My Throwdown with Bobby Flay

The Episode has finally aired, the viewing parties are over, and now,
here’s the behind-the-scenes, play by play with Chef Hal.

People might be interested to learn that I actually ate at Bobby Flay’s first restaurant on a trip I made to New York while in my late teens. When they learned that I was interested in being a chef, they allowed me to see the kitchen that night. I told Bobby this story while we were on the set. We did actually have some moments to hang out and chat that day, and they were enjoyable exchanges.

It is amazing how many people it takes to make a TV show. There must have been 75-100 staff that day. The fans you saw in the balcony above us while we were taping the show are actually extras and are paid $75 a day—and that comes with a meager catered lunch.

The extras had invited me to join them for their lunch buffet that day, but during that break, I ordered out and chose a nice pastrami sandwich. I was in New York, after all, and that is always on my list of things to eat while in The City. After I ate, I laid on the floor of my green room and took a nap for about 20 minutes.

The day we taped, they actually filmed two different episodes. That means we had four chefs there. These made for very long days.

Round 1
When the taping began, the big moment was to announce both of the chefs and then what the secret ingredient would be that day. When I heard “merguez sausage,” (lamb) I have to admit, I had no experience with that meat and was a bit panicky. After that announcement, we had about a four-minute break. People were swarming everywhere and were all over me for mic checks, wires, and more. With my arms outstretched I had my phone out in mid air trying to “google” Bolognese. I was so nervous I couldn’t spell it. I have made Bolognese and marinaras hundreds of times before, but here I was now making a traditional Italian dish for an Italian woman who would be judging me. I finally pulled it up and was glad I did. Had I not, I would have forgotten to add the nutmeg to the recipe. I made sure the lady judges saw me add it during that part of the competition.

The fennel that I added was an impulsive decision, as it goes well with the lamb. As was the decision for the mint as well. The mozzarella was my idea, too. In regards to preparing the tomatoes, I have never put them into a food processor before, but the mathematics in my head told me I would have to break them down that way in order to keep within the clock.

During the taping of the show, I was very focused and never felt for a moment that I was being flirted with. They only made it appear that way in the post-production/editing process. Regardless, I nailed my pasta. That’s different, too; we use fresh pasta at LT, and it cooks in about 3-4 minutes—which is much different than dry which takes about 10. But they had dried pasta on the set, and I needed to think and adjust.

At the last minute, I realized I needed texture to complete this dish, so I grabbed some pine nuts and lightly toasted them. Alex, one of the judges, suggested to me that I fry them to make them crispy. I explained that pine nuts are never in my kitchen, and I was not familiar with frying nuts.

Fortunately, I was comfortable with this dish and connected with the food which is very important. The ability to calm yourself and control your emotions is key.

You only see about 10% of what really went on at the judge’s table. The comments they had for my opponent in that first round were pretty critical, but they were rather kind to me. Perhaps for television, they feel as if they need to be nicer to the loser.

They had prepared us on what to do once the winner was announced. In other words, where to walk and turn and how to exit. Ironically, as the loser was exiting, I inadvertently began to follow him out. Bobby grabbed my arm and said, “You’re not going anywhere.”

After winning, I relaxed quite a bit. I was excited to get on to Round 2. There was a bit of a break. The culinary team then came in to clean up, taking away things we would not need for Round 2 when I would go up against Bobby.

Fried Oysters?
I don’t remember that whole stretching thing with Bobby, but apparently, that was a nervous thing on my end.

The first thing Bobby said to me when I released my signature dish was, “That has something to do with spinach, doesn’t it?” To which I coyly replied, “It’s a debated subject.” And it truly is a recipe with many variations.

Choosing the signature recipe was a challenge for me. There had been quite a bit of back and forth with New York about what my signature dish would be. I would suggest one thing, and they would counter with another idea. We were in our weekly marketing meeting with Epiphany and Stephanie went over to the bookshelf, opened our book up to the page that held the Oysters Rockefeller and slid it across the table to me. That’s when I knew, “That’s the dish.” It was a recipe I could make happen in that 45-minute window, and I could execute. And, too, it was an honest choice. I had made plenty of oysters during my tenure at Nick and Rudy’s. Even before that, I had worked in New Orleans where I became familiar with the family that birthed the recipe. Not sure if it is a joke or the truth, but I’ve heard that the story behind the name is they are named Rockefeller because they are so rich. And, too, when we first opened Lockeland Table Oysters Rockefeller was on the menu.

I now had to produce plates for three judges, plus a show plate. I had to make 24 oysters altogether. And they had to be executed perfectly.

Bobby started frying oysters while I was in the process of creating the original dish. I was in the zone, and when the girls started coming over, all I could think of was, “Get out of my way.” I had practiced my recipe and timeline here at Lockeland Table and knew I could do it in 42 minutes. A culinary team there also had prepared my recipe prior to our arrival confirming it would work. When the buzzer went off, I was ready. And it was time for the judge’s table.

Filleted by Bobby
It was like the fish that got away. I thought I had it, but the judges sided with Bobby.

Claudia Fleming, oddly enough, the female judge for Round 2, had worked at Gramercy Tavern as Pastry Chef during the time I was working there. Afterwards, I went up and introduced myself to her and reminded her that we had worked together. Though during the judging, it appears she was my biggest nemesis.

