Where does your commitment to supporting local growers come from?
I grew up near Atlanta in Gwinnett County. We were about half an hour away from these amazing farms, and we’d go to the farmers’ market every weekend. I was also a pastor’s daughter. As you can imagine, everything at the church revolved around food. There was always some sort of event, and I was constantly surrounded by food. I remember getting excited about getting to cook with local produce when I helped my mom in the kitchen, so I think my passion for it really started back then.
Did you always want to become a chef?
I knew that I wanted to attend culinary school one day, and I’ve always thought of myself as a natural born leader. I like managing the kitchen and the staff and making great foods. But when I got into school, I ended up getting certifications in baking and pastry. I didn’t want to be pigeonholed into one category, though. I started branching out early on. Even though my title was pastry chef, wherever I was, I was also seen as a sous chef, which provided a lot of valuable experience until I made executive chef a few years ago.
Do you see a shift toward more women-run kitchens in the future?
It’s great that women chefs are finally getting a light shined on them. For me, being in this industry was very difficult at first. I felt like I was being forced into a pastry position because I was a woman. I was pushed around and wasn’t taken seriously until I actually stepped into that executive chef role. Right now, I have several women cooks that I’ve been coaching. Their growth these last few years has been phenomenal. I hope one day that they’ll be able to take on their own kitchens.
Are you able to use local suppliers exclusively in your kitchen? It all depends on the availability and what I’m looking to create. Whenever we do something seasonal on the menu, I love to utilize them and their product as much as possible because it’s as fresh as it gets. Professional kitchens tend to be very corporate and only source from the large suppliers, but I prefer to use my connections in the area for fresher foods first.
What’s your go-to ingredient for summertime? Tomatoes, tomatoes, and more tomatoes. Every year, I get these fresh tomatoes from a Georgia grower who’s locally famous for his tomatoes. I’ll take a few along with some herbs and do a nice salad. I’ll sometimes do a homemade Burrata (an Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream) soaked in pineapple-sage pesto with fresh tomatoes on the side. I can’t get enough of them this time of year.
CHEF’S TOP TIP