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Dynamic Dish

August 25, 2009


I don’t like food & drink reviews. Don’t enjoy reading them, or writing them. It’s all so subjective, I think, unless you have a really remarkable palate. I tend to gravitate towards much bigger picture trend pieces focusing on what the rest of the country is doing. Right now though, there’s a marriage of sorts with those two notions that is happening right in my own backyard.

Dynamic Dish is a restaurant in Atlanta owned and operated by David Sweeney. His philosophy in the kitchen is so on par with this national food movement (see Food, Inc; read Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser’s books, if you haven’t already) where David is taking great care with the ideological food choices he makes not only with his restaurant, but in his life. His story connects everything from the land to the body (and every dot in between).

David only uses what he needs and certainly didn’t open Dynamic Dish as ginormous restaurant complete with a bored hostess standing around wearing a headset handing you a vibrating pager with blinking red lights to inform you your table’s ready. This is a quiet space, serving simple food that allows fresh, local ingredients to be the voice.

I do hope you enjoy my conversation with David as much as I did having it and stick with the length of the interview. I found myself hesitant to censor this piece by shortening it, he speaks so well about so much. We cover everything from the local food moment to the comparison of food as an outfit when used in peak season – sexy! Bon appetit! Oh, I should mention, they (Bon Appetit) know a good thing when they see it too, as they featured Dynamic Dish earlier this year. Here’s to feeding our mind, body, and soul…for many years to come.


danapop (dp) What is the inspiration behind most of your dishes? What is your creative process like to come up with a dish?

Dynamic Dish I think everything that I make is a version of something that I have tasted or tried somewhere. It’s a combination of that and whatever is in season and a nutritional balance. I do have a conscious focus on not only the balance of flavors, but also the balance of nutrition in a dish.

As far as putting the dishes together, I do get inspired by colors and color combinations just like you would put together an outfit. It doesn’t always work, but I think it does 99% of the time. When foods are in season they normally sort of go together with each other. There’s a shade of tomato that’s a similar shade as a pepper, the squash, or whatever you’re plating. If it’s all in season it will go well together.

dp Do you have a particular cooking philosophy that you live by?

Dynamic Dish I believe for myself that we should eat for our health, but our health is many fold. I think you have mental health, physical health, and spiritual health. And you can feed all of those with food that is pure and clean or organic those are going to offer you a nice palate for your physical health, which will affect your mind and your mental health. But, it’s not all about just eating fresh vegetables. I think even French fries can feed your soul. Even a simple bowl of grains or chickpeas can feed you and help you to comfort and give you the nourishment you need. That’s to me the most important thing about food. If you’ve got all that, then you’re going to be well balanced, I think.

dp How did you come into the culinary profession?

Dynamic Dish I always liked cooking. I was always in the kitchen at home and always liked to eat and try new things. My first business in the culinary world was a catering business, I had co-owned one and then later owned one myself, a vegetarian health-food delivery service. This is the first time that I’ve ever had a restaurant or café. I don’t think it is a restaurant in the classic sense of a restaurant.

dp What do you think eating well and cooking well does for one’s body and mind? Is your diet always strictly vegetarian?

Dynamic Dish Eating well and eating healthy foods should always nourish the body and the mind. Fresh food friendly. And no, I don’t always eat vegetarian. I have – this has been to work on some of my own health challenges I’ve tested out many different diets in extreme ways; strictly vegetarian, strictly vegan and in doing that, thinking they were going to be the best thing for my body and realizing I was lacking a certain amount of balance in a vegan diet, I didn’t get enough fat.

I did this not with any sort of scientific approach, I did it really just wanting to address some health issues that I was experiencing. Now I discovered that I was not in fact having a balanced diet only eating a certain way. So, I’ve started to put meat back into my diet on a personal level and I do it in small doses, really only because that’s the way my body enjoys it most. Not too be too Dogmatic about anything, I mean eating fresh is just important, it’s a lot for me, but sometimes you can’t always find that.


dp What is your favorite food indulgence?

Dynamic Dish I used to want pizza once a week. I felt like it was social, fun and easy and casual. Recently, I’ve been on the search of a good turkey burger in the city, but I may have to end up doing it myself. There aren’t very many out there that’s the only reason. The 5 Season’s Brewing Company used to have one, but I don’t know if they have it on their menu anymore.

dp What do you think of movies like Food, Inc and what they do for the industry?

Dynamic Dish I haven’t seen Food, Inc. yet, so I cannot answer to that. But, there’s one thing I can say about it, is that in America, as you probably well know when they hold a certain idea or certain way, they can just blow it all out of proportion, advertise it and market it and make everyone feel like they have to be a part of it or their lives are in danger. I’m thinking also as far as diet is concerned, the past 10 to 15 years we’ve gone from the Atkins Diet to the South Beach, to the no carb diet, to only fat diet. It really has nothing to do with the eating that is necessary for our lives, nor does it really represent what food is for in our daily lives.

But, what’s wrong with just eating what we require and enjoying that? There are food allergies out there and people are used to eating certain ways. America for sure just like in all of these other extremities have really damaged the food chain. And it’ll take probably a long time before it turns around again. Where in a small town in, I’ll  say Nebraska, they can have a nice, local, restaurant that serves food from that region instead of a McDonald’s.

I don’t know if that will ever change in this country. I remember going to Arizona and on my way to a spiritual retreat in the middle of the desert I see a McDonald’s and I just thought ‘wow – they have to actually send a truck down here to bring all that frozen shit.’ And this is what they have for the truckers and everyone else passing through. They could load up a truck with other things other than processed buns and old lettuce and presliced tomatoes and things that really offer no nutritional value whatsoever.

dp How did you find great companies like Magnolia Bread and local farmers to work with?

