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Chef’s Table Talk

Three culinary and cocktail leaders dish on their career backgrounds, and the inspiration behind their work

Article by Jennifer Draher

Photography by Terry Fravel

Originally published in Canton Lifestyle

Name: Patrick Toy

Restaurant: PJ’s Legendary Hot Chicken

Position: Executive Chef

TELL US ABOUT PJ’S AND THE CONNECTION TO OLD CAROLINA AND SMOKE THE BURGER JOINT.

Together, we make up Ichor Restaurant Group. PJ’s is sold within Smoke and several Old Carolina’s, but it’s a totally separate concept with our interpretation of Nashville hot chicken. Much like we enjoyed the barbecue from the Carolinas, and created OC locally, we wanted to bring that Nashville heat up North. We fry the chicken and dip it into a seasoned oil with cayenne and Carolina reaper peppers. The chicken stays crispy and the oil attaches to the breading creating a flavor explosion!

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?

My favorite part of the job is serving guests. I love seeing the look of satisfaction on people’s faces when they eat our food. In the food service industry, you feed off of that.

WHAT’S THE HARDEST PART OF THE JOB?

Right now, the hardest part is just getting supplies. Pandemic-related supply chain delays made it difficult to get our paper products. The price of brisket skyrocketed, too. I’d rather have a spatula in my hand than worry about where my paper plates are coming from. I also don’t enjoy the tedium of getting on the computer and solving problems.

WHY DID YOU BECOME A CHEF?

Survival. My mother was really sick growing up. Either I learned to cook or starved to death. It blossomed from there. My travels contributed as well. I found regional cooking and kept expanding my knowledge. I especially enjoy Indian food. I also went through an Asian phase, then favored Scandinavian cooking for its simplicity. There’s something good in everything. The way people use regional products or ingredients fascinates me and pushes me to create new and interesting flavor profiles.

DO YOU HAVE A CULINARY ROLE MODEL OR INSPIRATION?

Sure, it’s anyone’s grandmother – someone who’s spent so much time in the kitchen feeding their family. The stories they tell about different recipes and where they came from creates a bonding experience through food.

In the late 70s, I was in Finland to run the Helsinki marathon. One woman, related to a gentleman I was traveling with, cooked us dinner on a wood-burning stove. She made salmon that we caught earlier in the day in the river behind her house. She wrapped it in cheesecloth and poached it in broth with fresh dill. While she cooked, she recounted her story of what she went through during the war. I don’t know if it was the flavor or the memory, but it was that good. In those moments, the meal becomes magical.

WHAT’S THE BEST-KEPT SECRET ABOUT PJ’S?

Our chicken sandwich. We make it with chicken thigh. People are so caught up with the chicken breast and white meat that they’ve forgotten the taste of the dark meat. We’ve had a lot of people respond positively after they eat the sandwich.

WHAT’S THE MOST ABSTRACT INGREDIENT YOU’VE EVER WORKED WITH?

I had the hardest time trying to master working with conch while living in the Caribbean. It’s an art form that requires a slow poach, but it’s easy to overcook and make it tough or rubbery. You can use it in soups, toss with pasta, or use it so many other ways.

favorite dish at your restaurant?

The flavorful and tender brisket at Old Carolina, slowly cooked over hickory for 10 hours. One of the perks of working with different concepts is enjoying a variety of food every day.

Chef Name: Heather Reahm

Restaurant: Royal Docks Brewing Company

Position: Executive Chef

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?

My favorite part is ensuring that every dish is prepared properly and that our staff sticks to the recipes. That way every time a plate comes out it’s the same no matter who’s making it.

WHAT’S THE HARDEST PART OF THE JOB?

I used to struggle with being creative and coming up with new recipe ideas. But I’ve gotten much better over the years.

WHY DID YOU BECOME A CHEF?

I didn’t choose cooking, it chose me. When I started working at restaurants, I just pulled the food out of the window, checked the garnishes and sent it out. But when a colleague pushed me to learn how to cook, I went with it, and became really good at it. I’m passionate about what I do, and I work hard to make sure everything is perfect.

DO YOU HAVE A CULINARY ROLE MODEL OR INSPIRATION?

Nope, not at all! I never went to school. I’m self-taught in corporate restaurants.

WHAT’S THE BEST-KEPT SECRET ABOUT ROYAL DOCKS?

We all wear multiple hats. Just because I’m in charge of the kitchen doesn’t mean I won’t can beer, help recycle cardboard, or whatever else is needed.

WHAT’S THE MOST ABSTRACT INGREDIENT YOU’VE EVER WORKED WITH?

Jackfruit. One of my vendors brought it to me as a meat substitution. I’ve shredded it for faux BBQ pulled pork dishes. We looked into using it for a short time. I let a few of our regulars try it side-by-side with real pork. If you didn’t know it replaced the meat, you’d never know the difference.

favorite dish at your restaurant? I have one for each of our locations. At the Foeder House in Plain Township, it’s the fried deviled eggs. At the Taproom in Jackson, it’s the chipotle chicken flatbread.

Name: Kate Lewis

Restaurant: 1899 Indoor Golf

Position: Bar Manager

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?

My favorite part of the job is being creative and interacting with guests. I love experimenting with ingredients and creating unique cocktails. I also enjoy getting to know people and their palette, then taking that knowledge and introducing them to something new.

WHAT’S THE HARDEST PART OF THE JOB?

Honestly, the hardest part is naming the cocktails.

WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION?

I went to bartending school a very long time ago where I learned the foundation for a good cocktail. The lessons I value the most come from experiments that have succeeded as well as failed. I also find inspiration from ingredients and from memories associated with food. For example, when I was a child, my mother fed me jam on rye toast for breakfast. When I saw caraway seeds during an ingredient search, I thought it would be fun to create a play on that. I created a cocktail we call The Black Ranger, and it consists of Bacardi Rum, Bénédictine, lime, blackberries and caraway syrup.

WHAT’S THE BEST-KEPT SECRET ABOUT 1899 INDOOR GOLF?

Our VIP Speakeasy room. It’s a private room hidden by bookshelf murphy doors, with a private large-screen bay that can be used for more than just golf. A group of ladies threw a party there for the premier of The Bachelor, and I created a signature drink just for their event.

WHAT’S THE MOST ABSTRACT INGREDIENT YOU’VE EVER WORKED WITH?

We make house cocktails with fresh herbs, hand-squeezed citrus and house-made syrups. I guess the oddest ones I’ve used are beet shrub and sugar snap peas (in two separate cocktails).

favorite drink at your bar?

It depends on the occasion, but I’d go with The Stinger to sit back, relax and sip on. This consists of Four Roses Bourbon, Cointreau, Zucca Rabarbaro, Angostura Orange Bitters.

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