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The Story Inside the Seed

Wednesday, October 14th, 2015

Heirloom fruits and vegetables are on the rise

HeirloomTomatoesBy Alexander Gagnon

Heirloom vegetables are currently becoming a standard of local menus all across Georgia, but what exactly are heirloom vegetables and why are they in such high demand from local farmers?

The current culinary scene is focusing on a return to the roots of cooking and enjoying the culture and history behind the produce. Tis the season for heirloom vegetables, but many people might not know exactly why or how these vegetables have come to claim the distinguished title of “heirloom”

An heirloom plant is a very specific variety that has a history of being passed down within a community or family. Think of these plants as your great-grandmother’s favorite jewelry, passed down your family tree, having both financial and sentimental value and given to those who truly appreciate them. These historic plants are exactly the same concept. Farmers have been passing down these seeds for generations, not only for their own enjoyment but for the masses.

Heirloom vegetables, most commonly associated with tomatoes, are a part of our country’s agricultural history. To obtain the prestigious title of heirloom, the vegetable’s seeds must have been raised from seeds that are at least 50 years old. These seeds are chosen very carefully and are picked based on color, texture and most importantly flavor.

Only the absolute best seeds get passed down year after year. Having worked in kitchens that purchase only locally grown vegetables, we have often been asked to save the remaining seeds for the farmer for use the following season, which creates a kitchen culture that respects and appreciates the history inside of every vegetable.

Heirloom plants are usually grown on a small scale that uses traditional farming techniques, which is perfect for the local farms that are scattered all across the state. Unlike most conventional farming methods that rely on controlled pollination for a specific result, heirlooms must go through the process of open pollination, which is the process of pollinating a plant with the use of natural methods like insects, birds and wind.

Open pollination creates no control on the movement of pollen between the individual plants, which allows the plants to create different variations of the species and helps the plant slowly adapt to the local growing conditions. Farmers must be careful when planting these open-pollinated vegetables because if the pollen is shared between different varieties of the same vegetable, it could create an undesired result and loss of history.

There is so much information out there about heirloom vegetables, it can be very informative, yet utterly confusing. Marla Adams, an Atlanta chef who has been a part of the city’s culinary scene since the early ’90s, and fellow chef Justin Kurtz helped shed some light on the subject.

Chef Marla AMarla Adamsdams is currently both the executive chef and owner of Babette’s Café, which allows her to cook food she deems important enough to share with the local community. As the surrounding intown neighborhood changed over the past few decades, so, too, did her clientele, and she had to adapt her menu for the ever-changing standards of culinary scene.

She never expected to own a fine dining restaurant and had to scale up the interior and menu to meet the demands of her guests and the local scene. She couldn’t be happier with the decisions she has made. The upscale, farmhouse feel of her restaurant can be noticed as soon as you enter the converted cottage.

Chef Justin Kurtz is a new addition to the staff of Babette’s Café, having worked in the industry for more than 15 years. He spent 10 years at the Ritz Carlton, working his way through the kitchen as Chef de Cuisine and Chef de Partie. Before arriving at Babette’s, he most recently served as Executive Chef of Concentrics Restaurant’s Lobby Bar & Bistro in Midtown Atlanta. With his knowledge and culinary experience, things at Babette’s Café are sure to be headed in the right direction.

“People expect more than they used to,” he says “They are excited about the food and are demanding to know where it comes from.”

According to Adams, heirloom vegetables have become increasingly more popular over the years. “The popularity of heirloom tomatoes are creating an extremely high demand for local farmers and in turn creating a very competitive market for acquiring a consistent supply of these vegetables,” she says.

This summer, Babette’s CaféBabettes Cafe’s menu featured their most popular small plate, the Heirloom Tomato Salad. This delicious salad consists of locally grown heirloom cherry tomatoes, crisp cucumbers and a subtle yet flavorful basil vinaigrette.

“It is important to highlight the flavor of the tomatoes and not overpower them with too many ingredients,” she says. “Sometimes it is better to keep it simple.”

Babette’s Café describes its cuisine as “Rustic European. Simply.” Between Chef Adams and Chef Kurtz, they have expertly achieved this goal by taking advantage of the ingredients grown around them.

The next time you are walking around your local farmers market and see an heirloom vegetable, take the time to ask the farmer about the story inside of the seed, where it came from and how it came to them. By learning more about the food that we enjoy in our favorite local restaurants, we are creating a knowledgeable culture that will help protect these traditions that have been passed down through the generations.

Without the tireless work from our local chefs and farmers, these techniques could have been forgotten in our big-box consumer society. It is our responsibility as patrons of these establishments to stay supportive of the labor of love happening from farm to table.


Atlanta’s Charcuterie Scene- Inside the Trend

Tuesday, August 25th, 2015

The Resaltwood menusurrection of Charcuterie

By Alexander Gagnon

Charcuterie is a French term used to describe the painstaking process of curing meats and it has recently become the spotlight on local menus all across Georgia. Many of the state’s local chefs are facing this challenge head on, using their skills and ingenuity to create new flavors with the use of charcuterie.

The most common presentation of charcuterie is the charcuterie board. These expertly crafted house-cured meat appetizers are often plated on large wooden boards that showcase a wide variety of different meats, pickles and preserves. This trend is rapidly reviving a culinary movement that originated thousands of years ago. In Atlanta and elsewhere across the state, chefs are embracing the fundamentals of cuisine and going back to the basics to bring an ancient tradition back to the table.

The Roman Empire was the first documented civilization to experiment with curing meats, and they are often considered the founders of charcuterie. Hundreds of years later, the French elevated charcuterie from an essential food medium into a revolutionary culinary art form. They popularized individually owned prepared-meat shops called charcuteries. Neighborhood charcuteries quickly became a part of everyday life for the middle-class citizen. One by one, charcuteries were opening all across France, each one striving to produce something deliciously innovative in their field.

The French passion for charcuterie was fueled by an extremely competitive market that lead to the creation of a wide array of new meat products, such as various types of sausages, pâtés, terrines, rillettes and countless other cured products. Soon these charcuterie practices spread throughout Europe and were interpreted by other cultures, giving us modern-day favorites such as the iconic Italian Genoa Salami and the bold-flavored German Currywurst.

Understanding the history of charcuterie is important to properly appreciate what is taking place in our own backyard. I wanted to find out more about the rapidly expanding popularity of the charcuterie scene, so I sought out the help of two local chefs who are both well known for their production and use of charcuterie.

Olivier Gaupin is the ExChef Olivier Gaupinecutive Chef of Saltwood, the highly anticipated restaurant that opened this spring in the Loews Hotel Atlanta. Chef Olivier is originally from Orleans, France, and he earned his culinary degree from France’s esteemed CFA Charles Peguy School. He is also one of four chefs in Georgia who can claim the title of Maitre Cuisinier de France, one of the highest honors a chef can achieve. These Master Chefs, which include many of the world’s top toques, vow to preserve, advance and perpetuate the tradition of great French cuisine.

Chef Gauipin’s first experiences with charcuterie began as a child in France where he would help his mother craft delicious pâtés and terrines in their family’s kitchen.

