Archive for the ‘ back story ’ Category

Memphis Flyer


so this week has been all of crazy.i was featured in the Memphis Flyer. i was featured on Vegan Crunk. I had a gig, doing a mashtini bar. all in all it has been a week full of events. So instead of reading my blog today, check out those links and read more about me there!


The end of the beginning

well as i get to know all of you, i feel that we must get to know each other. i have three mentors who have made me who i am. here i will interview them and then tell you a little bit about what i have learned from each of them.

first i will begin with my interview of Marisa Baggett. a starkville, mississippi native. now marisa is a black female sushi chef but that is skipping ahead a bit. marisa came to tsunami early in my tsunami career i will guesstimate about 2003. she was the only female in the kitchen but she still had the fellas’ tsunami the pantry station and the dish station is kinda partitioned off from the hot line and because of this there is a bond between those behind the partition as well as those in front of it. marisa was like the big sister i never had and she must know that the advice she gave me about life was invaluable to me. marisa was my window into the mind of women and so we always atleast in my mind had a very open and trusting relationship. after awhile marisa left to venture out to california and enroll in sushi school. i thought that was the last i would see of ms baggett but was i ever wrong. marisa returned and like a sitcom she would have a recurring role visiting tsunami and laughing about old times until a few years later marisa makes a return to tsunami. now i had heard of sushi but it was tales of fish so raw you could still smell the sea on them. for me this was not an appetizing thought. but marisa ,still in that big sister role in my mind, informed me that sushi meant rice and not raw fish. so over time sushi began to intrigue me, and then out of service to my employer and then out of my own interest i informed marisa that i would love to learn to make sushi. so she took me in as her apprenticed and so it began. our official mentor and mentee relationship. but aside from the food knowledge which i must give her credit for having it has been marisa’s fearlessness that has truly had an impact.  with a formal resturant or without, with dietary restrictions or not, against all odds marisa has survived and had success. her campaign to build her own brand is what inspired me to venture out and give this blog as well as catering a real go.

marisa is where my public relations savvy is borne from.

First what do you call yourself and why? A lot of preofessional chefs are against the word “chef” in their title, because of the arrogance that can be associated with the title.

I like to be called Marisa. It used to be that I avoided the title chef because of the arrogance and lack of skill some people considering themselves chef display. But now it really is more about accessibility. When I’m in the kitchen sharing tips, I don’t people to feel like “Well of course she can do it! She’s a chef.” Rather, I like to strip away the title (and often the chef’s coat!) so that I’m just Marisa, a woman who loves to cook, sharing my passion with others.

Where did you get you start cooking?

I’m from Mississippi and everyone in my family cooks. I think I was about 11 or when I began dabbling in food. Naturally, I was expected to contribute dishes for family gatherings, but I remember being experimental even back then. It wasn’t until I had an after school job a few years later working as a dishwasher in a home style Chinese restaurant that food really grabbed my deepest attention.

What are a few of your accomplishments?

After years of practice, I can make a caramel icing like my Grandma Pearl made. She was an excellent baker and unfortunately she became very ill and passed away before she had the chance to teach us young girls her secrets. It was one of her plans, but alas it was not meant to be. Being able to make her caramel icing and being transported back to a time when she would offer up thick slices of cake made with love means so much more than the professional accolades I have received. Next in line would finally being able to make a decent loaf of bread. If I’m not mistaken, I may have actually gone out and got a bottle of champagne to toast….yes, pun intended.

Besides good food what would you say is your mission in your field?

I want everyone to get back in their kitchens and cook! I like to imagine a world where between the hours of 5pm and 8pm, the stove goes on at some point and fills the house with some intoxicating smell. And dinner hits the table with perhaps something that has never been tried before, some palate stretching, made from scratch dish that was simple yet absolutely delicious.

What food trend are you happy to see?

I am happy to see lard. It is incredibly versatile especially for baking.

What trend do you hope or know is on its way out?

6. I’m hoping to see the last days of molecular gastronomy. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the creativity and thought that goes into it. It is beautiful. But I’ve never been really wanted to eat it.

What old trend will be making an resurgence soon?

