Food stories are my favorite. One of my most important food stories happened at the age of 12 in the main square of Vienna, Austria. I was standing outside of a gorgeous chocolate shop. If memory serves, I had on a fanny pack and a large bright pink jacket and, I'm certain, the worst curling ironed rooster bangs you could ever imagine circa 1989. Keds and friendship bracelets were likely involved. A young G.I. (my dad was in the Army and we lived in Europe for most of my childhood) came out of the store and handed me a chocolate truffle. Time stopped. The hazelnut flavor that stopped me in my tracks. My head was spinning and I was having a thousand thoughts all at once. Have you ever had a moment in your life when you knew that things would never be the same? A kind of marker of "before" and "after"? There was my life before the Viennese chocolate truffle and there was my life after. I think up until that point, Baby Ruth was considered a major luxury. I thought about food very differently from that point on.
At the age of 14, we moved back home. Back to the South. Of course, there was nary a brotchen or baguette or truffle in sight. I mostly put food on the back burner and focused on art and dance and writing and music. Then, a spark was ignited when two of my best girl friends went to Paris for the summer. Postcards of boulangeries were flooding my mailbox. Phone calls and emails about the food they were eating were invading my home, my head, my heart. And then, as a young art student, I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. The world changed. Feeding him became more important than feeding myself. I learned about the biggest kind of love through him and through food.
With all of those changes and influences in my life, there was only one thing to do: I started baking. Furiously baking and making my own breads and cakes and pastry. I began to read anything I could get my hands on regarding artisan breads and traditional European baking. I delved into Maggie Gletzer and Bernard Clayton, Jr., I wanted to have, and make for my son, the kind of food that I grew up eating. And this, oddly enough, lead to an incredible journey toward Southern baking and me discovering my roots as a Southerner. I had to grow up a little to appreciate that all good things weren't just in Europe. And that my heart/home sickness wasn't simply for a place but also for a people whom I had not yet gotten to know as family. Through food, I started to fall in love with my roots, my southern family and Southern baking. If my family, there are stories of hand pies, apple orchards, moonshine rings, home brew recipes that went back for over a hundred years. Learning these stories ignited a spark. I fell in love with baking in a different way.
I was fortunate enough, after starting my career as a writer many years ago, to find myself as a server (as most writers eventually do) in one of Nashville's best restaurants, Margot Cafe and Bar under Margot McCormack's watchful and often critical eye. Up until that point in my life, I had not been a part of a "food culture". She was the first chef I had ever encountered. I didn't have the common sense to be as terrified as I should have been. I had worked in many restaurants, but I had never met people who felt as strongly about food as I did - and, to boot, had bet their entire hand on that life. I learned a lot about fine dining and about cooking during those days. I was still baking, quietly, on the side, for my family and friends. Eventually, I started letting those closest to me at the restaurant know about my baking. I would make a birthday cake here and there. And, I would occasionally have a paid freelance job pick up my food at work. When Tandy Wilson and Anne Kostroski - two CIA trained chefs working as the Sous and Pastry Chef at Margot, respectively - were on the brink of opening City House, quite arguably the most innovative and fabulous restaurant to open in Nashville since Margot, I went on to become Anne's Assistant Pastry Chef. Within four months of working under Anne, she moved on to Chicago and I became Head Pastry Chef of City House. Those were arguably some of the best, hardest and most educational times of my life. Working with Tandy and Aaron Clemins during the first two years of City House's existence was the best and most intense kind of work you could imagine. Among many, many other things, I learned how to be a professional and how to respect my craft from Tandy Wilson. I also learned how to tell good boob jokes.
After a few years, in order to better juggle my family life with work, I accepted a position back at Margot, but this time as her pastry chef rather than a server. Under her steady hand, I was able to practice my technique and test new ideas while I created a strong platform from which to launch. Margot allowed so much room for me to dream and sort out my next moves with patience and grace.
After establishing Buttermilk Road and having whirlwind first year of successful dinners, I accepted the Head Pastry Chef position at Husk Nashville under the incredibly supportive and encouraging force that is Sean Brock. Opening Husk Nashville and overseeing the original Husk pastry kitchen in Charleston for nearly two years was a phenomenal opportunity and one that I still process, consider and use as a point of reference for every professional thing I do to this day. I learned about systems, traveling with food, the dynamism of the Southern pantry and, ultimately, how to build a career that could take me to the places I'd always wanted to go.
I was so fortunate to work under these remarkable chefs and the good graces in which they allowed me to learn and succeed will never be forgotten. I would not be where I am today without their willingness to let me use their kitchens to become the baker and cook I am today.
And, since 2012 I've slowly built Buttermilk Road Sunday Supper into my dream job - a growing, ever evolving experience that allows me to write and work with some of the finest, most creative people in my town and, now, in the country. Buttermilk Road Sunday Supper was my brain child for quite some time and I can't tell you how good it feels to see it in real time and in real space and now, to eventually see it's new incarnation as simply Buttermilk Road.
I hope you'll enjoy and I can't thank you enough for stopping by.