“Charcuterie is a part of everyday life in France,” says Gaupin, “It has been part of the culture for hundreds of years. Every local market has a section dedicated to charcuterie, and it is eaten on a daily basis. Handcrafted charcuterie and cheeses – there is nothing better than that. ”

At Saltwood in Midtown Atlanta, Gaupin crafted the menu around the concept of small, shareable plates that highlight local Georgia meats and produce using classic European techniques. Saltwood’s menu is described as charcuterie-driven and will feature both housemade charcuterie and products from other local chefs.

“Charcuterie is such a creative element, everyone does something different. We will be making items such as pâtés, foie gras, terrines and sausages all in house, but we will also use other local products from places such as The Spotted Trotter and Benton’s,” he says. “I really respect the hard work of other local chefs, and that is why I will showcase their charcuterie on our menu as well.”

The restaurant contains a stunning white marble charcuterie bar that is fully equipped with a beautiful manual prosciutto slicer. This one-of-a-kind bar will create an informative and visually intriguing experience for the guest. Saltwood’s versatile floor plan will offer many different dining experiences depending on the guests needs, from a quick lunch with friends to a large party in their private event space.

Located just a few minutes south of Midtown is the historic Old Fourth Ward district. This culture-rich area will be home to one of Atlanta’s most anticipated new restaurants, an establishment that is years in the making, Staplehouse. I had the pleasure to sit down with Staplehouse’s Executive Chef Ryan Smith to speak about the intriguing process of new restaurant menu development. Ryan Smith is well known in Atlanta’s culinary scene for his work as Executive Chef of Empire State South and his knowledge of all things charcuterie.

Ryan Smith  Chef Smith first experienced charcuterie more than 10 years ago while residing in Ithaca, N.Y., where he attended The Culinary Institute of America. He would fire up the Kitchen-Aid and craft different terrines and pâtés in his apartment, experimenting with new ideas and techniques. “There was a lot to learn,” he recalls. “School only taught the basics of charcuterie. I had to learn by trial and error.” Over the years, Smith’s passion and dedication to creating new cuisine has not changed, although today, diners are much more open to trying new foods than even a decade ago.

“Atlanta’s culinary scene is providing us with the right clientele to test the limits of charcuterie,” Smith says. “Staplehouse will provide the perfect venue to present these new ideas in a neighborhood setting.”

Staplehouse’s menu will take a refined approach to the use of charcuterie, not merely displaying different meats on their own but incorporating them in creative new ways. Smith’s experiences as Pastry Chef of Empire State South has inspired him to craft English-style meat pies using local and housemade charcuterie to create a modern twist on the traditional dish. Other menu items include the highly anticipated double-skinned crispy buffalo wings and many other elegant twists on modern favorites.

“Working with charcuterie is a difficult and time-consuming process, but that is why it is so rewarding,” he says. “Slicing into a country ham that has been aged for two years and finally being able to taste the complex flavor you created makes it all worth it.”

With restaurants such as Saltwood and Staplehouse opening their doors all around the city, it is no wonder Atlanta’s culinary scene is continuing to thrive. These two establishments are revolutionizing charcuterie by taking a step back to embrace an ancient tradition that has become the newest trend in farm-to-table dining. Atlanta’s charcuterie scene is still a relatively new concept and I look forward to seeing what Atlanta best chefs have in store for the resurrection of charcuterie.


Modern Day Pickling

Tuesday, May 26th, 2015

By Alexander Gagnon

From Restaurant INFORMER, Vol. 4, Issue 7

Terry Koval - Wrecking Bar The Atlanta culinary scene is constantly evolving, with the hard work from local chefs working tirelessly to create something new and innovative in a flourishing market. But what if that something new was something from the past?

When you hear the word pickling, it might conjure up images of your grandmother slaving away over a hot stove, creating brines, sanitizing jars and letting them cool in various places around the house. But this isn’t your grandmother’s pickling. Today’s pickling ups the ante in quantity and the types of foods being preserved.

I had the pleasure to sit down with two of Atlanta’s local chefs who are revolutionizing pickling and preserving in the creative culinary scene of Atlanta, making pickling cool again.

Terry Koval is the Executive Chef of Wrecking Bar Brewpub in Atlanta’s Little 5 Points, and he is personally leading the pickling program to preserve local fruits and vegetables for use all year round. Koval’s passion for preserving food began as a child watching his mother pickle hundreds of jars of vegetables from their family garden. He would watch the time-consuming process as his mother pickled homegrown tomatoes, okra and swiss chard only to be able to enjoy them months later. Koval was always intrigued by this process, but it wasn’t until he helped open Farm Burger Decatur as Executive Chef back in 2010 that he was able to begin pickling for the masses.

Last year the Wrecking Bar preserved more than 350 jars of fresh local produce that have since been used to create unique dishes that highlight out-of-season fruits and vegetables in very nontraditional ways. For example, Wrecking Bar’s Beef Heart Tartare appetizer combines freshly ground beef heart with preserved Woodland Garden’s strawberries, which provides a welcome sweetness to the well-seasoned beef heart.

Pickling on the menu was not always as well received as it is now. Upon Koval’s arrival at the Wrecking Bar in 2012, he offered a Homemade Pimento and Local Pickle appetizer. “Guests would eat the Pimento cheese but leave the pickled vegetables behind,” he says. But to get people on board, he found it’s all about informing the guest about where their food comes from and getting them excited about the culture behind it.

Koval believes that with a strong pickling program and a bit of passion, a restaurant can eliminate food waste as well as help the community by being able to display local farmers’ hard work all year round.

“If a farmer walks into the Wrecking Bar with 50 pounds of okra toward the end of the season that he needs to sell, I will buy all of it and pickle at least half to use months later, which helps support local farmers and expand our menu,”Koval says. With plans to pickle even more produce this season, the Wrecking Bar recently purchased 15 acres of farmland in Snellville only 30 minutes from the restaurant. The team will build an offsite brewery and industrial kitchen on the land to be one step closer to becoming a self-sustaining restaurant.

Nick MelvinTerry Koval is not the only chef in Atlanta who is choosing to embrace a past family tradition. Nick Melvin is Executive Chef of Venkmans (opening soon in Old Fourth Ward neighborhood) and owner of Doux South Pickling Company in Decatur. I was fortunate enough to speak with Melvin at Doux South on a day that they had just finished pickling 900lbs of their famous Mean Green Tomatoes.

Melvin founded Doux South two and a half years ago with a dream of providing deliciously pickled vegetables to the local community. “I had a picture in my head of kids walking around snacking on a jar of Honey Kissed Harukei Turnips and just went with it,”he says.

Melvin grew up in New Orleans watching his mother pickle vegetables from their family garden and remembers helping her in the kitchen at a young age. He later went on to work at one of New Orleans’ best restaurants, Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse, which expanded his pickling knowledge.

“We did a lot of pickling at Brennan’s, from pickled pigs feet to pickled fish,” he says.”It was really exciting to combine fatty meats with an acid to create an entirely new flavor.”