Thanks to the growing popularity of Southern food, I think we’re going to see a rise in old fashioned church picnic style food. Jello-o mold salads, skillet fried chicken, fried fruit pies, chocolate pies. Reinvented versions of these things are likely to appear in restaurants and perhaps even as creative, two bite appetizers for weddings and other events. Food like this is fun but it’s so decadent that the smaller “I’ll just have a bite” portions will be too hard for anyone to pass up.

Memphis is known for barbeque, is that an accurate depiction of the best memphis has to offer?

Memphis has so much more to offer than BBQ. However, Ive kind of changed my position about media exposure of it. I used to be so against the local papers touting BBQ this, BBQ that. But I think it’s important to keep that tradition going, especially for tourism. Let’s face it, lots of people come here to get our famous BBQ. Heck, I like eat our BBQ. But what I would love to see happen, and I think it is beginning, is the alternative media promote and guide locals to the other side. With national award winning chefs, good food blogging, the allowance of food trucks, and a host of great ethnic cuisine eateries I think the Memphis beyond BBQ is coming to light

What are the latest developments in your career?

I am so pleased to have my first cookbook Sushi Secrets hitting bookshelves this fall.

Where can people follow you?

My website can get you plugged in. It’s where I keep the latest news and recipes. From there you can follow me on twitter and find my Facebook fan page. For the latest on Sushi Secrets check out my amazon author page

in between time

So in my mentor series this is the in between time. ben smith has opened a new restaurant and laid the groundwork for me to continue in the culinary field and his sous chef Donny  needed a hand.Donny. this is my second mentor. this guy is my brother from another mother. i dont think there is a harder worker out there. one day i was in dish world washing, and scrubbing and complaining. and i hear out of no where, HEY! so i’m like what? and donny hits me with, “when you get done complaining you still gotta finish working, so just do the work.” that touched me deeply. and so work i have been doing ever since. Ben Smith planted the seed and Donny  had the water. and over the years donny has been there with either encouragement or constructive criticism all along the way. pushing me to be more and do more. although he began before and has been doing the work twice as long our responsibilities at Tsunami grew together. I like to call myself the hands of the outfit but Donny has definitely groomed my casual knowledge of food into something more. So the mind is there but there is a great deal of satisfaction i get from reading between the lines and donny’s mind to get that small plate special just right. i would definitely say that the mentor/ mentee relationship between me and donny is the most like peer mentoring. it’s that growth the we both get from the relationship that makes it worth while.

Donny you taught me how to combine flavors and you instilled a work ethic in me that puts many to shame, this is an official thanks!

And while donny did not have time to complete an interview i would describe him as a flavor first cook. Technique is very important but the end flavor and presentation is what all the work is for. Donny does not sacrifice flavor. Donny hasnt met a challenge he would back down from, a wall he couldn’t clean, or a rush he couldn’t put out. hard but fair. never over the top but with plenty of flair. never insulting but instead uplifting. and seldom heard of, but Donny  whether he will accept the title or not is a chef!

my coworkers and the chaos that ensues

each and every one of my coworkers have touched me in some round about way. a new series on the blog will be my posts about crew members at tsunami and our most memorable shenanigans.

i have to start with the kitchen staff since we are the closest proximity wise and since donny is the subject of one of my mentor blogs i will skip him and post about Chris P. i am sure P is cool with this although i dont think i expressly asked his permission but i will be open about our shenanigans but i wont post his entire name for fear that he has stalkers. ok. so what has p taught me… first he has taught me patience. chris will be the first to speak up and say that in a pinch, words are not my forte. so i have patience because my “pass the orange shit” , “the other orange shit” , “it goes with the calamari” must drive him nuts and he bears with me and works together with me to get things done. chris p has had to tell me to settle down on more than one occassion but the funny thing is it usually riles me up more. communication is something me and p have been working on. he has learned to not anticipate my words and listen and i have learned to pile up the details. but aside from work we have fun. you can count on chris p to take it one step too far. like the time he text my wife on facebook and told her to tell me fap fap fap… an inside joke about masterbation which my wife did not find so funny… ps. yes we have childish boy humor. but the impressions are the best. we can go entire shifts with our made up russians which in my case sound african, lol, cause i suck at impressions. tales of ivan and hiding the bodies of our enemies in barrels as we engage in the rough and rugged cocaine trafficking business. or our horrible spanish accents in which our only replies are si senior and muey mal or muey bien. its horrible but its what gets me through the day. chris p… my frustration and my relief, most times in the same shift!


