The Catbird Seat is an exclusive Nashville culinary hotspot that was taken over in early 2019 by Will Aghajanian, who is now the Head Chef, and Liz Johnson, who is now the Pastry Chef. Together they carefully craft a set menu for 22 diners that focuses on drawing out sublime flavors from local ingredients. The restaurant has one cube-shaped marble counter from which guests sit and overlook the chefs as they cook.
Will Aghajanian found his passion for the culinary arts at a young age, beginning his professional cooking career at 13. His first restaurant job was in the kitchen of CityZen in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Washington DC where he worked under Chef Eric Ziebold. Ziebold was the one who first molded Aghajanian’s culinary skills, training him in the fundamentals and developing his cooking philosophy. Will looks at his cooking as an accumulation of experiences and memories, and CityZen will always be the place where he learned how to cook.
After five years under Ziebold’s wing at the Mandarin Oriental, Aghajanian set sail internationally. He worked in Michelin-starred kitchens across the globe, including Mugaritz in Spain, Noma in Copenhagen, and Per Se in New York before heading back to the states. Will then worked at MIMI in New York with Liz prior to them joining forces at T he Catbird Seat.
Cooking was always Liz Johnson’s dream, and at the young age of 15, she took her first step towards making this dream a reality when she started working behind a deli counter. A year later, she graduated high school early to pursue the culinary arts. Her culinary education started with culinary courses at Schenectady County Community College, and ended with Johnson graduating from the renowned Culinary Institute of America in 2010.
Fresh out of CIA and hungry for some real-world experience, Liz flew to Boston and started working in Jamie Bissonnette’s restaurant Toro, where she truly honed her cooking skills. After leaving Toro, she went on to stage at Noma in Copenhagen before returning home to New York where she worked hard as sous chef under Chef Alex Stupak at Empellon Cocina. At 24, her dedication began to pay off and she was offered the role of head chef of highly-acclaimed restaurant MIMI in Greenwich Village.
In 2018, Johnson and her career continued on its upward spiral when she was invited to assist in the opening of Freedman’s, a modern Jewish deli in Los Angeles. Her work here saw her lauded as one of Food & Wine Magazine’s Best New Chefs in America. Now, alongside Will, Liz helms Strategic Hospitality’s award-winning tasting room The Catbird Seat in Tennessee. Together, the pair have complete control over the dining experience, and are taking the already esteemed restaurant to new heights.
Describe your culinary philosophy:
Simple, but not simple.
What is your greatest inspiration?
From a product, a conversation, something you see on a walk. Could be anything at anytime.
If you could take a plane ride to any restaurant in the world, just for one meal, where would you go and why?
El Capricho/ Mesebaba/ Mibu – simple, perfect food
Who is your culinary hero and why?
Thomas Keller, Ferran Adria, Alain Passard – Not just for their influence on the profession but also the legacies they left behind.
1711 Division Street
Tel: +1 615-810-8200
Images © Camille Tambunting, Emily Dorio and Ansley Cohen