Melvin is always seeking to capture new flavors in his pickling recipes and is hoping to use his upcoming restaurant, Venkman’s, as a test kitchen for new pickling ideas. “It’s easier to tell how a product is received in a restaurant rather than distributing and waiting to see how a product sells,” he says.Pickling Ingredients

Melvin contributes much of his success to the current culinary scene in Atlanta, which he describes as a culinary movement filled with a younger, more creative generation of chefs. He believes that Atlanta provided him with the proper clientele and local produce to be able to make his dream of owning his own pickling company a reality.

Doux South has grown substantially since it first opened its doors. The company now distributes its organic pickled vegetables to more than 40 states and use more than 800 gallons of vinegar a month. With the use of local produce, Melvin is able to support local farms and spread Atlanta’s culinary movement around the country.

One thing that I thought was interesting about my conversation with Melvin was his encouragement to use the entire jar of pickles, brine and all.

“Our brines are strong enough to pickle at least two or three more times after purchasing,” he says. “After you finish a jar of Drunken Tomatoes, slice up some kohlrabi and put it in the jar to create an entirely new pickle.”

Melvin has created his pickled vegetables to provide a zero-waste product that expands the boundaries of traditional pickling. Doux South is at the vanguard of the pickling scene in Atlanta, and he hopes to continue to educate people about the once-dying art of pickling.

These two chefs are just a few in Atlanta’s culinary scene to preserve fruits and vegetables in an effort to be more economical, minimize waste and support local farms.

“You have to give back to the community, and the best way to do that is through your food,” Koval says.

With so many exciting things happening in Atlanta’s culinary movement, sometimes taking a step back to visit old traditions is the best way to create something new.

10 Easy Steps to Pickling

The process of pickling can seem daunting if you’ve never done it before, but it’s really pretty simple. Use these 10 steps from Doux South’s Nick Melvin, and you’ll be preserving your local bounty in no time.

Step 1: Clean and wash the vegetables or item being pickled.

Step 2: Cut the vegetables to desired shape.

Step 3: Clean and sanitize jars by fully emerging them in boiling water for 15 minutes.

Step 4: Fill jars with aromatics.

Step 5: Place vegetables in jars.

Step 6: Heat brine to 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

Step 7: Pour brine over vegetables.

Step 8: Place lids on jars.

Step 9: Place in 200 degree Fahrenheit water bath until the internal temperature of the jar is 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

Step 10: Carefully pull jars out of water bath and place the jars upside down to allow the jar to properly seal.

Alexander Gagnons restaurant experience includes both time working the front of the house and in the kitchen. He currently works as the Garde Manger at the Wrecking Bar Brewpub in Atlanta. Alexander graduated from Georgia Sate University with a degree in english and creative writing. As a contributor to Restaurant INFORMER, he is excited to be combining two of his passions, food and writing.


Chef Doug Turbush Shares Insights on Food Culture, Locale, Management and a New Venture, Stem Wine Bar

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

By Christy Simo

Like many chefs, Doug Turbush got his start working in a restaurant as a teenager. But he hated it – at the time. Still, it was all he knew and his parents insisted he go to college, so he got a bachelor’s degree in Hospitality and Tourism Management from the University of Wisconsin. While there, he took a cooking class as one of the restaurant management courses and discovered that he actually loved cooking, especially the discipline and organization of it.

He graduated with honors from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., did a stint in Minneapolis at Stephen Pyles’ restaurant Goodfellows, and spent a year traveling around Thailand cooking. He joined Buckhead Life Restaurant Group in 1999 as chef de tournant at Nava under Chef Kevin Rathbun, where he was eventually promoted to Executive Chef. In 2005, he became Executive Chef at Bluepointe. He opened Seed Kitchen & Bar in East Cobb County in 2011.

This fall, Turbush and his team are opening up Stem Wine Bar next door to Seed. Currently at 170 seats, Seed is also expanding its private dining room to seat up to 24.

Recently, Restaurant INFORMER had a chance to catch up with Chef Turbush and get his insights on food culture, restaurant locales, management style and more:

As a chef, what inspires you?

Travel, really. I got to live in Thailand for a year. That was a pretty amazing experience, being able to completely embrace an entirely different culture, and a culture that’s really a food culture. So I like to go to countries where food is the culture. I just got back from Spain, and really that’s just so different from what we have here.

How would you describe your cooking style?

Bold flavors. Obviously we’re driven by local ingredients, and I’m pretty diverse. I don’t like to put a lot of boundaries on it. That’s kind of why I ultimately opened my own place.

What would you say is the best advice or tip you’ve received?

Great service begins and ends in the kitchen. You have to bear that responsibility as a chef. You can have the greatest general manager out there and willing customers, but if the timing isn’t right in the kitchen, you’re never going to have great service.

As a chef, what’s your philosophy as far as managing people in the kitchen?

Seed is a lot busier than I thought it would be. We’ve got a lot of young kids in here, which is something I’m not used to and didn’t expect, but we start them in the prep kitchen, and they earn their stripes and move their way through the salad station.

We’re still learning our management style up here –  it’s different than Buckhead. There, you had a whole pool of talented cooks to choose from. If you lost one, you just asked a buddy to bring their buddy, and that was that.

We treat them fairly and we provide a great opportunity to learn here. We’re working closely with culinary schools, and it’s been great. Mostly local schools, but we’ve had one or two from the CIA in New York. But mainly we’re working Le Cordon Bleu, and Chattahoochee Tech is right down the street here.

How is running the restaurant in East Cobb different than running a restaurant in Buckhead?

Well you get to go to bed earlier (laughs). It clears out around 9 p.m., 9:30 every night. We always have a great lunch business – everyone comes at lunch. East Cobb never really had a restaurant that they embraced that did the upscale-casual thing, and they’ve embraced us. I couldn’t ask for anything more.

I’ve lived here 13 or 14 years now. Me and my wife, we’d go out, we’d say, “Where are we going to go out to eat tonight?” And we’d end up staying in and cooking; we never really went anywhere. We didn’t want to drive in town, so what else where we going to do? So I put a lot of thought into what this market might want. So far, so good.

What made you decide to ultimately open a restaurant in that area?

I was tired of the commute to Buckhead. I was tired of the Buckhead scene. I really wanted to open a restaurant of my own. It made sense from a quality-of-life standpoint to do something close to home. But mainly the No. 1 trigger was… I was always looking at the Johnson Ferry corridor. That’s where it is, and that’s where you need to be. And literally, the day I saw the Whole Foods sign go up, I thought, well, they’ve got millions of dollars of market research already done for me, and that’s the client I want – the guy who goes into Whole Foods three times a week. So that’s really what pushed me.

Before opening Seed, you were at Bluepointe. What are some things that are different running a restaurant on your own than when you were working for a restaurant group?

There are a lot of things you don’t see that you quickly discover. You go from being the guy who runs the kitchen to being the guy that these 49 employees are looking to for answers and guidance. Bluepointe had 25 cooks and that was a big responsibility, but it has doubled. So that’s been interesting, but it’s been awesome.

How did you end up financing the restaurant?

That is and was the biggest obstacle. I’ve had years of experience cooking and knew I wanted to do it, but I always figured I had to go find some rich investor to do the thing. But I started digging into SBA [Small Business Administration] stuff. I started going to the SBA downtown. There’s guidance there, and that guidance helps a lot.