The end of the show was actually at about 11am. That was when we went into post-production. All of the times that you see a person not in the kitchen happen in a small room with a green screen behind us once the recording is over. They ask you questions, and you have to answer in present tense. That took about three hours. I had arrived at 5 am, and I didn’t get out of there until at 6:30 pm.

Solid Presentation
When it was all said and done, regardless of the outcome, I was proud of myself in how I represented my city, my restaurant, my food, and my family. I was true to the recipe and true to myself and my craft. In my opinion, the entire experience could not have been better. But I would be lying to you if I didn’t admit, I am ready for a rematch. So, Bobby, maybe we’ll meet again one day!

Time on the Set with Bobby Flay

Tune In August 3, 2017 10PM EST / 9PM CST

It doesn’t seem that long ago that Dana came back to the kitchen to let me know that the Food Network was on the phone. It wasn’t the first invite to do a TV competition, but this time I felt like I was at a great place to say, “yes,” and so I did.

Competing today is not as important to me as it was before. Previously, I needed to let Nashville know I was here. Now that I have a family and the restaurant is up and running, that’s enough for me to try and sustain and keep in line.

So, what was it like to find myself on a televsion set and prepare to compete against a celebrity Chef? I’ll tell you…

If you haven’t had a chance to read the first part of my NYC adventure, you can click here to bring you up to speed.

The morning of the taping I awoke in my New York hotel room at 4:00 a.m. to be ready for my 5:00 a.m. call at the studios. I was obviously very excited and there was plenty of adrenaline flowing. Once again, the Uber black came to pick me up. I remember vividly the ride to the studio. The streets were completely deserted and it was as quiet as you’ll ever see The City. The trash was being picked up and the steam rose up from below the streets. It was quite a scene to drive through in preparation for the big day.

When I arrived, I was welcomed by very kind folks. I was blown away by the number of people it takes to make the TV show happen. I met the producer first and was shown to my waiting room where I actually met the man who I would be competing against. (I would have to beat him in order to compete against Bobby.) It was interesting to hang out with him before the recording actually started. As I mentioned in my earlier blog, there is so much paperwork, preparation, and research that goes into making shoot day a reality. They even recorded while they read the agreement to us of what we were expected to do. We were then assigned a culinary expert who gave us a tour from top to bottom of our on-set kitchen. There are two kitchens each identical to the other and that mirror side to side.

We had to practice our entrance next. I did that about six different times. It was cool that they even spent time coaching us on how to do it. They wanted energy! On one take, I did a double tap to my left chest and over my tattoo. (See page 225 of our Lockeland Table book to see a photo of that tattoo and more.)You’ll probably notice that motion when you watch. The two taps are for strength and honor which are part of the tattoo which is dedicated to Cole. The gesture was for him when he watches the show. That moment gave me inspiration. Being away from home is a challenge for me.

The entrance was something that I knew was going to happen and I actually practiced it beforehand here in the kitchen at LT. I talked about it quite a bit before I left on the trip.

Then Bobby came out and we were able to meet him and the first two people who would judge round one. They are not actually real judges, but rather are called “guests.” They are responsible for choosing the winner of that round.

When the cooking competitions for round number one began, we were all in the studio and talked for awhile. Then after we were ready, Bobby walked up to us and had the secret ingredient behind his back. When it was revealed there was a three-minute break to check microphones and anything else that needed to be addressed. Then the competition began.

By the way, what you see on TV is a real 20 minutes. No cuts. It’s a true competition. Whereas twenty minutes on an elliptical may seem like a long time, cooking a dish of food in that amount of time flies by.

I hope you’ll tune in this Thursday evening on the Food Network at 10:00 pm EST (9 pm CST). And next week, I’ll send you my blog update that goes “behind the scenes” and share what “really went down.” —Chef Hal

Warm Hearts/Cool Plates

How a guest with extreme allergies ended up creating Lockeland Table’s proprietary stoneware.

During the first year of Lockeland Table, my wife and I had a newborn at home; I was working six days a week and 14 hours a day. I worked the grill, the pizza station, and more. One night, during a very busy service, one of our servers came back to me and informed me that we had a guest with a lot of allergies.

Understanding that allergies are significant, I left the kitchen and went to their table. I don’t want a situation in my dining room if I can avoid it. As a chef, you have to get used to a lot of requests coming through the dining room. Many guests often claim to be allergic to various ingredients, so I needed to have a conversation with this guest. I wanted to do this correctly.

Dorothy recalls it this way:
We didn’t know who the young Chef was when he came to our table…
But he was so kind and concerned.
To tell you the level of care…
Hal took the menu out of my hand and said,
‘What would you like for me to cook for you tonight?’
How many restaurants do you think that would happen at?
Ironically, I chose his signature dish, The Strip.
(Which met most of Dorothy’s dietary restrictions.)

That was the night I met Paul and Dorothy for the first time. I had no idea what that moment and the relationship would lead to.

A week later, Cara handed me a thank you card that we had received from the couple. It even made the point that other restaurants had not been very compliant or accommodating. These were cool people…and serving guests well is a part of my job.

We understood it was a very busy night,
and him coming out of the kitchen was a big deal to us.
We didn’t expect that. —Dorothy

I learned how to cook for Dorothy, and, as the two continued returning to eat at Lockeland, they began bringing gifts to Cara and I, from Dorothy’s pottery studio, Summer Triangle Pottery. Over time we became friends.

