Chef Paul Wooten has been named Executive Chef at Sweet Lowdown. He worked behind the line as Chef de Cuisine since the restaurant launched in November 2006.
After studying nutrition at UNC, Wooten attended the CIA. He then moved to NY to study under Chef Rocco DiSpirito at Union Pacific. He moved back to NC in 1996 and worked under Chef Charles Park at the Beaufort Grocery Company. In 2001, he moved to the Florida Keys to work under Chef Adam Votaw at Little Palm Island’s Dining Room and in 2002 accepted a position as Executive Chef of Vinocity Wine Bar in Atlanta.
Chef Leonard Elias of Aberdeen Woods Conference Center in Peachtree City, came one step closer to claiming the coveted Copper Skillet award by edging out four other American chef finalists at the USA Cook-off competition in Evanston, IL.
The fourth annual International Copper Skillet competition recognizes the best chefs in the industry. The final competition will take place April 19-22 at The Heldrich in New Brunswick, NJ.
Chef Elias prepared his winning dish based on the guidelines provided for this year’s cuisine theme of Thai. Contestants were provided with 50 pantry and staple ingredients to create a Thai-themed dish. Two secret ingredients (chicken and shrimp) were unveiled just prior to the start of the 30-minute competition; both were to be incorporated into the final dish.
Chef Elias is a 1980 graduate of the prestigious CIA and an ACF Certified Executive Chef.
George Miliotes, Director of Beverage & Hospitality at Seasons 52, passed the Court of Master Sommeliers’ Master Sommelier Exam, held March 17-22 in San Francisco. Having successfully completed the three-part exam, which included a blind tasting of six different wines, Miliotes joins the ranks of the 142 Master Sommeliers worldwide.
Miliotes began the certification process ten years ago, moving through three levels and a series of classes with rigorous examinations. The Master Sommelier diploma is the culmination of that process. The exam consists of three parts: restaurant services and salesmanship, sommelier knowledge and practical tasting. For the latter, candidates must accurately describe six wines in twenty-five minutes, including the grape variety, country of origin, district of origin and vintage of each.
Boneheads Grilled Fish & Piri Piri Chicken was recently awarded two 2007 Scovie awards for their signature Piri Piri sauces. The Scovie Awards recognize top fiery foods from around the globe.
A panel of culinary experts sampled hundreds of the world’s most lauded gourmet foods, and of the 742 entries across multiple categories, Boneheads was recognized in the “Hot Sauce-Medium” category for its Medium Piri Piri Hot Sauce and in the “Hot Sauce-Specialty Chile” category for its Hot Piri Piri Hot Sauce.
Both sauces were created by Boneheads Head Chef and Culinary Institute of America graduate Scott Vogel, Director of Franchise Support and Culinary Development. Boneheads Piri Piri Sauces were developed over months of trial and error, using a multitude of cooking techniques, seasonings, fresh herbs and vegetables
Huddle House announced the opening of a new test kitchen and R&D center in Atlanta designed to develop new menu items and increase service and quality efficiency at the chain’s 420+ locations around the country.
The news follows the announcement that Huddle House partnered with Allied Capital, Inc. in a $124 million acquisition deal. The fast-growing chain is expanding outside of its southeast core into the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest regions. In the last four years alone, Huddle House has opened 123 new stores in various states including VA, WV, OH, IL, MO and TX. System-wide sales last year were $215 million.
The development of the new R&D facility was instrumental in attracting Huddle House’s new Director of Product Development, Damon Paolozzi. Paolozzi served as Corporate Chef for Popeye’s Chicken and Biscuits for over five years prior to joining Huddle House in July of 2006.
Modesto Alcala has been named President of Don Pablo’s Mexican Kitchen restaurants and Senior Vice President of Avado Brands.
A restaurant executive for 23 years, Alcala is the former COO of Buca di Beppo. He’s also served as President and COO for Copeland’s Famous New Orleans Restaurant and Bar and VP of Café Operations at Barnes & Noble Inc. Alcala also has held leadership positions at Carlson Restaurants Worldwide Inc., operator of such concepts as Timpano Italian Chophouse, Samba Room and Mignon Steak House, and was in management for Romano’s Macaroni Grill, a Brinker International Inc. company. He earned a B.A. from the University of Florida in 1984.
While you may know that Georgia is the fourth-largest producer of table eggs in the country, do you know if your customer prefers an egg from a pasture-raised hen with her bacon? It is becoming increasingly important to consider the benefits of these and other types of eggs, as consumers are becoming better educated and more demanding.
Pasturing simulates ideal conditions that allow the chicken to behave like a chicken. Birds live on the ground in a pasture with access to shelter for nesting and bad weather. They are free to scratch and forage for protein-filled bugs and worms while soaking in vitamin D from the sun. The grass they eat gives them beta-carotene for yolks with a bright orange color.
Bill Keener farms just north of the state border near Chattanooga. He says that pasturing takes more effort but it’s worth it. “These eggs are packed with more vitamins, more omega-3 fatty acids and have a lower cholesterol level,” says Keener.
