organizations (including E4S, Green City, Blue Lake, Green Energy Ohio and The Office of Sustainability) that are growing and working hard to introduce our city to the green movement as well as practicing sustainability. But you would never know that if you only read the paper. We have awesome museums and the membership prices are unheard of. The Art Museum, although not complete, is going to be unbelievable. I also find it absolutely hard to believe that the city engineers have not yet come up with a way to utilize the fantastic Lake Erie shore. Every time I drive on 90 I can visualize how great the lake front could be. Wind turbines providing electricity for restaurants, condos, parks. Instead, I see empty buildings and rotting factories. It is so depressing.

17. You’re having a dinner party, top 5 songs on your playlist?

1. Funtime by Iggy Pop & the Stooges (Arrival & Apps)
2. All I want is you by Barry Louis Poiser (Dinner)
3. Ms. Fat Booty by Mos Def (Drinks)
4. Loose Lips by Kimya Dawson (More Drinks & Dessert)
5. Perfect Day by Lou Reed (Bye Bye)

Really I would play like 50 songs. Our dinner parties are not short and sometimes last overnight. And I would definitely play the new Flight of the Conchords.

18. With the restaurants, blog, being a mom and married to a chef who keeps crazy hours, what is the one thing that helps your sanity in check? Vodka & Cigarettes….j/k.

Seriously I am not that sane. Lately, I have been bartending at Bar Cento and that helps keep me somewhat normal. Although things are about to get super crazy because Jonathon just signed on to do a bunch of episodes of Dinner Impossible with Symon. I am sure my blog will be filled with stress filled stories in these next few months.

We also really enjoy hanging out at all the museums (we have memberships to all) and biking in the Cuyahoga Valley. That seems to subside the insanity.

19. Do you get to eat whatever you want whenever you want it? I wish. Currently I am on a diet to lose my baby weight and it blows. It’s hard when your husband’s restaurant serves the best pizza in the city.

20. You’ve lived in other places besides Cleveland, including NYC and Italy. What is one thing from those places you wish we had here? I wish Cleveland had a subway system or at least an elevated train. I can’t stand the fact that there really is no pedestrian lifestyle/public transportation system that is not ghetto in Cleveland. If there was an L train that went east and west into the ‘burbs that was like the MTA I think downtown Cleveland would be a crazy awesome city. I also wish that Cleveland had drop off laundry places. I miss taking my laundry in and having it returned clean and folded all for $20. Oh yeah…what I miss about bella Italia is the constant reminder of the past through architecture, people and the culture. No matter what town or village I was in, I always felt like I was living in an art history book. I loved it.


  1. AlwaysLearning
    Posted May 8, 2008 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    Great interview and Amen to the public transportation comment. It has been LONG overdue.

  2. rockandroller
    Posted May 8, 2008 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    I didn’t know about her blog and will definitely check it out. Great interview!

  3. Chef's Widow
    Posted May 8, 2008 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the interview!

  4. Anonymous
    Posted May 8, 2008 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

    I read her blog all the time! Thanks for interviewing her! Very cool!

  5. oddlyme
    Posted May 8, 2008 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

    Ah, but Cleveland public transportation systems beats LA’s hands down!

    As a kid I often went from Shaker to Chagrin Falls, to downtown LA, or to the airport – all on public transportation. And the fact that many eastsiders can walk to a rapid stop (or drive) and catch the rapid downtown is a huge thing.

    So maybe it’s not new york’s subway – it’s a heck more workable than most places.

  6. Life in Recipes
    Posted May 8, 2008 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

    Great interview. Being a restaurant wife is no easy feat and Amelia seems to handle the territory with great aplomb and humor.

    Franny’s is one of my favorite restaurants ever. I dream of their inventive cocktails and remarkable food.

  7. Alexa
    Posted May 8, 2008 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

    yay! i love her! that was a very entertaining interview. love it.

    ok, i’m done saying love.

  8. Christine
    Posted May 12, 2008 at 7:44 am | Permalink

    I agree with Amanda that our media needs to focus more on the positives. I’ll add that it should be a little more investigative, too, and not just hand city/county government a blank check to do whatever it will (I think the PD is starting to move in this direction, albeit at a glacial pace.)

    Regarding the public transit comment:

    I’m not sure “ghetto” is an adjective that belongs in civilized discourse. It’s judgmental, unwarranted, and unfortunately characterizes the attitude between the haves and have nots in Cleveland, which (IMO) has gotten worse in recent years.