One particular day, while we were in the midst of writing our book, they offered to make the plates and platters for our VIP book release party. That was probably the nicest thing someone had done for us.

After the release party, it was decided we would get together and make plates specifically for Lockeland Table. There were other local restaurants that were using pottery, but when I realized that it was a possibility that we could do that here I got very excited. For a chef to be able to visit a potter or artist personally and talk about his food and have them design their craft to fit our craft…how lucky am I?

I had gone out to Summer Triangle Pottery after a visit to Nicoletto’s pasta, and while there I noticed some similarities between these two places and their crafts. The drying process of pasta and pottery is very important. In the pasta world, if you over dry, the pasta will crack. The heating of pottery and drying is just as crucial as well. I learned so much that day!

“I got a message from Hal one night;
he said,
‘Hey, we want to collaborate on some bowls.’
We were on our way out the door when I took the call, but at that point, I didn’t want to go.
I wanted to stay home and make bowls” —Dorothy

Shortly after we began, I heard of another restaurant was taking ashes from their wood-burning oven and using them in pottery, and I knew that’s what I wanted to do heWe have been at this now for about a year. What started with side bowls led to condiment bowls, then the fritter plates with the high edges, then big bowls, dessert bowls, and now even our coffee mugs! Each serving piece has also been carefully thought through. I would look at pieces that Dorothy calls rejects and I might say something like, “Deviled Eggs would go on here.” And then, “if this one over here comes up a bit more on the edge, it would hold pasta.”

The plates look so Lockeland, and that didn’t happen by accident. Dorothy presses each plate with one of our LT linens. Right into the plate. The impression of the linen matches our book cover and our LT style and branding.

It’s truly amazing when you think about it all. What if I had been a chef who was grumpy that night and had not cared about the guest’s unique dietary needs? We would have totally missed out on this exciting journey, partnership and friendship. That’s truly what it’s all about at Lockeland. It’s about the relationship. Not only with our guests, but our staff, our vendors, our farmers, and our community.

For example, when White Squirrel Farm walks in the back door, I don’t check his weights. I buy his products because they are beautiful and I trust him. This is the result of years of positive relationships.

I now say to people, “If you could do one thing differently, what would it be?

Treat your staff better? Get to you know your local vendors and what they truly have to offer and what they need from you? Meet local artisans and see how you can partner together? Or, maybe treat guests the way you truly need and want to be treated? We are working to do that in every aspect of our business.

We hope you’ll stop by to check out Dorothy’s beautiful artwork that graces our kitchen and tables. And, next time you’re in, be sure to lift the plate up to see the two logo

—Chef Hal

To learn more about Dorothy, Paul and Summer Triangle Pottery, we encourage you to visit their website if not their studio as well. And be sure to follow them on social media.

Chef Hal Takes New York City

Lockeland Table’s very own Hal M. Holden-Bache got to take a bite out of The Big Apple and is ready to share his experience. (Part 1 of 2)

I had the privilege of traveling to NYC last month in order to participate in a Food Network show.

The month prior to leaving was surprisingly filled with work and research. You’d be amazed at what is needed in order to help one prepare for all that goes into participating in a TV show.

There were numerous emails, a couple of Skype interviews and quite a bit of paperwork, too. Medical information was even needed in case anything was to happen to me during my time at the studios.

I personally did quite a bit of studying and preparation so that I could perform to the best of my ability. I watched the show a number of times to look for mistakes others made. I also did some mental prep where I made a show up in my head and thought, “What would I do if this came up during filming?” After all the work that could be completed was done, the plane ticket was secured and arrangements were made for my time away from home and the restaurant.

Once those items were taken care of it was as simple as a plane ride to the Big Apple. This opportunity was certainly exciting, but I have to admit, it’s hard to kiss my boys goodbye and leave my family knowing I won’t be there should they need me. I am very active in both my home and restaurant, and, as is typical for anyone, I worry about things when I’m not there.

The production company was very impressive. I was picked up by an Uber Black—which is the highest level of Uber car. I have to say, they did everything in complete style from my leaving the house to my return—they were a class act.

As we began our descent into Manhattan, it was exciting to fly over New Jersey, the Giant’s stadium, the new Freedom Tower, and Lady Liberty. I took photos through the plane window as we passed over those landmarks. Many of our followers may not know my mother grew up in Queens, and I also lived in The City for a brief time when I worked at Gramercy Tavern. While there, I lived with my brother in a warehouse apartment. At that time, he was attending NYU for graduate school and starting his business. I quickly remembered how connected I am to the city and how much I enjoy it. It was exciting to be back.

I travelled with my friend Greg Special AKA Pasqually, one of my food brothers. We were eager to get started and had planned to head straight into pizza research. After checking into the hotel we hit the streets and found a beautiful deli, the kind that only exists in NY where you can get awesome pizza, great coffee, a pastry or a sandwich in one small 1,400 square foot space. That is where we had our first slice of NYC cheese pizza and a cup of coffee.

We then headed to Lombardi’s, one of the oldest and most famous pizzerias, where we ordered their famous white clam pizza and a margherita pizza. That was a very cool experience. I also brought a couple of my stickers that have my avatar on them and plastered them at various pizzerias around the city.