“Eggs give fresh pasta its flavor and these eggs actually taste like eggs; the yolks are a deep yellow-orange and the whites are very firm,” said Elisa Gambino, of Via Elisa Fresh Pasta, which supplies many top Atlanta restaurants. “These qualities give the dough a beautiful color and flavor.” Gambino gets her eggs from a farm in Dallas, Georgia.
“Elisa really does have the best eggs,” says Gerry Klaskala of Aria, a client of Via Elisa’s.
Another chef using eggs from pasture-raised hens is Ron Eyester of Food 101. Ron gets most of his eggs from Moore Farm & Friends, a collective of farmers in Georgia and Alabama. He says better taste is always a factor, but his primary reason for using the eggs is the freshness.
“You know when you get your eggs they are less than 10 days old,” says Eyester. “Pasture-raised eggs are great to cook with, especially if you are poaching eggs for a dish like eggs Benedict. If you poach an egg that isn’t fresh the white will spread out and look sloppy. With a fresh egg, the white will wrap tightly around the yolk and produce a pretty poached egg that sits perfectly atop a slice of bread. They are also excellent in crème brulee because they have such a clean, eggy taste.”
Georgia farmers who are handcrafting eggs can’t produce enough of them.
“We’re experiencing more and more demand for the kind of fresh eggs we have,” said Nicolas Donck, of Crystal Organic Farms, another pasturing farmer and member of Georgia Organics.
Andy Byrd of Whippoorwill Hollow Farms notes that consumers may pay a little more for his eggs but that eggs are still relatively inexpensive. “If eggs held the same value relative to other goods of the pre-industrial farming 1930s, we’d be paying twelve dollars a dozen today,” says Byrd.
“We have more market than we have eggs,” said Shirley Daughtry, owner of Heritage Organic Farm. “Our eggs are heralded for their taste, but consumers respond to the better quality of life we provide for our hens, too.”
Nationwide, organic egg sales are increasing at a steep pace. According to a 2006 survey by the Organic Trade Association, sales of organic foods have nearly quadrupled since 1997, and organic dairy is one of the fastest-growing areas in the food industry. At Horizon Organics, a large national dairy and egg company, sales of organic eggs in natural food stores such as Whole Foods Market and Wild Oats are up year after year.
Georgia farmers interested in sustainable growing methods pursue egg production on a small scale, sometimes without the organic label conferred by certification. In pasture-raising, quality begins to suffer with higher volume operations; this and the labor-intensive demands of direct marketing make small operations the only economically feasible alternative.
“I’m glad these farmers are making the effort,” says Food 101′s Eyester. “And our customers are, too.”
Health Benefits of Pasture-Raised Eggs
Pasture-raised eggs have 10% less fat, 34% less cholesterol, 40% more vitamin A, and 400% more omega-3 fatty acids. (USDA Sustainable Agriculture and Research Education Program)
An egg from a pastured hen has 30% more vitamin E (Animal Feed Science and Technology, 1998)
Pasture-raised eggs produce positive HDL or good cholesterol and lower “bad” triglycerides (Nutrition, 1993)
Georgia Organics, a nonprofit organization working to integrate healthy, sustainable, and locally grown food into the lives of all Georgians provided this article. To learn more, visit www.georgiaorganics.org, or call 678.702.0400. Melissa Libby is the co-founder, along with Kristina Hjelsand, of the Red Clay Collective, an Atlanta marketing and public relations partnership founded in 2006 that represents Southeastern food artisans.
Becoming a chef wasn’t Paul Wooten’s original plan. “I fought my whole life what I’m supposed to do,” says the Executive Chef at Midtown’s Sweet Lowdown. “But it found me.” Wooten saw restaurant work merely as a way to make money while in college. Ironically, “I didn’t do great in college at all,” he says, “but I’d get done with class and go to my night job and excel there.” Before graduating from the University of North Carolina in Greensboro, Wooten switched majors four times, from film to English to history and finally to hotel restaurant management and institutional management and nutrition. But he consistently worked at restaurants.
The very thing most distracting Wooten from his studies also provided a venue to work with food. “What I did in my early 20s was I’d go for a semester of college and then go see the Grateful Dead on tour,” he says. While following Jerry Garcia, “I’d sell food in the parking lot to make money.” His goal was to sell the best food among his fellow fans. “It’s funny that hippies can be the most arrogant and forthright about their food,” he says. “For a $1 grilled cheese, you’ll get more of an earful from a vegan hippie in a Grateful Dead parking lot than you would get from, say, the Meredith Ford-types. So you want to make sure you’re spot on with your veggie burrito. If you’ve got the freshest ingredients, you’ll do well and you’ll make enough money.” Between college, touring and working in restaurants, Wooten says, “everything seemed to be surrounded by food.”
