When cooking, it’s all about how your prepare before you begin. The time you take to research and organize are what makes the difference in your final presentation.
Just like in cooking…it’s all about the preparation.
Chef Danny and I recently returned from the World Championships. The preparation that happened behind the scenes there was intense. It’s a process that the guests and the public don’t generally get to see.
My mentor chef passed away this past month. Moments like these get you thinking…it’s a very deep time. Chef Timmins was a Certified Master Chef (CMC) and was a recipient of many accolades and awards. He wasn’t just a mentor to me. He was a great educator who also helped many other young culinaries who have become successful. He was a very special Chef. He was my chef.
He is the man who gave me a chance when others didn’t. I was a bit of a wild child when I started out, but my will and my work ethics were very strong. He was the reason I got into the Greenbrier Apprenticeship Program. While there I studied under his leadership for three years. That is the place where I received most of the tools that helped me become who I am today. In a chef sense, Chef Timmins is the one whose lessons I will remember forever, and that I will pass down to the generations behind me.
It wasn’t his rewards that made him such a great Chef. Rewards don’t make a great life…or a great business. He told me one day, “Cooking is the easiest part of your job.” I didn’t understand what he meant until I went into management. If all I had to do was cook all day, that would be easy. But it’s not only about preparing great food, it’s about running a business. Chefs with amazing talent have not always been able to run successful businesses. The cost analysis of the food,the organization in the kitchen, and the behind the scenes business things—those are the things guests don’t see. The menu planning that you do between midnight and 2:00 in the morning and bring into work the next day. Most people aren’t aware of all of the legwork that goes into making the magic happen.
When I think about all of the years of training and preparation that have led to Lockeland Table, that’s pretty amazing as well. We didn’t just get lucky, wake up one morning and someone handed us Lockeland table. There was a lot that happened before we became owners. Like work experience, training and learning. Cara and I both as individuals had worked in this industry for over 22 years. The knowledge we gained over those years allowed us the opportunity to try and be owners. It’s a long hard road that leads you to the place of ownership. It generally doesn’t happen overnight.
For example, you can see an image here of one of my test pork platters from the Greenbrier Apprenticeship program that would serve eight. There were rules. A guest would have never know we were drilled on sizes, portions, quantity and more. There are 16 pieces here, eight there and a gross piece that has to be large enough for eight more pieces. Those were things we were judged on at our final critique and at graduation.
We even made chocolate butterflies. You pipe the butterfly on clear parchment, put it in a “V”-mold. (The butterfly was under our parchment and we followed the lines on the transparent part and then placed it into the mold.) When it hardens, it looks like it is ready to take off.
At graduation, each chef in training had to prepare a table. I had to do the flower arrangement and the ice carving besides the food. Some people stayed the course and continued cooking similar style food. But that is food I began to move away from. After the Greenbrier I wanted to come into my own as a chef. And work my way into who I would become for the rest of my life. I began leaning toward cooking that was more in the style of my grandmother and mother. Not to say I dropped our food down a notch. Carrington Fox said it in a nice way. In her Nashville Scene article, she referred to it as “easygoing sophistication”.
Just recently at the World Food Championships, I ran into an old friend and classmate from The Greenbrier Ken Hess. While there, Ken and I were able to hang out and spend some time together and share old stories about Chef Timmins.
After returning from Vegas, an old friend from the Greenbrier that I haven’t seen for years, Jaco Smith, was in town. He stopped by and we, too, were able to reminisce. It was very nice to be able to spend time with an old friend/classmate whose mentor was also Chef Timmins, the conversation was somewhat healing to the emotional loss. The smiles that came out of those moments together, to be with those who have become successful chefs themselves…the timing seems to be a bit ironic, or perhaps “God-sent”. We remembered him in a way that he would appreciate being remembered. It was wonderful to have them nearby to connect with at this time.
At moments like these, and at this time of year, you are perhaps extra especially thankful for the people who have poured into your life—and for all that you learned from them. I want to be that kind of person in return. I now look forward to pouring into those who come behind me.
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