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Chef Mike Lanham on Cycling, Restraint, and a New Home for Anomaly SF

Cover Image for Chef Mike Lanham on Cycling, Restraint, and a New Home for Anomaly SF
By Sophie Brochu

After opening pop-ups in eight different locations, chef Mike Lanham has finally found a new home for his post-modern fine dining concept. This month, he debuted a permanent restaurant in San Francisco’s Lower Pacific Heights neighborhood. We caught up with chef Lanham to talk professional cycling, fine dining, and new challenges.

Congrats on your opening. What has the transition been like moving to a permanent location?

It has been pretty intense. We decided to close our pop-up at the end of November because we were sure that we’d be opening in early to mid-December. Now we’re a mid-January opening.

The service and culinary teams stayed on during the break, and they have been a huge help with the less technical aspects of the renovation. The upside is that now everyone on the team has a greater appreciation for the space we call home.

“We are defined by our restraint.”

There are so many challenges to opening a restaurant. What motivates you? 

I’m very motivated by the independence of it. I could work for someone else as an executive chef, but I’d still have to do whatever they wanted. I value my freedom and the ability to create a positive workplace for my team above everything else.

Can you tell us what dish you’re most excited about that’s on the opening menu?

So much research goes into every dish. Yet, almost without exception, my favorite dish is not the favorite of the diners. It’s normally the second or third favorite of ten or twelve dishes. I think that’s a really healthy, important realization though. If you can’t step back and realize that you’re cooking for the customer and not for yourself, you’ve fallen into the trap of ego and self-importance. That’s very dangerous. I’ve given all that I have to this menu and I’m excited to see what stands out to diners.

How does your background as a competitive cyclist influence your craft?

It’s helped in two ways. Firstly, cycling is solely type II fun. There is no grind like cycling. If you win three to five races in a year, that’s a career year. You participate in maybe 50-70 races per year. 189 guys start in a lot of those, but only one person wins.

Many of those races are inherently dangerous. Chances are good that you’ll deal with a fairly catastrophic injury every few years. Additionally, if you come to grief and you can still get back on the bike, you do it. There is no time out for injury. Maybe a teammate or two waits, and then you chase to get back into the race until you either make it or realize you can’t continue.

Cycling teaches you accountability, courage, and how to get back up and deal with physical, mental, and emotional setbacks. I think it’s healthy and beneficial for everyone to be challenged in this way—as long as you have the body to bounce back and recover from it.

“Cycling teaches you accountability, courage, and how to get back up.”

Who or what has been your greatest influence?

In life, my parents. I feel that I had a massive life advantage growing up in a household where I was loved, but also challenged to always reach for more.

Culinarily, Jamie Soriano, David Bialecki, Sam Mackenzie, and Todd Myerhoffer. I worked at a lot of restaurants with Michelin stars, etc. All of these people were sous chefs at those places. Even though we worked in hard environments, I always felt supported by these individuals. I’m sure it was not always easy, but I am grateful to them because I don’t believe I’d still be cooking without any one of them.

In a city with a fantastic dining scene, what makes Anomaly SF stand out?

We are a love letter to technical cooking. We are defined by our restraint. We use any and all modern techniques at our disposal… as long as they make sense. We love liquid nitrogen, smoke, and contrast in temperature and texture. We tend to shy away from powders, spheres, and other hyper-modern techniques. For this reason, we refer to our food as Post-Modern American Cuisine.

Anything else you’d like for our readers to know?

I feel incredibly lucky to be in the position we’re in now. This is exciting for me, but it’s also exciting for the team. We have people from all backgrounds and geographies. I believe it will be particularly sweet for one gentleman who is with us from Delhi, India. The restaurant was supposed to open seven months ago. He could have left at any point and done something else, but he wanted to stay. A person like that doesn’t come along often, and we are fortunate to have an entire staff of people with that mindset. I’m looking forward to showing the city what we have to offer, and I’m grateful for the opportunity.

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