One of things I wanted to do while I was there was visit the James Beard House. There was a dinner going on at the time when we arrived and, of course, I didn’t want to disrupt the dinner. But, we did go inside. The Maitre D’ was a small, very old man who sat at the podium near the entrance. We told him who we were, where we were from, that we had been nominated for a Best New Restaurant James Beard award the first year we opened and that I was wondering if we could take a photo of the kitchen. He calmly said, “You absolutely may.”

It was exciting to have that opportunity. Just thinking about all of the chefs who had spent time in that facility and the greatness that has been in that room… there was an amazing energy in that room. It was an honor to be able to experience it even if briefly.

After that we headed to Brooklyn to eat at the famous Roberta’s restaurant. They are a bit like us. A neighborhood establishment, wood-burning oven and solid pizzas. We were there so long it became difficult to catch an Uber back to Manhattan. But we finally found a ride back over the river and to our hotel where I got about 2 hours of sleep as the call time for the show was 5am.

An Uber Black picked me up that morning. We headed out to the TV studio, where I settled in for a 12-hour day of waiting, filming, voice overs, and many other things that are involved in the actual day of—which I will share more about in detail with you in next month’s blog post.

After filming we ate at a Thai food place called Topaz. We actually only waited about 10 minutes and landed the coveted window seat, which was a great dining experience as you are right there and able to watch the crowd on the sidewalks. We then headed to Momofuku, Little Italy, and finally Chinatown.

Went to bed, got back up, had about eight more hours of the city where we grabbed pastries and coffee at Mario Batalli’s Eataly. This is one of the most amazing food concepts/businesses I have ever been in. I would love to shake the hand of the persons responsible for daily logistics such as ordering & scheduling — it is literally like 10 businesses under one roof!

I also was able to stop by my old stomping grounds at Gramercy Tavern. Even though it was not open yet, it was nice to see it and take a picture. I had not been back since I had worked there.

One of the items on our list was to visit Ground Zero—where I found the energy to be amazing. Taking it all in was quite an experience. To relive the day and think about all that transpired on 9/11 was a rather deep moment.

We then went back to Chinatown to a dim sum restaurant that opened at 10:30AM. We were some of the first people to arrive, and the food was wonderful. We spent some time walking around there before heading back to the hotel in preparation to return home to Nashville. I was pleased that we, and my knives, made it back safe and sound. I caught my Uber Black home, hugged my wife and boys, and settled in for a great night. We went out the next day as a family and got our Christmas tree which really helped kick off the holidays.

One of the first things I began to work on when I returned was our pizza dough. I had always felt ours was a little off. I have been running some experiments and I feel they are better than they used to be due to research and experimentation. We are getting the dough to a better place and to where a wood-burning dough should be like. There’s nothing like going to NY to help you in the inspirational department to come home and have new goals. All in all, it was a great experience. I was happy to go, and happy to return as well. I had positive filming and culinary experiences and was very inspired to bring that inspiration back to the restaurant.

As we learn more information about the release date of the TV show, we will certainly share that with you so that you can watch it when it airs. This may also result in some fun specials at the restaurant. Stay Tuned.

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A Day in the Life

1We are well aware of the fact that eating at your favorite restaurant is a special experience. You call, make reservations, and prepare in advance for what you are going to order. You can just envision that special menu item or beverage that you are going to order as soon as you sit down and get comfortable. You hope you get, or you request your favorite server, then, well…let the evening commence.

Meanwhile, in our world, it’s a bit more like…let the games begin! And those as early at 8:00 a.m.

What few people realize is that your one to two hour plus stay with us took about 12 hours of preparation, and weeks of planning on our part, in regards to seasonal items, sourcing, ordering, budgeting and recipe creation—long before you ever walked through our door.

With that, we thought you might enjoy a peek into the behind-the-scenes of all that we do to make that special night, occasion or just evening out perfect, in every way for you!

Here’s a bit of our routine before, during and after your arrival…

  • AM Sous Chef, Gooch arrives
  • Begins focusing on batch cookery (The things that take a lot of time on the stove.)
    • Meatballs, mac n cheese, marinara, collard greens, stocks…
      • This also assists in allowing space for the other kitchen staff when they arrive.
      • NOTE: If we were to all arrive at 1pm and everyone needed 2 burners on the stove, that just couldn’t happen. Everything is carefully planned out. There’s rhythm and a routine.
  • Knife work commences next for vegetables or butchering for fish, pork, or chicken.


  • On Mon./Wed./Fri., Chris from White Squirrel Farm arrives with produce.
  • Pastry Chef, Mini Miller arrives.
  • (She doesn’t work every day. She can wrap up at 11am or 2pm, but then… she bar tends.)


  • Creation Gardens arrives daily with additional produce (All as local and regional as possible.)

10:45 am

  • Chef Hal arrives after dropping oldest son off at school
  • Fresh fish arrives from either Inland seafood or Evans meats


  • Beverages begin arriving from up to five different vendors


  • Sous Chef Danny arrives.
    • Works the grill station.
    • Walks the kitchen with his clip board, organizing prep lists, ordering and purchasing before he actually picks up a knife (somewhere around Noon.)


