so TONIGHT….

we was working right…

and then we needed more potaotes so i said “hey chris p,cause it use to be more than one chris so i call him chris p, tell gabe to get some potaotes going.”

he replied, “okay!” and zoom he was off. chris p gets back and says, “gabe is on it!”

a LOT of time passes and i go, “chris what the f**k up with those potatoes.” chris goes to check it out, zoom he gone! i leave the line to take back an empty six pan all nonchalant like…

and i see this…

but in a pot.

this was all that was left…

and i was like…

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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?

Snuff.

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 @ https://www.facebook.com/pages/Tsunami/154345797072

Sustainability

dictionary.com defines sustainability as  the quality of not being harmful to the environment or depleting natural resources, and thereby supporting long-term ecological balance. now who can say in earnest that this is not a worthwhile cause. i have seen bags, and farmers markets, and composting, and lists but i have not really thought about my own position on the subject. at 26 years old and as a college student with a full time job i thought other things were more important. i thought that it was silly. maybe i didnt think at all. but after a long conversation with one of my mentors Marissa Baggett i knew i had made a terrible mistake.i thought that it was something that did not need my attention. that i didnt need to speak on. surely everyone knows that we only have one earth… right? one person can make a difference. my efforts no matter how small will catch the attention of that bagger who puts my groceries in a reusable bag or the farmer that i support at the market. and if nothing else the look of joy on my future child’s face when the world is as it was meant to be and not marred by irresponsibilty and depleted. so what can you do? i hope thats the question you are asking at this point and i hope to get you started by sharing some links below with ways to go green and promote sustainability today!

there is this site which focuses on seafood sustainability

http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/cr_seafoodwatch/issues/default.aspx?c=ln

this site discusses recycling

http://www.epa.gov/osw/conserve/rrr/recycle.htm
and then finally this government site which aids in sustainability

http://www.epa.gov/gateway/learn/greenliving.html

Tsunami Winter Market

so i haven’t been posting lately, it has been a crazy few weeks for me. so i have been involved in the midtown winter market. this is a farmers market where a few farmers bring their produce or product directly to the consumer. this cuts down on price, this builds relationships and this increases food knowledge. farmers markets allow you to get information directly fromt the source. also processing is taken out of the process. most farmers at the markets are organice if they arent certified. So you get the best product for the best price by going out and supporting the farmers markets.

i have been taking part in this farmers market for three weeks now. it has been great and i have been well recieved. i sell:
Black Eye Pea Hummus
Cornbread Crostinis
Pasta Salad
Tomato Jam
Broccoli Slaw
Chow Chow mild and spicy

so i know i have been absent but i have been working the entire time. also i plan on posting some recipes really soon, so stick with me and together we shall show the world the power of one.

Wine Dinner

so dinners are my target area at the moment and i have completed my first. in fact this post comes two weeks after me completing my first wine dinner. cayce pappas contacted me about providing food for her guests and i happily obliged. i have a menu that i emailed her, she emailed back with request, i had a sommelier work on wines for this dinner and we came up with the perfect menu. since i cannot lay claim to the selection of wines i will just list my menu,

1st course
Coconut Shrimp in Mango Tomato Sauce with Bok Choy Slaw

2nd course
Carmelized Onion and Roasted Garlic Potato Soup with Smoked Paprika Sour Cream

3rd course
Apples and Carrots over Mixed Greens with Walnut Honey Thyme Vinaigrette

4th Course
Petite Filet over Whole Grain Mustard and Horseradish Cream with Asparagus, Sauteed Shiittake Mushrooms and a Potato Croquette

5th Course
Black Pepper Ice Cream over Strawberry Wontons with Balsamic Redux

I was happy with the quality of food and proud of my newly minted staff, my lovely wife stacy and my close friend gabriel, and i dare to say a good time was had by all.

invasion of the butternut squash

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they were humongous and one asked me to take him to my leader!

Artist market

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one of my first gigs on my own. if u want to know anything about photos ask and I will reply.