The organization that helped me a lot was the Small Business Development Center in Kennesaw. I had already developed a business plan, but they sat down with it and said, “Well, these look OK, but let us give you something that’s going to really help you.” So they gave me P&Ls [Profit and Loss statements] – I had P&Ls already done, but they took it down to the month for three years. And they did it for free – well, I guess I pay tax money, but they provided me with CPA-looking documents that I could take to the bank at no cost.

So that was the biggest catapult that got me some real attention from some banks in what was a pretty terrible economy when I was trying to do this. But they [the banks] really took me seriously once I had a serious set of numbers for them to look at. I ended up getting a half-million dollar loan to do this. So we got some landlords, an influx of money. I gathered up the $100,000 down payment from what I’d saved and from my family.

What were some of the other challenges in opening a new restaurant?

There are daily challenges. A start-up… what I didn’t know is the whole SBA thing. I knew they [the SBA] were there, but I didn’t think it was for the average Joe. But they really are out there just to help the economy. I remember standing in front of the Cobb County board and them asking how many employees we were going to have, and I said,  25. And they said “Oh that’s great!” and now here I am with double that number.

Tell me a little bit about your new wine bar.

It’s called Stem Wine Bar. It’s right next door [to Seed]. It’s actually connected to the space. It’s about 40 seats. It’s European small plates, local charcuterie, artisan cheeses. It’s got about a dozen different small plates on the menu, about 41 wines by the glass, 70 or 80 wines total. We’ve discovered there is a wine-drinker market here in East Cobb, and we wanted to give them a new experience.

What made you want to locate it immediately next door to Seed?

There was an empty piece of real estate right next to me, so that was part of the reason. I didn’t want anyone else to take it. But it made a lot of sense for a lot of reasons. Now we don’t have to build another production kitchen, and you can draw from staff who’s already here. Seed was attracting a lot of people. They’re going to find out about Stem because it’s right next door; if we were down the street, not necessarily. I have a great management team, and we have a great passion for wine and paring food and wine. It was the logical next concept for us.

Stem shares a kitchen with Seed?

Yes. We’ll do some production in this kitchen, but Stem does have its own little kitchen, mainly just for service.

What’s the one item you must have in your kitchen?

I always have six or seven different soy sauces. People are always asking me what the differences are between them and how to use them. So I think that’s what I have to have.

What would you say is your favorite restaurant in Georgia outside of your own?

Probably Rathbun’s. That’s kind of where we frequent. He was a big mentor of mine.

Who is the most inspirational person in the restaurant world?

I like Danny Meyer. He’s obviously a successful restaurateur in New York, and I just love his approach. I read his book [Setting the Table] and love his approach to running a business. He’s very careful, and his expansion (his second concept) took him 17 years to open. It took me only 17 months, so I’m not really following his advice (laughs). But just the focus he puts on the quality of the product and the quality of the service that’s being delivered — it’s an inspiration.

What’s your favorite thing about the restaurant industry?

The hours. No, just joking. Every day is a blank slate, and you really don’t know what you’re getting into. You’re either built for that or you’re not. I kind of enjoy it and thrive off it.

If you could decide your last meal, what would it be?

I’d do something simple like a nice rib-eye and a good Cab.


ACF Helps Fund Program for Nutritionally At-Risk Children

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

One of the most compelling, desperately needed and satisfying programs that the ACF Greater Atlanta Chapter has been involved in is TOT’S Kitchen and More.

Four years ago, the ACF Atlanta Chapter was introduced to instructor Marie Johnson, who understood from very personal experiences what it meant to be a child growing up hungry. Raised in a very poor family in Jamaica, Marie often wondered where her next meal would come from. After moving to Atlanta as an adult, Marie began to see children who were nutritionally at risk. From her unbelievably big heart and pure love of children, TOT’s Kitchen and More began.

With little to no backing, Marie began going into schools teaching children about food and giving them a chance to have hands-on experience with food preparation. A long-time ACF Atlanta chef member brought Marie’s program and needs before the chapter’s Board of Directors. Seeing the value in what Marie was trying to accomplish, the ACF Greater Atlanta Chapter began helping TOT’s Kitchen financially and hands-on in the classroom with Marie.

A year and a half ago, a new need arose. Teachers noticed children came to school on Mondays hurrying to the breakfast line. Upon investigation it was found out that these children virtually had nothing to eat all weekend. Out of this was birthed the Snackpack Program. Bags are filled with nutritious food and snacks and sent home with children on Fridays after school to those who qualify for the truly heartfelt program. The program started with 72 children and is now sending more than 200 Snackpacks home each weekend.

Throughout the summer, chefs and students from the chapter began signing up for the newest leg to the program. Last September, chef and student teams took over one of Marie’s schools in south Atlanta. Going in on Tuesdays, the teams teach the nutrition class, thus giving Marie the opportunity to add another school to her ever-growing program reaching even more nutritionally at-risk children.

Due to generous donations from partners, suppliers and chef members, the ACF Greater Atlanta Chapter has been able to raise thousands of dollars to help educate and feed Atlanta’s seriously needy children. Plans are in place to keep this program moving forward and growing and to give much-needed continued support to Marie & TOT’S Kitchen.


Atlanta Team Wins Inaugural Cochon Heritage BBQ Festival

Monday, September 17th, 2012

Chef Jay Swift of 4th & Swift, Todd Mussman of Muss & Turners/Local Three, Nick Melvin, and Tommy Searcy of Gum Creek Farms brought home the winning title at the inaugural Cochon Heritage BBQ festival, a three-day celebration of Heritage Breed pork, fine dining, national bourbon month and some of the country’s best BBQ. The festival took place over Labor Day weekend in Memphis, Tenn.

The four team members are well acquainted through the Atlanta restaurant/food scene. Jay Swift and Todd Mussman worked together at South City Kitchen, where Mussman served as sous chef while Swift was executive chef there. Both Swift and Mussman buy pork from Tommy Searcy. Nick Melvin — who has worked at Rosebud and Empire State South and now plans to open his new restaurant The Garden District soon— was introduced to the rest of the group by his friend Todd Mussman.

The team met several times in advance of the event to write their menu and prep for the competition. Some of their winning dishes included the “Memphis State Fair Sandwich,” a Hawaiian-roll grilled pork loin slider with lard aioli and broccoli chow-chow, and the Pig Head Gumbo served with Cajun deep-fried rice balls.


From Staff Turnover to the Obesity Epidemic, Every Restaurant Faces Challenges in Making a Profit

Friday, July 27th, 2012

By Christy Simo

Staffing and turnover, fighting this country’s obesity epidemic and getting good local proteins. These are the challenges your kitchen is facing. As part of the Georgia Restaurant Association’s Annual Meeting in June, five of the state’s top chefs, along with a friendly face from Birmingham, sat down to talk with attendees about the challenges and successes they have faced over the past few years.

No matter the size of your restaurant, a high turnover can affect everything from the quality of the food prepared to how your customers enjoy their dining experience. These chefs are not exempt from this struggle, but they have found several ways
to combat a high turnover rate.