    • Chicken Livers arrive from Wedge Oak Farms
    • The remainder of the kitchen staff begins arriving
    • Grill, Pizza station & Saute’ stations and Pantry Chef arrive
      • Goal is gathering up ingredients to make sure they can open their stations and be up and running at 4pm for Community Hour
    • Pizza Station
      • Begins making pizza portion dough that will be used that night and the proofing dough for the next day. Portions need to be proofed as part of the daily
      • Begins making mozzarella and ricotta cheese, and the chili oil
      • Chopping and prepping toppings for the pizza
      • Preps the vegetables for the entire kitchen and those that will be roasted in the woodburning oven
    • Saute station
      • Heats up the marinara and the meatballs, making the grits, warming up the sauces,

    • Portioning of “sets” (the Mise en Place for one plate.)
      • For example, the sets (farrow, barley, veggies) for the “Catch” dish are placed into little sets in small delis so that for service they are already measured and portioned. Portion control is very important for financial reasons and for consistency. If you don’t make sets, and if you rely on your hand and your eyes, when you are in the rush of the evening, the sets will change. You lose money on the inconsistencies.
      • It’s important for every guest at 5pm or 10pm to receive the same portion of food. Every dish should be consistent in regards to the same, so sets are important on the saute’ station.
    • Lobster salad for the lobster tacos is prepped (Tails were blanched by the A.M. chef.)
    • Grill station
      • Begins cutting meat: the strips, rib eyes…
      • Preps the duck and 3 sides
      • Also preps the Chimi
      • Heats up collard greens, and Mac N cheese sauces


    • Linens arrive


    • Woodburning oven is fired up to meet daily needs
      • bone marrow, mozzarella for the pig pizza, vinegar, empenada pork or chicken for the filling, and fish/trout.
      • While the pizza station is doing dough work and making mozzarella, they are constantly roasting vegetables
    • Timers are set as the smoker is out back. We can’t afford to forget something that is out there. (note: nuts or bacon burn the easiest and those are expensive.)


    • 1st Bartender arrives
    • Bartender stocks the bar, makes the shrubs, does all of the juicing, making a punch for Community Hour.
    • Cara changes out the menu and prints off new copies
    • Cara samples new wines and spirits.
    • Pantry Chef arrives
    • Hostess arrives
    • Checks messages, calls all reservations to confirm. Stocks the Books and products wall.


    • Cara goes to the bank.
    • When wood burning up to temp
      • an array of vegetables begins roasting for different menu items
    • Bear Creek Farms arrives with beef for Meatballs


    • Cara follows up vendors, invoicing, bills
    • Nashville Grown arrives with local produce


    • Wait staff arrives.
    • Opening duties of the servers begins:
      • cleaning, folding napkins, cleaning bathrooms, breaking down boxes from the food deliveries and placed in the recycle dumpster
      • Walk the perimeter of the building picking up trash and cigarette butts.
      • Servers set up the tables, and the patio areas
      • Dusting, extra side work every day, perhaps taking of the chairs and the legs to fix them
        • 1x weekly – Dust boards, and remove the products and dust the shelves. “Otherwise Hal and I could never keep up and keep it cleaned.”


    • Doors open for Community Hour. Porter Road Butcher delivers the local meat.


    • Dishwasher arrives
    • Server lIneup.
      • Chef and Danny talk about the menu details:
        • Evening specials, catch of the day and empanada filling are, pizza of the night, and the roasted vegetable selection
      • Any thoughts or concerns are discussed at this time.
      • Tasting of new wines, cocktails
      • Discuss Draft Beer Changes


    • Kitchen puts up samples of specials of the day for servers to try and experience.


    • Dining room and main menu opens
    • 2nd bartender and the 2nd hostess arrives
    • Expo arrives…(person who calls in the tickets and helps run in the pas… is the mediator between the kitchen and the front of the house.)
    • Dining Room Main menu is now available. Community Hour guests are able to order from that menu as well.
    • Reservations arrive those that are on time, as well as those that are early and those that are late. The seating, shifting and readjusting begins.
    • Guest seated, drinks made, food ordered and sent to the kitchen. Food made, Server runs food to the table, eat dinner, food cleared, dishes to the dish pit…repeat
    • The hustle and the bustle and the rhythm begins
    • The sounds of the kitchen, and the plates and the people…the good noise level builds and the energy soars.


    • Community Hour Menu goes away
    • You are HERE!


    • Kitchen closes
    • Family meal goes up
    • Kitchen is cleaned
      • silver is polished
      • trash taken out, recyclables going to specific areas
      • candles being blown out after the last guest leaves
    • We don’t have one person that closes. We are so busy everybody stays.


    • Danny secures the back door and sets the alarm


Putting my money where my mouth is

We hear the word sustainable quite a bit these days, but I am not sure people understand the depth and the background associated with its definition. I can’t say that I fully understand it either.

In my opinion, sustainability has become more of a marketing term. In actuality, it refers to not being harmful to the environment or depleting resources and thereby supporting long-term ecological balance.

As I do more research about sustainability, I have come to the conclusion that we as a world can not control Mother Nature, and for that matter, control sustainability. I say that in consideration of the current ongoing food practices, rules, and regulations.

I’ve been studying the sourcing of fish and seafood. There’s the reality of how much we can catch (pounds per year harvested vs. resting while they reproduce). And the more research I do, the more uncertain I become about how we can sustain our demands for fish and seafood.