And it all begins

so i started working at tsunami in 2002, the summer before my senior year of high school. i have left a few times but i have always returned and Ben Smith has always taken me back. i worked at tsunami through my parents passing, through my senior year of high school, a bad relationship, through the best one that has evolved into marriage, and through the continuation of my college career. Ben Smith has become a sort of surrogate father. while i didnt really have a direction or any idea of what i would do after high school. Ben Smith saw this idleness and he took that clay and molded into something. Ben is the reason hands down why i am cooking today. had he chosen to keep me in dish and out of the way, or had he been more caught up in making the next magazine cover and most likely i would have never picked up that chef’s knife. it all started with fish, yes we still filet all of our seafood ourselves, where i would first ask about fish and what made them of good quality. then it became an chance for me to show that i had in fact been listening, wow that tuna is red or why is the salmon not the same as last week. the interest took hold and began to expand. what makes the aioli an aioli? why does it get so thick? how do you know how much salt to use? why aren’t there salt and pepper shakers on every table? why does ceasar dressing seemingly have an odd assortment of ingredients? the culinary world was my last frontier of wilderness and i learned everything i could about it. So here is a little interview with my very first mentor who saw in me what i would never have imagined could have existed.

Ben Smith, you must know this, but you are the single reason that I am a “chef”!

Where did you get you start cooking?

I like to tell people that I learned how to cook out of self defense. My mother hates when I say that though. When I was growing up, my parents both worked, it seemed, all the time. My mom was (and is) a great cook, and she tried to get a hot meal on the table on a regular basis, but her schedule as a nurse was sort of unpredictable.

A lot of the time me and my two siblings were left to fend for ourselves food-wise. But while my brother and sister were content living on frozen fish sticks and cheese toast, I wanted something a little more substantial.

That’s when I started experimenting in the kitchen. Little did I know at the time, but I was basically setting myself up for a “Chopped” style mystery basket challenge every time I opened the refrigerator. I would take a look at what we had and make a meal out of it. Some times it was good….

A lot of the things I figured out how to do on my own I later learned were classic techniques or combinations. I never liked ketchup growing up. I would dip my chips in mayonnaise instead. I would also take an onion, slice it thin, and cook it down in butter until it was nice and browned. I was embarrassed to tell anyone about it because I thought I was a freak for liking “burnt” onions. I didn’t realize until much later that I was caramelizing onions.

What are a few of your accomplishments? 

Graduating high school was a pretty big deal for me. I was not, to put it nicely, the best student. I had no calling to go to college. Money was tight in the family besides and I figured I was better off taking some time off from the rigors of school to try and figure out what I wanted to do with myself. I ended up working in restaurants in all different positions: dishwasher, bar back, busser, waiter, custodian. It wasn’t until I got into the kitchen and started doing prep work at a couple of places that I began to think that this was something I could do for a while.

At the suggestion of two chefs I was working for at a place called La Tourelle, I decided to apply to culinary school at the CIA, the Culinary Institute of America. The CIA at the time was the best known culinary school in the country and is still regarded as one of the best in the world. I feel like just getting accepted to the CIA was a big accomplishment for me. Actually graduating nearly two years later was huge.

Since then, many years later, I was able to realize my long-time dream of opening my own restaurant, which  I did in July of 1998.

 In 2001 my cookbook, The Tsunami Restaurant Cookbook was published by Pelican. This was a proud moment, indeed, because it combined two of my favorite endeavors, cooking and writing. I am quite proud of the fact that I wrote the entire book unassisted.

On the merit of the book I was invited to be a guest chef/author at the annual The Book and the Cook event in Philadelphia.

I have been invited to and appeared at the James Beard House in New York on two occasions. Cooking at the James Beard House is an honor and a proud moment for any professional chef.

Tsunami has managed to garner rewards in several categories since the year we opened, including Best Restaurant, Best Chef, Most Creative Menu, but the one I am most proud of (and the one we have won every year since we opened) is Best Seafood.