In fact, most of them see turnover because their kitchens are great resume builders.

“Staff comes and they’re eager, and they want to be there, but they want to be there for a year or two. We have incredible talent come through, and sometimes they leave,” says Anne Quatrano, chef/co-owner of Bacchanalia, Floataway Cafe, Star Provisions and Abattoir, all in the Atlanta area. “Times can be tough that way, but in the end someone’s going to rise up, and it will be a good person.”

Linton Hopkins, chef and owner of Restaurant Eugene and Holeman & Finch, along with H&F Bottleshop and H&F Bread Co., agrees.

“One of the hardest things is hiring a sous chef who is not from within. In fact, I don’t ever hire a new sous chef [outside the kitchen]. It’s sort of like baseball. We use a farm system to train up through the ranks and offer opportunity. You’re able  to build trust,” he says. “Training from within has been one of the biggest things we’ve done.”

The challenge for everybody, no matter what kind of restaurant you own, is how to profit, especially in these times of rising food costs.

“To me, it’s how you do balance running the business you want to run and, idealistically, what you’ve always dreamed of, with the food you’ve always dreamed of and the people you’ve always dreamed of and giving them the opportunities, with how do I make money doing it?,” says Chris Hall, co-owner and chef at Local Three. “We’ve all made the decision that this is the quality I’m going to serve. We are going to do this by hand, we’re going to do it the right way with hospitality, and love, and service and care. If I’ve made my decision to operate at this kind of level, how do I make money?”

Despite rising food costs, it’s clear that the farm-to-table movement and public demand for local, seasonal food is here to stay.

“There is such a proliferation of farmers markets. A few years ago there were less than 10 in Georgia, and now there’s more than 200. It’s pretty amazing,” Hopkins says. “So no matter where you live and work in Georgia, you have access to quality local produce.”

He notes that last year, Peachtree Farmers Market in Atlanta made $4.5 million through its 60 vendors, generating a $12 million local economic impact. Farmers markets are clearly more than just a passing trend.

“I don’t think we’ve really seen the farm to table movement at its peak yet, far from it, from the public’s perspective,” says Ron Eyester, chef/owner of Rosebud and The Family Dog. “People finally understand cooking and eating within the seasons. They finally realize, ‘I should not eat a tomato in December, and I’m OK with that.’ I think cooking and eating with the seasons is going to continue to build momentum, and obviously that’s going to dictate more buying from local sources and a greater awareness of them.”

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges in the state of Georgia is about finding good local proteins.

“I just wish there was a way we could embrace the local proteins and still be able to stay in business,” says Quatrano.“That’s been a struggle for all of us. We’ve got great produce– somebody just brought me 150 pounds of blueberries on Saturday for $3 a pound that I put in our freezer. What we are really struggling with in this state is the local pasture-raised poultry, for lamb, for veal, even rabbits that are humanely raised.”

Todd Mussman of Muss & Turners, Local Three and Eleanor’s, agrees.

“One of my biggest issues is instead of finding local pork or local poultry, it’s finding the processors to do it right, the farmers to get it to us at a reasonable price,” he says. “If we had a centralized place where these farmers could bring their animals and just drop them, have them taken care of, delivered, butchered to the chef’s specs – it sounds like a fantasy, but I think it’s something that can be done.”

“In terms of the big tenets of food movement today, you look at the farm to table, it’s created a very important, probably the most important conversation in our generation about food supply. How do we create food supplies that are healthy and available to all? There’s been a tremendous amount of discussion about that,” says Chris Hastings, executive chef and owner of Hot & Hot Fish Club in Birmingham. “It’s good because we obviously have a lot of health issues in this country around food and our unhealthy relationship with food and processed foods.”

“Obesity is a huge issue in our world today, and it’s easy to turn and say fast food did that, but it’s all about what you put into your body,” Mussman says. “We have a responsibility as chefs to provide healthy food. We have to do the right thing and help people eat healthy.”

“How do we create food supplies that are healthier?” asks Hastings. “It starts one community at a time, one farmers market at a time, one CSA at a time.”


Growing the Supply of Pasture Poultry in Georgia

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

By Michael Wall, Communications Director for Georgia Organics

The trend of consumer demand for local, sustainably produced food continues to grow in spite of a downturned economy. “Locally sourced meats” was identified as the No. 1 2012 trend among chefs nationwide, according to the National Restaurant Association.

Consumers and restaurateurs are increasingly looking to connect with the farmers growing their food and to identify authentic food sources that have a face and name beyond a glossy label on the grocery store shelf.

As evidence continues to surface from the medical community and public health advocates linking pesticides, chemicals and antibiotics used to grow food with cancer, consumers are looking to minimize their exposure to harmful environmental toxins. As a result, the United States has seen direct market-to-consumer sales of food and attention to sustainable and organic food sources increase significantly in recent years.

Growing Demand in Georgia

Since 2005, Georgia has seen a 600 percent increase in farmers markets. Organic food sales have grown at a similar clip, with an average annual growth rate of 19 percent from 1997 to 2008, while the rest of the food industry has stagnated and even shrunk.

Conscientious consumers are looking for poultry raised with the same value-based practices as vegetables and other meat, and restaurateurs, who continue to play a critical role in supporting the locally grown and organic food movement, are also seeking sources for a higher-quality chicken product.

Most importantly, farmers are entering this market, integrating poultry production into diverse farm operations, which can enhance the environmental and economic sustainability of their overall operations.

Some of the restaurants where you can currently buy pastured chicken include Bella Cucina, Cakes & Ale, Empire State South, Farm Burger, Farm 255, Five & Ten, Heirloom Café, Miller Union, The National and Yeah! Burger. Many distributors carry it as well, including Buckhead Beef, Halpern’s, Heritage Farm, Destiny Organics, Prime Meats, SYSCO and Darby Farms.

Moreover, a new group called Georgians for Pastured Poultry — made up of Georgia-based farmers, chefs, animal welfare advocates, environmentalists and health professionals — envision a Georgia that has become the leading state in the production and consumption of pasture-raised poultry, where animal welfare, human and environmental health, and farmer and worker well-being are as important as economics in the farming of chickens.

Whole Foods Market (WFM) recently became the first grocery retailer in the state to commit to stocking Georgia-raised pastured poultry. It has firmly stated that the higher-welfare poultry will be available on a daily basis, year round. WFM has committed to purchasing at least 22,000 pastured raised birds (both chickens and turkey) in 2012 and making these available on a daily basis, supply permitting, in all of their southeastern stores.

“Whole Foods Market is deeply committed to supporting Georgia farmers who raise pastured poultry and making pastured chicken and turkey available to our customers. We are proud to support Georgians for Pastured Poultry’s efforts by making this pledge,” says Stephen Corradini, regional vice president of purchasing for WFM’s south region.

The Benefits of Sustainable, Pasture-Based Poultry

Sustainable poultry production means reducing costs and maximizing productivity but also attention to myriad other issues. Large-scale production has led to geographical concentration of birds and their waste products, creating environmental concerns in water and air quality. Consumers have increasing concerns about food safety including food borne pathogens, pesticide residues, additives and antibiotic residues. In addition, nutritional value and production process concerns such as animal welfare, genetically modified organisms, environmental impact, worker safety and social justice are raising eyebrows.