    If you do think that RTA could use some improvement, I highly encourage you to contact them – they’re very receptive to customer feedback. You can even email me – christine AT christineborne DOT net and I’ll do an email introduction for you.

  9. Anonymous
    Posted May 12, 2008 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    i don’t think there is any need to sugar-coat the language of a personal interview on a privately run blog. good interview — it’s always nice to see a person who can convey their personality with the written word.

  10. Christine
    Posted May 12, 2008 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    Hi Anonymous,

    That’s true – sort of. Of course everyone is entitled to their opinion. But this blog actually has a pretty high profile, as far as local blogs go. If you Google “Cleveland food blog”, Cleveland Foodie is the 3rd hit. This blog regularly gets linked to on Brewed Fresh Daily and Cool Cleveland. So this *is* part of the public discourse.

    There is also a vast middleground between using a word with such a derogatory and possibly classist connotation and “sugar-coating.” Sugar-coating would be saying that RTA is the “bestest transit system EVAR and don’t you dare knock it!!” Which I didn’t — and wouldn’t — say.

    The interview was great, otherwise. I agreed with much of Amanda’s assessment of Cleveland. She sounds like a bright and spirited person. And I like Bar Cento, for the most part – I live nearby and eat there with some degree of regularity.

    So I’m just going to offer this as perhaps a better way to express the same sentiment:

    “I wish that Cleveland had more transit-oriented development, especially in areas where I want to live. I wish that there was more being done to eradicate poverty in Northeast Ohio so I would feel safer using public transit. I wish Cleveland’s trains went where I want them to go.”

    You can agree or disagree. And please don’t think I’m taking some snooty high-road here…I just think we should all think twice about using that word.

  11. michelle v
    Posted May 12, 2008 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    Christine / anonymous –

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I really enjoyed this interview with Amelia. I think she made a lot of great points, and she’s entertaining.

    Regarding the interviews, I typically never edit words out of an interview – that defeats the puspose. The only items I ever edit are grammatical – and I’m sure I miss a lot of those :)

    As for the word itself, I highly doubt anything was meant by it, but I can appreciate your comments and point of view. For me personally, I try to be pretty PC when I talk. But again, and granted I can’t speak for her, I think she was just trying to convey a point and not trying to offend anyone. Right or wrong, it’s actually a term I hear all the time from people describing something or another – from my white and black friends. And it’s never used with any harm. I guess to me, it’s like when people say it’s hillbillie, or white trash, etc.

    Ok – back to food!

  12. Anonymous
    Posted May 12, 2008 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    Cleveland RTA just won best public transportation system in North America! I live in the western burbs & do not take “ghetto” transportion, perhaps she should try to expand her use of the public transportation system here before making such sweeping generalizations.

  13. Christine
    Posted May 12, 2008 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    Hi Michelle,

    Thanks for responding.

    First off, I feel like a super-schmuck for getting Amelia’s name wrong. (I hate when people do that to me, so I publicly apologize!)

    I wasn’t suggesting that you should ever edit your interviews. Just that maybe we should all think twice about using that word. (I’m no fan of “white trash”, either. People I love have been on the receiving end of it and it makes me queasy.)

    I hope you can understand that people say things like that, it can be misconstrued as, for lack of a better word, snobby. I love the life that Bar Cento has brought to Ohio City. Hey, I called Bar Cento one of the Five Things Every Cleveland Expat Should See and I’m taking one of them there this week – I just don’t want people to think of Ohio City (or its institutions) as snobby. You know?

    And you’re right, anyway… back to food. :)

  14. Filthy McNasty
    Posted May 12, 2008 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    C’mon, Bar Cento/ Jon Sawyer related entries in the last 2 or 3 months are off the charts. I have to believe that with Cleveland slowly defrosting, there is something going on that isn’t within 1 or 2 degrees of separation from Bar Cento or Jon Sawyer.

  15. Anonymous
    Posted May 13, 2008 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

    I’m sure there is a lot going on in Cleveland that has absolutely nothing to do with Bar Cento or Jonathan Sawyer. The beauty of a blog, however, is that you can write about whatever you want whenever you want. It’s up to the reader to decide whether or not their personal time should be invested in reading the content. So if you don’t like hearing about Cento or Sawyer, then don’t read the blog. It’s that simple. It’s also clear that Michelle enjoys this topic and I assume she’ll continue to write about it. Thus far, I’ve personally enjoyed the interviews, reviews and experiences she has shared with us. I say write about whatever you like. I’ll keep reading.