Meet the new executive chef of The Mill Kitchen & Bar in Roswell, Georgia.
By Hope S. Philbrick
Athens, Ga.-native Benjamin Castro began his culinary career as a youngster, preferring to watch chefs Julia Child, Justin Wilson, Martin Yan and Jacques Pepin and others on TV over sports or playing videogames.
A graduate of the famed Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., Casto’s resume boasts stints at Normal Town Café, Blind Pig Tavern, Harry Bissett’s Bayou Grill, Athens Country Club in Athens, Ga., The Woods and New World Home Cooking Company in New York, as well as Pura Vida, Bluepointe, Chops Lobster Bar, Buckhead Diner and Bistro VG in Atlanta, among others.
The youngest of five siblings, Castro worked in Haiti after the earthquake and has also owned and operated a farmers’ market business.
He now helms The Mill Kitchen & Bar. I recently talked with him by phone to learn more.
What lured you to The Mill Kitchen & Bar?
Well, I was just finishing up with a consulting job when a friend of mine who worked at The Mill Kitchen & Bar told me that they were looking for a chef. Farm to table is my thing and, being Southern, this place was right up my alley.
The menu was initially established by Chef Marc Taft of The Chicken & The Egg. How have you changed the menu since you arrived?
We did a complete summer menu change across the board, from appetizers, salads, entrées and desserts. The menu is more summer focused, so more seafood and lighter options. The biggest sellers on the dinner menu—fried chicken and shrimp & grits—are still on the menu, but all other dishes have been revamped.
How will the menu change going forward?
It will change four to five times a year, mainly with the seasons but I threw an extra one in there if we need it. We’ll normally change in the September/October timeframe, January, early spring maybe around March, then summer. This year I came in right in May so we went right to summer. It all depends on when the seasons come in, we’ll keep as close to seasonally as we can, but it does depend on when produce comes in and when things shift with the farmers.
You work with local farmers. How do you choose who you’ll work with?
Mainly there are three farms we work directly with. We use the Turnip Truck as a third-person intermediary—the owner, Mike, is a friend of mine and I started working with him when I was at Seed in Marietta. He does a great job working with farmers and finding cool local stuff. We also work directly with Serenbe and Moonbeam farms.
How do you define ‘local’? All Georgia or within a certain perimeter?
We’re mostly local and some regional; if you were to throw it into a pie chart—and we’re talking strictly produce—we’re at 80 percent Georgia and 20 percent regional, which I define as one state away, a state that borders Georgia. Florida gets some produce ahead of us because of the heat. I get some North Carolina honey and sorghum. Some border states have certain peas and beans that we don’t have here.
Most of the seafood is either from the Georgia coast—I work with a day boat shrimper—or on the Atlantic coast from Virginia to Florida. I don’t get anything from the West coast. Nothing is farmed raised, it’s all wild caught, foraged.
What about Gulf seafood?
I try to stay away from it for sustainability purposes, but when our shrimp is off season I’ll get some Gulf shrimp. I try to stay Atlantic coast
What are your favorite Georgia ingredients?
One of my favorite things is Georgia peaches—in part because my dad was a paralegal specializing in immigration, so as a child I went to a lot of farms. I love Pearson Farms peaches! Also, since I come from South Georgia which is a big peanut area, I love Georgia peanuts. I love them boiled—we did a special Georgia boiled peanut risotto that was pretty fun. I also like sorghum. And pork—we get some of our pork from a sustainable ranch here in Georgia but their availability is really limited so other than that we get pork from Niman Ranch—so it’s humanely raised with no growth hormones.
What are some of the current dishes on the menu?
One of the special things on the menu right now is our pan roasted amberjack, which is off the coast of Key Largo, Fla., and really super awesome. Not many places do amberjack, but it has a mild sea flavor. We do it with charred corn, heirloom tomato and lady pea succotash.
Also, the pork belly we have is my plate on a traditional Southern barbecue plate. The pork belly is braised in a Carolina-style barbecue sauce for 24 hours; hung to dry 24 hours; then braised eight hours. It’s served with a ‘Not Your Mama’s’ potato salad which has four colors of fingerling potatoes, radishes, eggs, French pickles, celery, onion, herbs and fresh aioli that’s lighter than mayonnaise. It’s served with creamed green beans with crispy onions, which is my play on green bean casserole because I love green bean casserole.
What can we look forward to this fall?
I love squashes of all types but I really love fall squashes. Serenbe has really awesome butternut and acorn squashes so I will do a squash gratin served with roasted pork shoulder. When we do the fall menu is will have more whole roasted meats and we’ll take off some seafood to add heavier proteins. We’ll play with different greens as well.
The Mill Kitchen & Bar
590 Mimosa Boulevard
Roswell, GA 30075
-Photos by Pavel Kuznetsov of VK Photography