Consumption of chicken meat by Americans has risen by 118 percent between 1970 and 2005, faster than pork or beef. Furthermore, the amount of chicken eaten by Americans now rivals that of beef. In particular, chicken has become much more economical over time. Poultry meat has a low retail cost at the grocery store in part because of the production efficiencies of factory farms.

Pasture-based poultry production provides a stark alternative to the chicken houses that cover Georgia’s rural landscape. The houses, which, according to a University of Georgia study, can contain more than 30,000 birds at capacity (in a 50’ x 500’ house), offer little or no access to the outdoors.

In contrast, pastured birds are raised with an all-natural diet, are not administered antibiotics or altered physically to survive the unnatural housing conditions of a traditional poultry house, and are often processed on or near the farm where they are raised. Medium- to slow-growing breeds are used. Birds are raised up to 12 weeks of age, and their slaughter (dressed) weight is 3-4 pounds. In addition, farmers are free to raise and sell their birds independently, without the need for contracts with large poultry operations.

There are numerous farmers in every part of Georgia raising pastured poultry. According to Georgia Organics’ database, there are more than 50 pasture poultry farmers of varying size and capacity in the state. Many drive to out-of-state processing facilities that are USDA-inspected to process their birds and return to Georgia to sell. Some process on-farm, even though a confusing regulatory framework arguably prohibits this activity.

Recently, Will Harris, a South Georgia farmer and leader in the sustainable farming movement, opened the first USDA-inspected on-farm poultry processing facility in the state of Georgia.

“Chickens were born to scratch and peck. These are natural instinctive animal behaviors,” says Harris, White Oak Pastures owner and founding member of Georgians for Pastured Poultry. “Unfortunately, industrial commodity livestock production removes costs from meat production systems by raising animals in mono-cultural confinement systems that do not allow these instinctive behaviors.”

The poultry raised at White Oak Pastures live on USDA Certified Organic pastureland and have constant and total access to the outdoors. They are chemical-free, meaning they are not given growth hormones or synthetic antibiotics. In addition, grass-based production systems are less reliant on external sources of feed, which can destabilize conventional production systems because of drastic feed price fluctuations.

Because of his effort to create a model of sustainable agriculture, Harris and White Oak Pastures have garnered many certifications and accolades, including the 2011 Georgia Restaurant Association Innovator Award, 2011 Winner of Georgia Small Business Person of the Year, 2011 Recipient of Governor’s Environmental Stewardship Award, 2008 Winner of ‘Flavor of Georgia’ food contest, and 2008 Recipient of University of Georgia Award of Excellence.

As the largest private employer in Early County, Ga., the White Oak Pastures business model shows that pastured production methods can be commercially successful alternatives to industrial feedlots.

Advancing Poultry Policy

For four years, Georgia Organics has been working with growers, policy makers, researchers and business consultants to expand opportunities for producers to raise pastured poultry. The organization remains committed to working with key leaders and agencies to advance pastured poultry policies and solutions.

Current on-farm processing policies are obstacles for family farms, and this hurts the entire state’s economy. Restaurants have been some of our strongest allies in bringing more choice to the marketplace to date.

Most other states offer a safe, economically viable option for on-farm processing, and Georgia Organics restaurant members are consistently asking for tips on acquiring pastured poultry from local farms. Our research has shown that pastured poultry can create jobs and strengthen and rebuild rural communities and economies, uniting, if you will, the two Georgias: rural and urban Georgia.

We’re currently advocating for changes in policy to free up the market. We’d need a federal exemption status or new policies from the Georgia Department of Agriculture to provide small farms a safe, economically viable option for on-farm processing.

Perhaps the establishment of a fixed and/or mobile processing facility would fulfill the need. Georgia Organics is currently working on a feasibility study to determine which would be more ideal.

The mission of Georgia Organics is to connect organic food from Georgia farms to Georgia families. To learn more, visit or call (678) 702-0400.


Chef Guy Owen

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

Chef and co-owner of The Blue Bicycle in Dawsonville

By Christy Simo


Guy Owens took a serpentine path to where he is now, as chef and co-owner of Dawsonville’s The Blue Bicycle with his wife, Kati. He started out as a heating and air conditioning unit designer for commercial properties, then decided to follow his passion and cook. After his first job at The Abbey in Atlanta, followed by more than 10 years working for Futren Corporation in private country club restaurants, the space for The Blue Bicycle became available. Tucked away behind the North Georgia Premium Outlets in Dawsonville, the restaurant opened in 2005.

Tell me a little bit about your restaurant, The Blue Bicycle.
It was a life-long dream to have my own place, like most chefs. This little place used to be an Italian restaurant, a mom-and-pop red sauce kind of place. They were retiring and were looking for someone to take it over, so we did. We call it a bistro. We started out with what we thought we wanted it to be, but pretty soon we found out that the customers wanted something else, and they’ve kind of dictated what we’ve become. We’ve evolved from doing real casual kind of food to a little more upscale. We don’t consider ourselves upscale. We consider ourselves comfortable food. But our clientele thinks of us as fine dining.

So tell me a little bit about yourself and your background before you opened the restaurant.
I spent about 10 years in my 20s and early 30s in an engineering business designing heating and air conditioning systems for commercial buildings. Cooking was more of a hobby, so it was a passion. It was what I loved to do. Somebody actually pointed it out to me one time, she was a grandmother. She said, “You know, God gave you a really good gift, and you’re not using it. You should really rethink what you’re doing.”

I thought about it for a little bit. Because I wasn’t what you would call passionate about designing heating and air conditioning units. It was just a job. So I took the plunge in the late 1980s and saved some money for about a year, then quit my job.

I went to work at The Abbey restaurant down in Atlanta for minimum wage. I got into the American Culinary Federation apprenticeship program, which I thought was a good way to get an education, because you learn so much on the job as opposed to going to culinary school and going into debt.

I was fortunate to have good mentors, and being a little older — I was in my 30s by the time I started this — I understood responsibility and being at work on time, and not staying out all night after work drinking. So I migrated to the top management pretty quickly.

Once I had gotten established as a sous chef and had a good reputation with some of the other chefs around town, it was pretty easy to find a good place to settle in.

So did you always know when you decided to go into the internship program that you wanted to have your own restaurant one day?
Yep. I knew that when I was 14 years old. I just didn’t pursue it at the time. I was kind of discouraged from it by my family. They said, “You won’t make any money doing that!” Because the idea then was you were a cook. The concept of executive chef was pretty far from most people’s minds. The only celebrity chefs in those days were Julia Child and Graham Kerr.

How would you describe your cooking style?
It’s Continental influence with a southern accent. We try to keep things simple. The ingredients list in many recipes, I like to keep to a minimum. I like to let the product speak for itself. I try to choose the highest quality I can get.

We try and shop local as much as we can, but we can’t ignore what our customers want. During the wintertime, I’m forced to buy tomatoes, lettuce, things like that, that I have to import from other parts of the country, because my customers demand it. They’re not satisfied eating canned green beans, even if I put them up myself during the summertime. But we still try to think locally first, then we stretch out from there.