The question I have been asking myself lately is “What is sustainability, and is Mother Nature sustainable?” When it comes to fish and seafood, the only way to truly sustain them is through farm raising.

troutSome people are uncertain about farm raised fish and seafood. And I understand that. However, most foods are produced from a farm or in the wild. Ironically, 85% of that fish that we eat in this country does not originate from the US. And only around 3- 5% of the fish that is imported is tested by FDA. Think about it. Do you really know where the fish you purchase is coming from?

I believe we need to begin doing our homework and asking smarter questions about the fish and seafood we eat. In addition to knowing where it came from, we should also be asking “What did the fish eat?”, and “Where did that food that the fish eat come from?”

There is a term called vertical integration. Vertical integration is where a company produces several items which are related to one another, all of which support the final product. For example, if you are raising fish, you would also grow the food for the fish on the same property. This will help a company maintain total control of their product, promote financial growth, and create efficiency in their business. Some think this is the way of the future, which ironically is a repeat of the past.

I am fortunate that I have the right as a restaurant owner and chef to decide where I source from and whom I support. Therefore, it’s my responsibility to thoroughly research my food sources. It may be a microscopic way of making a difference in the world, but each cent I spend is a vote for what I believe in. If we’re buying commodity hogs, then that practice is what we’re promoting and supporting.

When I have questions, I call my chef friends and other resources that I trust. Recently I did research on salmon. I was considering serving farm raised salmon. So I spoke to several chefs who shared their opinions, and I learned they do not prefer farm raised salmon. Most would rather support the wild salmon caught during open season.

I do believe it is helpful to have multiple food source options, and there are many choices and options in the food industry. It is my choice to support and source from local and smaller farms, where I believe practices are better, and both man and beast are respected.

All in all, the point being is, you have to do all of the research that you can, then decide what you believe is best for your situation. It’s best to make decisions based on good information. And getting good information always takes work.

Moving forward, the question for me will be, “Who am I going to support?” Will it be farm raised seafood and fish, or will I buy ocean/river caught?

At this time I have the power to choose where I source the products that are served at Lockeland Table. It’s a responsibility and an ongoing study that I not only enjoy, but take very seriously. You’ll see the results of that research throughout our menu and on every plate we serve. I hope that research and our end product will allow you to feel good about putting your money where your mouth is.

Should a Chef Ever Change His Signature Dish?

Chef’s Note:
Dry-aged meat is tastier for many reasons. Some of the water has been evaporated. Basically: remove water, intensify flavor.


The end of Summer is here. Family vacations are coming to an end and we are all ramping up for fall schedules and routines.

We just returned from our family trip to North Carolina. As we all know, getting away from the day-to-day can be a very good thing. Every time I travel I come home smarter and inspired.

While on break, I found myself watching a documentary called Steak (R)evolution, I was very touched by what I saw while viewing it.

porter-road-butcherThat film, along with the fact that we recently completed a taste test with Porter Road Butcher (PRB) here at Lockeland Table, has brought about some changes.

The test was comprised of our comparing a wet-aged beef product versus a dry-aged product. What we discovered during the process was the increased tenderness and the flavor of the dry-aged item. In my opinion, the dry-aged was just “better” all the way around.

People may not be familiar with what dry-aging fully entails. When you dry age a product, something called aeration happens. Basically, it is when water is removed from the product. For example, If you take a loin of meat and put it in a controlled environment with cool air around it, then take water away from it, you’re going to increase the flavor. Take away water, intensify flavor.

That is one of the reasons I feel the wood-burning oven is so special. It’s at such a high heat that when you cook vegetables, the intensity of the heat pulls out the extra water. And that allows for more flavorful, roasted vegetables.

signature_dish_steakThe question became, do we shift away from our usual sourcing option and move toward the utilization of dry-aged strips for our signature dish? We have, to this point, been using good strip steaks, and we were happy with the quality. But after talking to Porter Road Butcher, and doing the test, we began moving in the direction of the dry-aged beef.

We use local farms for Lockeland Table for most items, but I wasn’t sure if we could make this happen. Obviously, the dry-aged product is a bit more expensive. It did make us a bit nervous at first. After watching the video, learning the things I have in the past month, and tasting the quality of the meats, I now think to myself, maybe we should have done this sooner. We recently did a test of our product mix, and we found that the sales were very similar. This proved to us that our guests don’t mind paying a few more dollars for a product that is a local, dry-aged, PRB product. We believe the quality is going to be enjoyed by our guests and that it is going to take our signature dish to the next level. It’s been an interesting transition that has also brought about some other positive changes.

Something that was also interesting…when beef is delivered to us, the packaging tells us the name of the farm from which the meat has been sourced. When we realized that the product was coming from a farm in Cheatham county, where I and my family live, and where Cara grew up, it all just started to make sense.

It isn’t that the other products we were using prior to the transition were bad, it’s just that we are continuing to learn. The new information we received gave us the opportunity to make positive changes towards more of the smaller farm products that are closer to Nashville. It is another step forward. In essence, we just got better in that we are sourcing things better today than we were last week.

I have always said this is an ongoing study, and it will continue to be just that. As we learn more, we will grow. The decisions that we make from that growth will not only benefit Lockeland Table, they will have an impact on the lives of our employees, our family and our community as well.

It has been such a great transition that we decided to create a Chef’s Class around beef. We will be bringing PRB in to be a part of that experience. Just a few seats are left, so call today and reserve your spot. I look forward to sharing more of this journey with you then!

