F&W Star Chef
Restaurants: The Capital Grille (Nashville)
Experience: Peninsula Grill (Charleston, SC), Fearrington House (Chapel Hill, NC), Southern Comforts BBQ & Soul (Charlotte, NC)
Education: Johnson & Wales University
Who taught you how to cook?
My mother went to La Varenne cooking school, and food was always a cornerstone of our life. Every night we sat down together, and that’s something I covet today. The most important thing my mom taught me was the enjoyment and camaraderie of cooking, and the love that goes into it.
What was the first dish you ever cooked by yourself?
Cinnamon rolls that I learned to make in home ec class, which predated flour tortillas with melted cheese on top. I remember being so taken by how we cut the dough for the rolls with a piece of floss. I remember going home that weekend and making them for a friend who was sleeping over.
What’s the best dish for a neophyte cook to try?
Something you’re interested in eating. I want to say collard greens or cooking greens because they’re very simple: onions, bacon, a little vinegar.
Who is your food mentor?
Sean Brock, who continues to be one of my best friends.
Favorite cookbook of all time?
It’s a toss up: either Southern Food, by John Egerton, a great friend of mine; or Smokehouse Ham, Spoon Bread, and Scuppernong Wine: The Folklore and Art of Appalachian Cooking, by Joseph Dabney.
What’s the most important skill you need to be a great cook
Passion and attention to detail.
What is the best-bang-for-the-buck ingredient?
I love to use field peas in many different ways: fried as a bar snack, in succotash or in a cold salad with a vinaigrette. A lot of the peas come with stories, and there’s such a variety.
What is your food obsession?
Produce from our garden and beef from our new 250-acre farm, where we raise our own heritage breed cattle. I’m also obsessed with growing great forage and grass for our cattle.
Best-bang-for-the-buck food trip?
I’d take a trip through the Mississippi Delta, on the tamale trail. The food won’t cost you a lot, but you’ll come away inspired by the people you meet and the sheer passion you find. All over the South, people’s excitement for the stories they want to tell is impressive. I’d recommend traveling to Joe’s White Front Cafe in Rosedale, Mississippi, to eat tamales. People come with pails to bring it to go. You leave there having had an epiphany.
What do you consider your other talent besides cooking?
Playing the banjo, although I have a long way to go.
If you could invent a dream restaurant, what would it be?
I’d like to have an impromptu pit or a place to cook a bunch of different things at our farm. That would be fulfilling in many respects, to have that creative opportunity and autonomy.
If you were going to take Tony Bourdain out to eat, where would you go?
Dino’s, a great burger joint with tons of character in East Nashville.
If you were facing an emergency, and could only take one backpack of supplies, what would you bring?
Maldon salt, kosher salt, black pepper, cider vinegar, yeast, a shovel and something to start a fire. I’d be salting anything I could catch, foraging things and preserving them. I’d make hunter’s loop sausages and beaten biscuits, which are unleavened bread that people can carry in their pockets. If I found a hog, I’d make country ham.
Name a dish that defines who you are?
Sock sausage, an old-fashioned breakfast sausage that we smoke for seven days in our smokehouse. We serve it on biscuits with mustard gravy. We serve it for breakfast, or as an hors d’oeuvre with a sweet potato biscuit and mustard gravy.
What do you eat straight out of the fridge, standing up?
Cold grits if we have them, or any kind of cheese, I don’t discriminate.