After 5 years in business, we found somebody who can provide us with local, pasture-raised organic chickens. It’s not cheap chicken, but it’s good chicken. It’s a local farm – Joyful Noise Acres Farm. They’re out of Ball Ground, Ga. She delivers birds to us every Wednesday that were alive on Tuesday morning. That’s fresh.

What inspires you as a chef?
I like to eat, and I like to eat out. I like to see what other people are doing, and I like to be challenged.

What is the best advice or tip you ever received?
Probably local and fresh, and get the highest quality ingredients you can get — within your price range of course. I mean, the sky is not the limit. We have to be responsible to our community, and we have to fit into our community.

What is your dream splurge if you could have anything in your restaurant or kitchen?
I would gut my kitchen and I would put in all new sauté range, because we do a lot of sautéing and we only have six burners. And I would probably get an immersion circulator and vacuum seal and do a little bit of sous vide.

What’s the one item you must have in your kitchen?
Other than a sharp knife and a good pan? We work a lot on our Robot Coupe, and of course our KitchenAid mixer.

What’s the one thing you would ban from your kitchen if you could?
Anything I would ban is probably not here, because we’re a pretty small operation.

What is your favorite ingredient?
Probably pig. It’s so versatile. We’re doing osso buco right now but with pork instead of veal. We make terrines and charcuteries, things like that. I make fresh sausage every once in a while, but it’s not something that’s on the menu all the time.

What is your least favorite ingredient?
I’m not a big fan of offal, tripe and stuff like that. Duck liver and chicken liver, I like those. It’s one of those things I used to veer away from that I’ve come to appreciate. But I still can’t get into kidneys and tripe, hearts and lungs and brains. I won’t cook anything that I won’t eat.

What would you say is your favorite restaurant in Georgia outside of the ones you’ve worked at?
I really like Holeman & Finch. And Varasano’s Pizza – I really like what he does with pizza. It’s my passion at home. We make pizza almost every weekend. Chef Varasano has a link to his blog about dough making. I used to think I made pretty good pizza dough, but after following some of his advice and making some alterations, what I read on his blog improved my pizza 100%.

Who would you say is the most influential person to you in the restaurant world?
Probably Frank Stitt over in Birmingham. I haven’t met him, but I’ve dined in his restaurants on several occasions. It’s what I always wanted to do — to focus on regional food — and it’s kind of what I do here. I like the way he is able to elevate southern cuisine. He’s been doing it for so long, and he hasn’t missed a lick yet. His restaurants are really first class.

What would you say is your favorite thing about the restaurant industry overall?
The camaraderie. The teamwork. When I was 14 years old, my first job was working in a restaurant. I just had so much fun with the people that I worked with, and you spend so much time with them. So that’s probably the best part — the friendships that you make.

How is it different working at someone else’s restaurant as a chef vs. owning your own restaurant?
Well I’ve always been good about watching my boss’s nickels, but you watch them even closer when they’re your nickels.

I watch my nickels, but I also try to take care of my staff — pay everybody the best that we can, considering the business and all. I was fortunate when I was working for Futren Corporation that they taught me the business aspect of it. And that’s probably why we’re still in business today, because we’re not doing it strictly from the passion part of it, but we’re watching our dollars. It’s true what they say, that working for yourself is way different than working for somebody else. You resent that guy to some degree who’s got you working on Sunday because it’s Mother’s Day or Easter. Where now if I’m working on Mother’s Day or Easter, it’s my own choice.

What would you say is the most challenging part of being a chef/owner in the restaurant industry?
Staying afloat. Especially in the last year or so, it seems like every time I get an invoice from anybody, the cost of everything just keeps going up. But the pressure on us in the restaurant is to maintain our prices so that people still feel like they’re getting a bargain. And it’s getting harder and harder. We’ve already had to do a menu change and raise prices. And because we waited too long to raise prices, on several items we had to raise them dramatically.

What was the response from your diners when you had to do that?
We’ve had mixed things. Some people say, “Well it’s about time. We understand.” And other people are like, “You’re charging me $19 for this trout that I got two weeks ago for $16!” But prices keep going up. And there are costs built in that [trout] people don’t see. Insurance keeps going up. Every year my lease goes up 3 percent. The more people use credit cards, the more I have to pay the credit card companies.

What is your philosophy as a chef managing people?
Treat everybody with respect. Try not to order people around, but direct them and ask them politely. Use a lot of thank you’s and please’s. And then the golden rule — treat other people like I would want to be treated. Educate the younger people. I ask everybody who comes to work for me in the kitchen, what do you want to be one day? If it’s a line cook and they say, “I just see myself as always being a line cook,” well then, they’re out of the picture. But if someone says “I want to be a chef. I want to be running an operation one day.” Then that’s the one I want.

Education and respect, those are the biggest things in the kitchen. It keeps people motivated. I’ve been fortunate; I’ve had very little kitchen turnover, and I think it’s because I treat people with respect and I try to educate them. Hopefully when they do leave, they go on to something better. They’re not just going across the street because somebody’s going to pay them another 50 cents an hour more.

If you weren’t in the restaurant industry, what do you think you’d be doing?
Laying out on the beach, drinking margaritas (laughs). I really can’t see myself doing anything else at this point except for retiring.

If you could decide your last meal, what would it be?
Probably pizza. Like I said, it’s one of my passions. We don’t bake our own bread here — we don’t have the facilities for that — but I bake all our bread at home, and we make pizzas at home. So my last meal would probably be a fig and blue cheese pizza.


Chef Keira Moritz

Monday, October 17th, 2011

A Southern Chef Comes Home

By Christy Simo

Chef Keira MoritzGeorgia’s big cities may seem to be the hubs of cuisine, but a slew of chefs are opening high-end, fine dining restaurants in smaller towns across the state. Keira Moritz, most recently of Pacci’s in Atlanta, recently moved back to her hometown of Valdosta to open a new restaurant. In September, Steel Magnolias was slated to open in the historic downtown area of Valdosta. Chef Moritz has put her heart and soul into the restaurant, purchasing the building and designing the interior herself. We talked about her new concept, her cooking philosophy and her love of lavender in this month’s Q&A.

Tell me a little bit about yourself and how you came to be a chef.
I was born and raised here in Valdosta. It’s been a decade since I’ve been back. I went through my first college career, then I ended up not knowing what I wanted to do with my life. So I took a job waiting tables at a dude ranch in Wyoming. One day the breakfast cook didn’t show up, and I was like, well, I might not be able to cook anything, but I can cook eggs. So I just cooked breakfast for 150 people. It was a buffet. You just go for it. They were coming one way or the other, and nobody wanted to call the ranch manager. So I ended up behind the grill. They ended up giving me his job and his great cabin. And from there, I jumped to a couple different dude ranches and decided I had found what I really wanted to do, and I should go to culinary school.  I went to Johnson-Wales Charleston followed by Johnston Wales Denver.