– Chef Hal

Take More of Lockeland Home with You

People may not realize, we packaged the Chimichurri without cooking it. That maintains the integrity of this recipe as not needed…. all ingredients used are raw.

It’s hard to believe that next month Lockeland Table will be celebrating our 4th birthday. We are truly honored and grateful to own a business in this day and age.

Last year, Cara and I along with Epiphany Creative Services spent a lot of time writing the Lockeland table book—which turned out very lovely and we are happy with the results. To be able to write a book three years into a business was just amazing. The fact that we were able to do it, and that we did do it, is quite an accomplishment as well as a blessing.

lockeland_table_productsIn 2016, we began the process and the act of creating a product line. It has been yet another very large project that Epiphany helped us with. We did the research first with an hour long 4-way phone call with a well-respected local co-packer that in time referred us to the person she felt would help us the best. We then sorted through all of the information we had been collecting and schedule a field trip to a co-packing kitchen where we took samples of our products for PH testing. We took a good look at the workload all that would be required to move us down this road.

At first it seemed like just another task of working toward a goal. But then came the recipe testing, and the measuring and working out the logistics of getting the ingredients. Then there was the determining of which parts the co-packer handle and which tasks we’d retain in house. We had to select the jars and lids, and create the branding and the labels. The avatar, which is one of my favorite parts, is now part of the label. The fact that we branded our book and our product line with similar appearance was important to us.

There were hundreds of decisions to be made. There is so much more that goes into this process than one can imagine.

But when the first finished product arrived, it was like when I took a finished book copy home for the first time and held it and finally had time to really read it. What that meant to me…, let us just say there were similar emotions while developing this product line.

The Products
We’re excited to have on our shelves, our Smoked Peach Jam, our Red Pepper Jam and my Chimichurri. People may be surprised to learn I have been making my special recipe since I was 18 years old—and, I turned 41 this year. Just the history of the chimi alone, how many people it has brought a smile to over the years (and the fact that I never wanted to cook it, in order to package it, as I didn’t want to ruin the integrity of the product), then having been able to find the person that was able to do that for us? It’s a very special moment.

The thought of being able to package my recipes, just like the thought of opening a restaurant, was one of those things that I had been thinking about for years. But, to actually be given the opportunity to make that vision a reality, it was quite a proud moment for me.

The point is, for people to be able to purchase these items, for guests to be able to take their evening experience home with them is an extremely proud moment for me and something I am very excited about.

Be looking for other upcoming yummy canned goods from Chef’s Kitchen. Stay tuned.

A Chef, His Kitchen and His Family

Does a Chef have to be present in his restaurant every night?

handsome_halI love my kitchen and being in the restaurant, but with the birth of my new son, the recent celebration of Father’s Day and now with summer in full swing, it truly makes one think more about family time. When we brought Timothy home from the hospital last month, I fired the grill up every night in my driveway (I only use charcoal by the way). We had family in town, and someone needed to cook. I remember texting Cara and saying, “I just love to cook.” There I was with my son, shooting basketball while the fire warmed up…Everything was right.

But it wasn’t always that way. Lockeland has allowed me the opportunity to be at this place at this time in my life. Let’s face it, if I wasn’t at Lockeland I’d have been somewhere else working 70-80 hours a week helping to pull another man’s wagon. Few people may know that when Cara and I had the idea for Lockeland Table it was originally done in terms of balance and money. We figured if we were going to work at “a” restaurant, why not work at “our” restaurant. Her kids were very young and my son Cole was on the way. When we transitioned into business ownership, that first year and a half I was working 5-6 days a week. You’d even find me on the Grill station or the Pizza station. When we were finally able to hire a sous chef I began to take more time off in order to focus on a home life. I absolutely love being a father.

I am so blessed in business and that is because of the people I am surrounded by. It all starts with Cara and Floyd, then my thoughts move into the kitchen. I feel so grateful. We have a wonderful staff who are great people, and things are good.

Due to the standards we’ve set and put into place, the training and the quality of our current staff, we don’t have to live that crazy schedule any more.

The Balancing Act
Life and work balance is a discipline. You have to tell yourself, yes, I could linger and mingle, or snack in the back,or work with the saute cook for 10 more minutes on one minute detail…but you have to be able to know when things are going well, that it’s been a good day, and that now it’s time to start gathering your things, saying your thank yous and goodbyes and begin the drive home to be there in time to still get that hug. I don’t need to be the guy spinning every pizza or grilling every steak. But it requires me to make a choice.

The balance of worklife and homelife in this very difficult industry is tough to manage. Each person has to examine their own life and lifestyle. You have to know what matters to you. And then you have to find a way to make it work.

When people ask professional athletes why they went the direction they chose, their answer is usually that it’s because they loved the sport. The reality is, after time, it does become a job. And at some point, you can lose your original love. When you are in the right atmosphere, there comes that moment that reminds you of what it was that drove you and you realize that it’s still very much alive inside of you. There is a time, however, when your constant presence at the craft (12-15 hours a day) isn’t what you want to do anymore. That’s no longer part of the passion.