Wooten’s first restaurant experience was working at Beaufort Grocery Company. “My cooking career developed from the early stage at age 19,” he says. “I grew up in Burlington, North Carolina, which is in the middle of the state, but I would go down to the beach and work the summers there. I was the lunch guy, hosted on weekends, [owner] Charles Park taught me to cut an onion. That’s what enabled me to chase the Grateful Dead around; I always knew I had a job back with them. They were cool; they’d say, â€˜go do your thing, come back here.’ They always supported me.” During the school year in Greensboro, Wooten worked at Just One More, a small French bistro and bakery, and Mud Bugs, a Cajun restaurant. At both, he worked his way up to Executive Chef. “I’d been a Line Cook, Sous Chef, and I knew I was onto something, but I still thought I was kind of fudging my way and needed to go back to college. Finally at 28 or 29 I said, â€˜Screw it. I’m going to the CIA.’”
At the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, Wooten finally embraced his calling. “I loved culinary school,” he says. “I’d seen college as more of a party. It wasn’t until I got to culinary school that I realized I didn’t know anything at all. I thought I did, but my techniques were all wrong. It made me a far better chef, improved my palate.” His path might have been indirect and long, but Wooten has no regrets. “I was glad that I waited. I got way more out of it than those 19-year-old kids. They did not have the same experience that I did. I knew in life what I wanted to do. I spent my 20s having absolute fun, so when I got near 30 I was ready to sit down and work on a career.”
Based on his experience, Wooten endorses the CIA. “It’s good to go work with Master Chefs and get humbled for just a few minutes,” he says. “The instructors are people who really paved the way for the industry. The cool thing about the CIA at the time was that there were 32 Master Chefs in the world and 25 were at my school. I learned how to make pie dough from a Master Baker-that’s the way you want to do it! But it’s strict at the CIA: You can’t have piercings and dress funky.” For Wooten this meant cutting off his long hair.
Lessons on technique extended to management style. “The kitchen is really soft now,” says Wooten. “It’s not like when I was first getting into it; the abuse and the yelling and all that. I have worked for that type of chef: To this day, I hate him with a passion; he was just the meanest guy I ever met. We can’t do that anymore at all.” Wooten attributes the change to lawsuits, a cultural emphasis on political correctness and open kitchens. “Culinary school kind of gives you an insight into that because you’ve got these old chefs who are big French and German guys with massive hands. If you’re late to class, which is the same as being late to work, you’re scared to death and it’s good to some extent.”
As his technique with food evolved, so has Wooten’s managerial skill. You won’t hear yelling in his kitchen. “I yelled over the years, but notnow. I get mad sometimes but I spend so much time with these guys we’re all like brothers. I’ll get stern, but there’s nothing worse than a crying server. I had one last night! He kept messing up and I had to tell him, â€˜Listen, you’re hurting the work I’m trying to do here.’ He took it to heart and started crying, said he was having family problems-oh God, I felt so bad for the guy! But he was going to other people’s tables and sold a dessert that was on special two days ago that we didn’t have anymore. I had to tell him.”
Wooten’s climb to head chef took longer than he’d expected after culinary school. He felt that his previous work experience was too often overlooked. Though he says that finding work at several of New York’s best restaurants, including Tribeca Grill, Restaurant Daniel and Union Pacific, “wasn’t a problem, there were plenty of jobs,” there was a problem: “the amount of pay was terrible. I’d been an Executive Chef at two restaurants before, but the only thing they looked at was that I’d just graduated from culinary school. That hurt me. I thought I’d be making a little more money. I thought I deserved a Sous Chef position right out of school.” After 9/11, Wooten came to realize “I wasn’t a New Yorker. Everyone was coming together, but I was a Southerner. I missed sweet tea, biscuits and a Southern accent.” He started a job search south.
“I picked Atlanta,” he says, after considering a job in St. Johns. “It just happened to work out.” In 2002 he helped open Vinocity Wine Bar and worked his way up to Executive Chef. “I figured if there was a way I could work my way up quicker, it would be joining a staff of five versus [a large corporation]. When you’re 30, you don’t have time to be the pantry guy for two years and move up to line cook.” At Vinocity he met Rodney Wedge. When Wedge opened Sweet Lowdown in November 2006, Wooten joined as Chef de Cuisine and was later named Executive Chef.
The menu at Sweet Lowdown, Wooten says, features “glorified comfort food-very approachable dishes with twists on them.” He’s able to sell country fried steak on Peachtree Street for $25 by using “better ingredients,” such as pounded filet mignon. But he enjoys the challenge of “taking cheaper cuts of meat and showing them off,” which requires an investment of time. “The food we sell here, it’s not that I can come in at 4:00 and have it ready for 5:30 service. I’ve got to stay ahead on it. It’s a lot of braises, a lot of smokes.”
Though Wooten feels at home, among his future goals is one day owning his own restaurant on the beach. “I want to cook in sandals,” he says. “I love Atlanta, but I want to surf all day and cook at night.”
Until then, he’s content working for others. “I’m not one to be a big showoff,” he says. “I just like to come in and work hard and I guess it gets noticed. I’ve just been lucky. I mean it’s been some hard work, but also luck.”