I am both amazed and proud of the fact that Tsunami is still in business and still considered one of the best restaurants in Memphis after nearly 14 years of business.

Of course starting a family and having an influence over the growth and development of my three kids is my most proud accomplishment.

Besides good food what would you say is your mission in your field?

It all starts with good food, of course. And you have to be consistent in providing good food. Otherwise I feel like there are several other important elements or missions that are important.

Number one is the education and training of staff. There is a long-standing tradition of passing down culinary traditions, knowledge and techniques. This is of utmost importance in this industry. The chefs who guard their recipes and are secretive about ingredients and techniques are not doing anything to further this important tradition.

The flip side of this coin is to educate the dining public. Today’s diners are much more knowledgable about food. They bring a curiosity to the table when dining. They want to know where the food comes from, how it has been handled and prepared. By having a knowledgable staff that understands and appreciates the ingredients and the techniques used to prepare those ingredients, you have the means to pass on that knowledge to the general public.


Another mission of mine is community building. That starts in the restaurant itself, with the staff and the owners. It is important to have a well-defined concept for a restaurant. It has to be a concept that can be communicated to your staff in such a way that they “get it”. A restaurant, on the most basic level, provides food to people for a price. But in order to remain viable, it has to be so much more. The “ambience” is something that cannot easily be communicated. It is also not something that is easily developed. You cannot just decide what your ambience is going to be and then just make it so. Sure, a lot of the ambience is defined by the decor and the setting and the music and even the uniforms of the staff. But the true ambience of any establishment has to sort of develop naturally. The most important thing in defining and developing your restaurant’s ambience is to stick to your guns in regards to your concept. The food, the service, the timing, really everything about the restaurant has to be consistent with your vision. It may take a while to develop, but by sticking to it, you will eventually develop the “feel” of the place. And it will be unique to your place. You cannot change your concept to suit the needs of everyone that walks in the door. If you try to be everything to everybody you will end up diluting your product and you will be nothing to nobody.


Giving back to the community is also a mission of ever-increasing importance. It often seems that restaurants get asked all the time to donate time, food, and staff to events that benefit everyone but the restaurant. Over the years I have had to learn how to say “no” and I do so with increasing regularity. Just like you can’t be everything to everybody, you have to learn that you can’t give everything to everybody either. Decide the charities or institutions that mean something to you and give to them on a regular basis. Do it because it is the right thing to do and not because it will get your name in the paper or on a flyer.


Supporting the local agriculture is another mission, even though it shouldn’t be. What I mean is that supporting the local agriculture should be something we do because it makes the most sense. The culinary industry has gotten so far removed from its roots that the concept of menu planning has been completely turned upside down. EVERY cuisine in the world, EVERY cuisine, was founded on the principal that you cook whatever is available and on hand and in season and fresh. Improvements in transportation and storage over the years have greatly increased the availability of ingredients, sure. And that has helped implement some amazing changes in classic cuisines around the world. That’s a good thing. But so many chefs are so far removed from the sources of the food they prepare every day that it is disturbing. Time was when a chef would go to the market and buy what looked good, whether it was fish or produce or meat. So what if every restaurant in town had halibut on the menu at the same time? A good chef is not always judged by what is on his menu as by how well he prepares what is on his menu.

Too many “chefs” these days sit down at a table with a pile of cookbooks and conceptualize a menu before picking up the phone to source the ingredients. This is the polar opposite of going to the market and developing a menu from the ingredients you already sourced.

You can put 12 chefs in a room and give them access to unlimited resources for ingredients and ask them to prepare their best meal. You may be hard pressed to pick the “top chef” out of that bunch. But take the same 12 chefs and put them  in a room with the same three ingredients and you will quickly and easily separate the chefs from the wannabes. 

Supporting the local agriculture also keeps money in the local economy. It puts money into the hands of the hardest working people in the whole chain of food production: the farmers.

What food trend are you happy to see?

Restaurants supporting more local and sustainable agriculture.


Restaurants offering more choices for vegetarians.


Restaurants offering more healthy food in general.


More humane treatment in the raising of food animals.


Smaller portion sizes. (Good God, America! Back away from the fucking table once in a while!)