Dynamic Dish I had the time to go to every open-air small farmer’s market in this area before I opened my business. And I had the time to buy from all of them and to come home and test everything out.

I did grow up in Germany, my father was in the Army, and I am a military brat. We did grow up with very good breads and that being also a staple in our diets, so I guess I developed a taste for good breads, or what I find to be good breads. In my tasting of breads, Magnolia was the only one that really came close, even better in some cases, to the organic and homemade breads I was used to having in Germany.

And other produce that is on offer in this state is just incredible. I sometimes wonder if Georgia does have this Mediterranean climate where all these beautiful vegetables, things just grow. If the weather’s right and the conditions are good, things grow so well here. I really do think that the farmers do a great job of supplying people and restaurants with their produce. There are passionate farmers here; they really are examples for the rest of the country. I really think these young farmers need more support. That would be such a great thing. Instead of giving all the government money to soybean and corn producers there are people with genuine efforts out there to change eating habits with fresh food.

dp Do you think the local movement is a mainstream fad? Or do you think it’s here to stay?

Dynamic Dish We’ll see. I doubt that it’s a mainstream fad because I think there’s enough educated people out there that understand that they are eating for themselves for the future. Not for their own enjoyment of that moment, you want to continue to enjoy life – to be able to eat well as you can for as long as you can. It’s such an important thing in our lives.

It involves family, community, you’re thinking about farmers, you really are thinking about a supported community, so I hope it’s not a fad. I’m sure for some people it will be. I know this farm to table thing is really taken flight and let’s hope that it’s going to educate people and they can think differently about what they eat and in turn maybe in the future more people will farm and it doesn’t always have to be organic either, but more people will farm and there’s a sustainable message and a healthy message and it will become less expensive. It is a luxury right now. Not everybody can afford to eat like this. I know that the prices that we have are more expensive than other places in town where you can also eat well, so I would hope for the future that it would become more affordable when it’s more available. Probably the whole scare will die down, maybe in combination with a future health reform people will realize that eating well is also enough prescription for them to maintain their health.


dp I love the concept of Dynamic Dish and I feel like you’d be serving amazing food no matter if it’s for one or one-hundred…where does the payoff for you come from (in the figurative sense)?

Dynamic Dish The payoff for me right now is compliments from customers and people offer not just ‘oh the food was great’ but, people go as far as saying ‘thank you very much’ or ‘thank you for opening,’ ‘thank you for being here’ which to me is sort of beyond the food. That’s where the payoff is for me that fuels my energy and desire to stay open because truth be known, without a beer and wine license unfortunately it makes it very difficult to run this kind business in this country, probably anywhere really.

And also I’ve been thinking about this business for a very long time and I planned it for a very long time. The planning period was not just for the last five years writing the concept and doing a business plan, it was something I’d be thinking about for a long time. I know that businesses can be very short lived, this kind of business especially. And I didn’t spend a lot of money because I didn’t have a lot of money to spend when I opened, so my bit is not that great, you know these other places that open up with all of the niceties and the receptionists and the busboys and all the staff that they have and all of the equipment that they have and it’s very easy for that beginning to end very quickly when you have so much money invested.

The payoff it really is the compliments right now and realizing that people are responding to it. When I see customers that come back every week and sometimes we’ve had customers come every days and twice a day, for lunch and dinner. And the kind of customers that we have, doctors to politicians to grandmothers to the new mothers, athletes, and I think ‘wow, this is a good representation of those people who are very conscious right now.’

dp What do you hope people gain when they eat at Dynamic Dish?

Dynamic Dish I really, really generally hope that people will feel maybe one step closer to health and happiness afterwards.

dp Are there other chefs you admire and wish to emulate? Or are you all about your own path?

Dynamic Dish I feel okay carving my own path, but own path is certainly inspired through other chefs. I do read cookbooks and think it’s more ingredients of chef’s views that inspire me, maybe not their cooking in particular but the way dishes are put together and the combinations.


dp What’s next?

Dynamic Dish To continue going forward the way we’ve been doing right now. It is possible that – I don’t know it’s too early to announce this, it’s possibly premature – the space to the left of us will be available and I’m considering expanding into that. I think it would be good, we need an extra bathroom and more space and that would hopefully allow us to extend the hours a little bit because the neighborhood is not a neighborhood, I’m challenged by that as well. People that come in and eat at Dynamic Dish it’s a destination for them really. This isn’t the kind of place where you get your hair done and pick up your dry cleaning on your day off or something.

I knew the area had some time when I opened, unfortunately. The success of any kind of business it’s not dependent on the infrastructure of a neighborhood area. That was determined with Bacchanalia opening up over there off of Howell Mill. I have been coming to Atlanta over the last 10 years and sort of witnessed this, you can open up a satellite restaurant probably in the middle of nowhere here and people will drive to eat there.

For continued business it will certainly have to develop all around that area. Time, I think will determine what kind of neighborhood it becomes and how it will work its way into the Urban life of the city of Atlanta. I get really excited customers from Inman Park, Grant Park, the Candler area, and even Midtown, but there’s still an iron wall between Midtown and Downtown.

It’s amazing to me the amount of people that have lived in this city all of their lives and when they come to Dynamic Dish they’ve never been to that street or in the neighborhood and it’s not but two miles away from where their home is. The history of the city explains why people don’t drive that stretch, but let’s hope the times change too for this city.