Letting go of certain tasks in order to have more freedom is hard. You have to let people help you. You have to learn to hand things off and how to delegate. One thing I won’t ever let loose of is the menu. I will drive that as long as the seasons change. Originally the food thoughts that got LT up and running were my own, and I will work to maintain those standards. But we have a team that is very strong and creative: Jason comes up with great pizzas, Jamie creates a new ice cream, Popp works with a new Shrub, Gooch is in charge the ever changing empanada filling, and Danny builds a unique appetizer—it’s great! Who wants to do everything themselves anyway? But you have to acquire the people around you that have that kind of talent. That’s when you share the load. It’s good for them, too, as it provides them with a sense of responsibility, freedom and ownership. That, plus fair wages and fair treatment, is a recipe in search of perfection.

If a team knows what to do, and does it well, and ours does, why hang over their shoulders? Especially if I can be at home spending some time with my family or tucking my son into bed.

thefamBeing an Executive Chef, a business owner and juggling home life is a challenge, but I don’t want to be a modern day man. I’m a bit old-school. I do, however, want to be a modern day chef. Interestingly, I come from a generation where the Chef’s I trained under were tough and the standards and demands were high. Today they would be called in by the Labor Board. I’ve heard many Chef’s complain that they missed their kids childhoods, but you hear them say, ‘Hey, I am a good Chef and I have a successful restaurant.” I want to be a good Chef, too, and I want a successful establishment, but I want my kids to know who I am. I want them to have memories that involve me as well as other members of our family.

When people come into the restaurant, they still like to see “Hal and Cara”. If we aren’t here, they will still have a good experience, but many do want us to stop by their table and say, “hi.” Our regular guests have come to understand that Cara may be at the ball field, and they’re happy for her to be there. But we realize LT is very much us, as it is with most businesses. We are the owners. But again, our great staff allows us to meet our personal goals or targets and provide us time to be with our family.

Lockeland Table, has in a way, been my saviour, not only professionally but personally as well. It’s given me the opportunity to be the rest of the things that I want to be in life, such as a provider, family man and a good Chef. I want to be someone who is “there”. Not just someone who shows up at night, sleeps, then leaves. I want my children to know that I was there for them and was with them. It reminds me of the old saying, when you’re on your deathbed you won’t be saying, “I sure wish I’d worked more…” That’s probably some good advice that we could all stand to chew on a bit.

Chef Hal

The Seasons Change and So Do We

Kids, Spring and Tennessee’s #1 Industry

box_gardenNow that spring is here, people are naturally gravitating towards a healthier lifestyle. In the mental process of making this yearly transition, most start thinking about a healthier diet, exercise and getting more vitamin D from the sunshine. In the Lockeland Table cookbook I talk about the transition from winter to spring to summer, and the bountiful new choices of healthy fruits and vegetables from our gardens.

I make the point that the human response when transitioning from winter to spring differs greatly from summer to fall. The spring transition brings sunshine and warmer temperatures. People begin their “spring cleaning” by packing away heavy winter clothing, doing a deep cleaning and opening the windows to enjoy the fresh air. They also start re-focusing on taking care of their body and shedding the unwanted pounds that they packed on through the winter. Those heavy, stick-to-your-ribs comfort foods transition to the bounties that mother nature offers in her spring and summer gardens. It’s not surprising that people consume more of the healthy fruits and vegetables in the spring and summer, because they are easier to find and they are more locally abundant. The goal, though, is to encourage people to remember their local farmers year round. As local harvests may be less abundant in the colder months, there are still some vegetables harvested as well as many protein options, such as lamb, hogs, beef, duck, chicken, etc. As a chef, I feel it is extremely important to remind people that there are healthy and nutritious options available year-round.

This is an exciting time to be a chef as I try to keep up with local farms. I recently talked to Chris (WSF) about the latest harvest. English peas and fava beans have already made their appearance. As more produce continues to flourish through the late spring/early summer, we will see fresh radishes, kohlrabi, chard, arugula, fresh herbs and spinach.

shortcakeUnfortunately…strawberries from Green Door Gourmet will phase out but (thankfully) peaches from the Peach Truck will phase in!! This is about the time we’ll bring back our Bob Woods’ Tennshootoe ham and peach option to the Pizza menu. We won’t see the squashes, eggplants, tomatoes, field peas, okra and turnips until June or the beginning of July. Some of these items may arrive earlier than usual due to a mild winter. I’m always excited about the menu changes and fresh flavors when new seasons arrive.

Lockeland Table actually has a few of its own box gardens out back, but they are not sustainable. We rely on WSF for most of our produce. This supplier is imperative due to the sheer volume of guests that we feed on a weekly basis. However, during the harvesting season, we do go out to the LT gardens and pick herbs, peppers and tomatoes daily as needed.

Surprising fact: The number one industry in Tennessee, ironically, is still agriculture!

Hopefully, after reading this blog, you’ll think about regularly attending your local farmer’s market, possibly getting in involved in a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture)* as an alternative to the big grocery store chains. As I mentioned above, spring is a great time to start eating healthier, to rejuvenate the mind and body with nutritious whole foods. Also, incorporate your kids in this outing. Teach them what healthy fruits and vegetables look like, taste like, where they come from and how to prepare them. What better way to embark on this adventure then to also support the booming local agricultural community? These farmers, my friends, need your financial support to ensure their sustainability. As the chef of a restaurant that relies on the sustainable produce from local farms to prepare for your enjoyment- I encourage this relationship. We all deserve fresh and nutritious local fruits and vegetables.
Now go enjoy this beautiful spring weather!!!

I’m off to eat a peach.

-Chef Hal
*for more information on CSA visit WSF on Facebook or twitter for information and details.


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