More traditional representations of ethnic cuisines instead of “dumbing down” cuisines for the American public. There is SO  much more to Italian cuisine than pizza and lasagna. And don’t even get me started on Mexican food.


More children in restaurants. Bear with me on this one, because this is a hot topic with two very clearly defined schools of thought. Kids in America have been given the shaft food-wise for too long. Children aren’t given enough credit for having a sense of taste. Too many adults automatically defer to the lowest common denominator when offering food to kids. Chicken fingers. Plain pasta with butter. Hamburgers. Macaroni and cheese….What’s wrong with a salad? Why not put squid in front of a child and just let her

try it? Don’t stigmatize the food. Why can’t we drop the phrase “Eat it cause it’s good for you” and adopt the phrase “Eat it cause it’s good” ?

The point is, kids need to start to learn about the amazing diversity of food at a younger age. You don’t know what a kid is going to like if you never let him taste anything new. Kids need to learn how to deal with the social intricacies of dining out in public at a younger age. A restaurant is the ideal place to learn about good food and good social skills at the same time. The reason some kids don’t behave well in restaurants is because they haven’t spent enough time in restaurants to know how to act. I see too many adults that could have benefitted from spending more time in restaurants growing up.

What trend do you hope or know is on its way out?

Huge portions (see above).


“Gourmet” macaroni and cheese.

Please, is this the best we can do for cuisine in America? The transmutation of macaroni and cheese?  WE. DO. NOT. NEED. ANOTHER. CHEF’S. RIDICULOUS. VERSION. OF. MAC AND MOTHERFUCKING CHEESE. thank you.


Overdone plate presentations.

I get it. You are a creative chef. You have managed to put every ingredient in the kitchen on one plate. I forgot what I even ordered…


Overblown descriptions on the menu.

It’s great that you name all of the local farmers and the specific area of the vineyard that the wine came from and listed every ingredient in the dish and used a lot of adjectives that you had to look up in a thesaurus  and mentioned who made the plate and where his studio is and what the pig was fed and where it roamed while it was eating it who caught the fish and the name of the boat he caught it from and and and….But now my eyes hurt and I’ll just have the macaroni and cheese, hold the “earthy truffle oil from fresh, Maggie-the-pig dug truffles, on the shady slopes of Mount LaLa on the southwest coast of an uncharted island in the inland ocean of Nomorea.”

What old trend will be making an resurgence soon?


Baked Alaska.

Dogs in restaurants.

Memphis is known for barbeque, is that an accurate depiction of the best memphis has to offer?

Memphis does have a well-deserved reputation for its barbecue. Also its fried chicken. And its soul food.

It is also known for Elvis and the Blues. All of these are certainly a part of the flavor of Memphis, but it has so much more going for it. Especially on the food front. Memphis probably has more independent, chef-driven restaurants than we get credit for. The farm-to-table concept is well established and well supported in our community. We have a growing bike-friendly environment. For every negative statistic that the national media throws up, we have one or two positive things going on that never get mentioned. What I feel has begun to happen in the last couple of years is that Memphians are starting to take Memphis seriously. This is a very important trend, even if the rest of the world never takes Memphis seriously.


What are the latest developments in your career?

I never stop thinking about my next concept. I keep a running brainstorm list of ideas going that I am constantly updating.

I am working on ideas for the next cookbook. I think about doing a more downscale, family-friendly restaurant in the future. I am trying to find the time to do more writing in the hopes of finishing my next cookbook or starting a restaurant blog.

Right now, however, I am focused on spending as much time as possible with my family. My kids are growing up so fast, and I don’t want to be that dad that is always at work. Thanks to an AWESOME staff at Tsunami, I am able to do this.

Where can people follow you?

Don’t follow me, it makes me paranoid.

On a serious note, however, I am a bit behind the times on the whole social media thing.  I am only on facebook because my wife signed me up for it. The only reason I have stayed on facebook is so that I can remember people’s names.

The way I feel about Twitter, is that if your life is so busy and interesting and important how do you find the time to tweet about it constantly? What’s the point? It just seems like so much self-indulgent blather to me.

And to the chefs who find time to tweet daily specials count all night long: shouldn’t you be working?

*sidenote* there is a tsunami facebook page @