What is behind your decision to move back to Valdosta?
The restaurant in Atlanta, Pacci, the property itself was sold. Pacci was a really successful restaurant. I actually looked at the building I bought [in Valdosta] five years ago when it first went up for sale, and I couldn’t afford it then. It was kind of a pipe dream. Then when I was home, I happened to look and it happened to still be for sale five years later. They had rented it out but they still wanted to move the property. I put down a low-ball offer, and dang if he didn’t take it.

In the past 10 years, I’ve moved every 14 to 24 months. For 10 years. And it’s been loads of fun doing that. All the major cities I’ve done. I’ve loved it. But I guess when an opportunity arises, at least for me, to do my own on my own, and renovate it the way I want it, you don’t pass that up.

Steel Magnolias is in downtown Valdosta. We’ve got about 80 seats on the first level, banquet space for 100 on the second. It happened to be a pitched roof. Both of the buildings on either side have no windows on them, and they’re both one story higher than my building, so we’ve put in a rooftop bar. The first rooftop bar in Valdosta.

How would you describe your cooking style?
It’s changed. I landed in an Italian concept right off the bat, and that’s where I pretty much stayed. With this restaurant, I guess I’m doing my own concept. It’s Urban Southern. We’ve got pimento cheese, mac and cheese and grilled cheese. So my style would be comfortable ingredients, easily recognizable and non-confusing.

A lot of downtowns across Georgia are seeing more fine-dining options.
Yea. We have a great downtown area, and it’s beginning to pick up in the downtown. I think in the next five years, this downtown area is just going to completely change. I’m excited to have something to do with that.

What would you say inspires you as a chef?
I like to eat. I think that’s my inspiration. If I found out I had a gluten allergy or Celiac Disease, I don’t know what I would do.

What’s the best advice or tip you’ve ever received?
If you do what’s right, it will never let you down.

What would be your dream splurge if you could have anything in your kitchen or restaurant?
Could I have another hood vent and a bigger kitchen? I’d say size. I believe in functionality. I don’t need too much; I just need everything I have to be functional and get the job done. I’m very simplistic.

What’s the one item you must have in your kitchen?
It’s simple. I really have to have a grill. If I don’t have a grill, it really changes everything on my menu.

What’s the one thing you would ban from your kitchen if you could?
We don’t have radios. We’re there to do business. If you’re focusing on who’s playing in the background, then you’re not focusing on the food in front of you.

So with the new restaurant, will you be working with local farmers down in South Georgia?
Yep. We’ve got some people doing some great venison sausage, we’ve got Sweet Grass Dairy doing all of their items a town over. We’ve got a grass-fed beef company in Madison, Fla., about 45 minutes away. We’ve got a pork place headed out toward Thomasville. So we have a lot of local producers. And we have a lot of unrecognized local producers. I’ve come home to my parent’s house, and my dad is sitting there with venison summer sausage that is made out of venison that he killed. You can’t get much more local. And these people, you drive up their driveway, and they’ve got it all set up. It is some of the most amazing product I’ve ever seen or tasted.

What would you say is your favorite ingredient?
Lavender. That’s my favorite ingredient right now. I make a lavender brown sugar rosemary syrup. It’s so simple, and you don’t know what it is when you put it in your mouth. I’ve never had anyone put their finger on it, because it’s unexpected, and I like the unexpected. It’s a sweet savory note, which I love so much. I’ve got a glazed pork belly served over creamy polenta with the lavender brown sugar syrup. And then I’ve turned that around and done it on my brunch menu – a big hunk of pork belly with the glaze on it with two poached eggs and cheese grits.

What about your least favorite ingredient?
I hate fish fumet. I hate it. Lobster stock — hate it. I use lobster stock, but I don’t really use fish fumet much. I think it comes from having it spilled all over me once, and then I had to walk around the entire day smelling like it. It might slightly make me gag. Every time I’m around it.

What is your favorite restaurant outside the ones you’ve worked at?
There’s a restaurant in Oakland, California called Pizzaiola. I used to live a block from it. I got used to walking over to it and sitting at the bar to have dinner by myself or meeting friends there, and I think they do a fantastic job. The menu changes daily.

In Atlanta, 4th and Swift does a great job. JCT does a great job, and then the one place after my own heart is La Tavola, because they are a small set up and they do what they do well, and it’s consistent. I really appreciate consistent.

What is your favorite thing about the restaurant industry itself?
The amount of love people put into it. If you’re in this business, you’re in it for a reason. If you don’t love it, you shouldn’t be in it. And those who do love it put a lot into it. It’s a lot of work, and you gotta love it. So for people to have that kind of love is pretty impressive.

What is the most challenging part of being a chef in the restaurant industry?
Finding that balance. At my last restaurant, I truly achieved balance. And right off the bat at this restaurant I’ve been really focused on making sure I aim for that balance from the beginning.

How has it been different working at somebody else’s restaurant as a chef vs. owning your own restaurant now?
You know, I’m fully invested. Maybe that’s how it’s different. I’ve worked really hard and did it for so many other people. To be able to give everything that you got to get in the door and be able to do your own, that’s the love that restaurateurs have, right there. Because we could work for other people all our lives, but there’s still that one thing that says, nope, I’m working so that one day I can have my own. Then to be able to do a renovation on a place is insane — insanely fabulous. To see it come along and it be everything you’ve thought about from Day 1 with you saying you wanted to have your own. If you look at that restaurant and you look at me, you will know me. And that’s what’s done me so well in the past is that I’ve had that relationship with not only my guests, but my staff and my team.

What is your philosophy as a chef managing people?
Every place I’ve ever left, I’ve left behind a really great team, and I’ve always hated to leave the team that I have behind. That’s a really tough one, but every time I get to a new place, for some reason I build another great team.

I expect people to work hard. I expect them to enjoy coming to work. And for that I create that environment where we work hard, we take care of each other. We do what’s right. They make decisions on their own, because they’re allowed to make decisions on their own, based on the simple philosophy that I will support you if you do the right thing. I think that goes a long way with people.

Even the hiring process — I have not put a single ad out. Everybody that I’ve hired thus far has been word of mouth. Everybody has different things going on in their lives, and they all have questions about what about this for me, and what about that for me. And I say, you know what? We’re going to take care of that. Everybody here is going to be working hard. You’re going to get to do what you need to do for yourself and your family, and you’re going to be able to do it because so and so is going to do this for you, and you’re going to return the favor when it’s time to return the favor.

It’s funny, because one restaurant I worked for in San Francisco, that team was all family, family, family. And I worked at another restaurant where it was business, business, business. And then my last one really combined both. And it was a really great harmony. So it has to be a great combination of people who are willing to do within those four walls for each other, and care about each other, and work hard and enjoy working with each other. It’s mutual respect.

If you weren’t in the restaurant industry, what do you think you’d be doing?
I would be an architect or designer. I can put it together in my head and can see it. And I’ve had a great time designing this restaurant. I don’t have a designer. It’s me putting it together, and it’s going to be a really pretty place. If I could do that for a living, that could be my next life, for sure.

If you could decide your last meal, what would it be?
Fried chicken. I would probably have some fried chicken, mashed potatoes and peas. And cherry pie for dessert.

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