Friday, October 26, 2012

5 Quick Questions with Chef Ben Vaughn of The Food Nework

Justin: Ben and I became friends over food. He is one of the first chefs to invite me into his kitchen and teach me how to really construct a dish. It was in the kitchen at Grace that I nervously went from someone who had a passion for cooking to someone who could actually cook. I'll always be grateful for that. 

Amy: I was fortunate to be able to write the "Dining Out" column for Memphis Magazine before I started to focus more on home cooking, and Ben's food at his restaurant Grace knocked me over during my two little undercover visits. That article was a blast to write because I had the opportunity to share what I had found in my sweet hometown. I knew Ben's food first, but once I knew him as a person, I found him to be very inspiring, always open to collaborate with us and help us take our ideas further. Once, he improved upon and served our Cinnamon-Persimmon Sauce. That was awesome when I was just starting out and trying to be creative.

Justin: Ben has since moved to Atlanta, Georgia and taken a job as head chef at White Oak Kitchen & Cocktails. He also has his own show on the Food Network called Health Inspectors, which premieres tonightFriday, October 26, at 10:30 pm/9:30 central. He told me all about it when we met up for breakfast the other day.

Photo courtesy of the Food Network

1. You've held every job in the kitchen from potato peeler to Chef/Owner. What experience has taught you the most?
The experience I most learned from was how to motivate and inspire constantly. The restaurant business is tough with long days and nights. If I can't keep my spirits up and drive the team, teach, motivate, inspire, and build an ongoing culture, the air has left the balloon, folks. It's the small things that really keep your staff in tune, a handshake, a hug, or just a fist bump. I learned these lessons later on, and they would have been incredibly useful early on. 

2. Your food style is unique; it seems to be informed by your life experience. Tell me about the moment when your style clicked.
 My food style is my style: regionally respectful, clean, familiar, but without boundaries. I think it really clicked in Memphis right before I joined River Oaks. I knew no one in town, and I kind of wanted everyone to just say, "Where did this guy come from?" once they tasted my food.

3. You were discovered by the Food Network by answering an ad on Craigslist for a restaurant consultant while you were looking for new opportunities in Memphis. Is that right?
It sort if goes like that. It's really not a great story, I was doing what I do, and they were busy being the Food Network. After running a few restaurants in Memphis, I felt a huge calling to share my lessons learned with other restaurant chefs and owners, and that's the relationship that ultimately led to the television pilot.

4. Could you ever have imagined yourself with your own show? What has the experience of stepping into that role been like?
Honest answer – not so much, but in some ways, I'm a performer.  My stage has been the kitchen, and that's my first love; it will always call me back.

5. What dishes are you nostalgic about, and what dishes are you cooking now?
I'm nostalgic about eggs and pancakes. It's a memory of my childhood. A celebration of family coming together. Since I spend evenings in the restaurants, I miss most family dinners, so I make sure to catch up with my amazing family as often as possible over breakfast. Now I'm working on a style of food that show cases a single ingredient prepared to complete an entire plate.  For example: Duck.  On tonight's menu at White Oak, sous vide breast of duck, duck glacĂ©, confit of leg, terrine of sweet potatoes and duck bacon, and duck cracklings...and, well, it’s not vegetarian. 

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