I am not a trained chef. My time at school was spent studying art. My culinary experience came the old fashioned way, in mom’s kitchen. I grew up on a farm, far from the conveniences of a grocery store and a pizza delivery service. Our produce section was called the garden, and our butcher was a freezer filled with paper wrapped packages of venison or beef that we either butchered ourselves or bought from a friend who did the same. I never attended a class to learn the proper terms or techniques. Mom said cut this onion, so I did. Technique was and still is of little concern, and our tools are still very basic. You could call my style “rustic.”
Luckily for me, I think I’ve come into this game at just the right time. Following in the footsteps of some real rebels, I enter the kitchen with a little more confidence….
a little… and growing.
But if we’re being truthful here, I’m afraid a lot, often.
The 80’s were filled with shoulder pads, loafers and classically trained chefs preparing technically perfect food. Paper doily’s, parsley and mint leaves were garnish enough because the real show was flawless execution. Enter the grunge rockers of the 90’s, and suddenly the kitchen was filled with tattooed rule breakers. Tradition was out, deconstruction was in. Today I see a nice compromise of admiration for perfect execution with a respect for mold breaking creativity. I’m happy to begin my career now because while I’d like to say I think it’s an interesting and exciting time for culinary change, truthfully I’m happy to be allowed to break the rules because frankly I don’t always know I’m breaking them! Eeek. How’s that for truth.
Fake it ‘till you make it?
Tried that, hated it. My new path is 100% honesty and humility. I’m trying to learn from my own mistakes… even when people are watching.
You can see now where my ever present fear comes from. I don’t know what I’m doing, but in order to learn the right way to do everything, I have to be willing to do anything wrong in front of people that know better. Oh the horror. Act like a total fool in front of people you respect in order to learn how to do things that these same people will respect! All the while trying to convince my staff that I’m worthy of following….
This really is the way my brain works. It’s a miracle that I have enough brain power left now to swallow my own tongue!
My colleagues have been extremely supportive though and constantly challenge me to push past my Southern comfort zone. So I did. Recently I hosted a benefit dinner at my restaurant for about 35 people. My menu was nothing like what I serve on a daily basis. I’ve sat on an idea for a new restaurant theme for a while, but time, energy, money and fear have restricted it to the back burner. While a new full blown restaurant venture does seem impractical right now, inspired by my husband I agreed one night of this theme was not only possible but necessary for this dream to ever become reality. So under the safety net of a fundraiser- look, if the meal sucked it was for charity, so money raised is still a win- I rolled the dice and planned 5 courses unlike anything I’ve ever done before. I reached out to local farms and created dishes based around what was fresh and readily available. Most chefs are like, ya, I do this every day. But I don’t. My restaurant menu is based on family staples and Southern traditions. This meal was inspired by my surroundings here and now. I wanted to showcase the very best of my neighborhood. No shortcuts. No substitutions. No safety nets.
The day went perfectly. Of course I made some mistakes, but luckily for me, nobody really noticed. And I learned some valuable lessons for next time.
Yep, the next dinner.
One more meal on the way to my next restaurant.
Now if only I had some time to make some art.