Chattanooga’s newest chefs embrace the city and push the boundaries of culinary excellence
When I turned nine, I received one of my most treasured and useful gifts, a cookbook for kids. Many of my childhood memories go back to that cookbook which guided me in preparing dinner for my family, along with the many hours spent watching Julia Child and Justin Wilson on PBS.
Today, we are deluged with shows dedicated to the art of food creations which show us how to engage our inner chef. With our work schedules and extra-curricular activities, it’s hard to take the time to gather around the table at home. Fortunately for us in Chattanooga, we have many options available to enjoy amazingly prepared meals with our families and friends.
Word gets out quickly in Chattanooga when a new restaurant opens. We learn the details of the location, the style of cuisine, the price point, and the parking availability. The questions I ponder are related to who is preparing this amazing new food. A chef is the mastermind behind a menu and the puppeteer of its spices. All of the culinary knowledge and experience of the chef drives the infusion of flavors that our taste buds dance to. Their passion and love for the culinary arts brings life to new recipes.
I decided to speak with some of the new chefs in our city who have recently opened an establishment to learn of their diverse backgrounds which led them to where they are today. Each chef provides a unique and individual contribution to Chattanooga’s culinary scene.
Not many people can say they have taken a food tour across America, but Chefs Jeff and Heather Pennypacker have lived a foodie’s dream. In March 2015, Jeff and Heather packed up their belongings in Asheville, NC and took a 4-month RV tour across the country. As I had the great opportunity to hear about their experience, I could only imagine how delicious the fresh, hot beignets were in New Orleans or how juicy the Diablo Burger was in Flagstaff and by their recollection, the Kansas City barbecue could only be described as amazing. They made it as far as AZ before turning back and heading toward the Southeast where they chose Chattanooga as their place to call home and opened the Sweet and Savory Classroom.
Jeff, the savory half of the team, has been a chef for over 18 years. When I met with him I learned he is also an ice sculptor, a teacher, and a writer. When it comes to style, he considers himself a Chef Tournade, with experience in different types of international cuisine along with American regional cuisine, but has always loved cooking French Classical the most (which is great for a date night class). A new favorite for him is working with the fresh ingredients and dough of Chinese cuisine. As his wife complimentarily stated how he has mastered the techniques of cooking and knife skills, he added “The more we teach, the more we learn.”
Heather, the sweet half of the team, with over 900 wedding cakes alone under her belt, has most definitely mastered the art of baking and pastries, but truly enjoys working with chocolate. When attending parties, she likes to bring biscuits or a rustic tart to share the comforts of home. These parents of two are both teachers at heart who want their students leaving their class with newly acquired culinary skills and confidence with cooking in their own kitchens. Their classroom is equipped with tools and appliances that can be found in your kitchen at home. Jeff has certain words of wisdom he likes to use to tell his students to keep in control of their cooking, “Once you burn something, it gets bitter…once it gets bitter it never gets better,” and encourages his students to “Learn to cook with your senses.” Jeff added, “My goal for the people of Chattanooga is to teach the proper use of salt on food…without it tasting like a French fry.”
The Sweet and Savory Classroom
45 E Main Street, Suite 112
Chattanooga, TN 37408
I recently had a great conversation with two of the main players at STIR. Jamie Walton, Ice Chef, worked in St. Augustine at A1A Ale Works and its sister restaurant Ragtime Tavern, until it was purchased by a Chattanooga company six years ago. Jamie transferred to Chattanooga to be a part of the management team at their corporate office, which also owned Bluewater Grille where Scott Eiselstein, a Chattanooga native, was executive chef.
The passion for both chefs is equal; they share a common philosophy which is to keep the integrity of all components for a masterpiece. This is practiced in every aspect of the business, starting with the atmosphere to the meal plated for the customer to the artisanal ice in their craft cocktails, in order to create a complete package. As Executive Chef, Scott tries to take his cuisine to a different level visually as well as the flavor profile on any dish he creates. Jamie adds that cooking is like making music, “There are really no new notes in music, [but] there are new composures and different ways of laying it out. That’s what food is…symphonies and bands get together and come up with different things, just like what is currently in season.”
They take pride in the entire team as a whole; a team who hangs their egos at the door and collaborates in an environment where suggestions are open to everyone, from chefs and non-chefs alike. Scott and Jamie’s main goal is to “Give an atmosphere that our guests will come and just feel our passion and enjoy themselves.”
1444 Market Street
Chattanooga, TN 37402
Eduardo Amoedo and his best friend enjoyed vacationing in Chattanooga with their families so much that they decided to move here 18 months ago to open a restaurant together. Born in Cuba to a Lebanese mother, he shared his early childhood love for cooking. He told me how his mother used to sell Cuban street food at worksites from the back of her car, just as food trucks do today. When she realized his passion for cooking, she shared recipes that were passed down to her with her son, and in turn, he now shares those recipes with us at his restaurant, Embargo ‘62. If this master of Cuban cuisine had to name his specialty, he says it would have to be his roast pork, although his favorite is his mother’s Kibbeh, a Lebanese staple made of lamb/ground beef, bulgur, and mint.
Prior to becoming a chef, Eduardo was a helicopter mechanic in the Army for 10 years. He had fun, but knew it was not his passion so he cultivated his love for cooking, ultimately running a dining facility feeding 2500 troops daily. As a senior staff member on a US Army Culinary team, he worked his way up to being on a 4-star general’s personal staff. He was sent to Le Cordon Bleu and interned while working for the general. He still serves our country as an Army Reservist.
As we sat in his newest restaurant, where he is also overseeing the construction, he shared his thoughts on being a chef, he states, “I’m not this amazing chef that has worked at these amazing restaurants; I’m a pretty humble person. I love cooking and the success of the restaurant is my craft, it’s my skill.”
301 Cherokee Blvd
Chattanooga, TN 37405
Nathan Flynt and his wife were living in Boston 8-years ago when a job opportunity in Chattanooga arose for his wife, which allowed them to move closer to family. “We bought two one-way tickets and away we went.” I first met Nathan at MainX24 two years ago. (You may recognize him as the Famous Nater’s World Famous food truck guy.) I was with my step-daughter who was a very picky eater at the time (I cannot stress that enough); we walked up to his food truck and ordered a barbecue sandwich. Thinking the sandwich was too elaborate, she sniffed and snarled before she took her first bite and followed with a loud “OMG!” I truly feel that sandwich was the turning point which opened her mind to the culinary world.
This father of two sons (hence Two Sons Kitchen) would love for future chefs to know and understand how regular training is important in keeping their culinary skills up to date, “Some graduate culinary school and think they have made it.” Nathan’s cooking style is southern and his favorite food is anything prepared well with the proper time and attention given to the dish, especially a nice smoked pig.
2 Sons Kitchen and Market
1120 Houston Street
Chattanooga, TN 37402
When you decide to go out on the town, take some time to get to know the chefs yourself when you visit some other newly opened restaurants such as Puckett’s Chattanooga, which comes to us from Nashville (Puckett’s Grocery and Restaurant was named one of the top barbecue restaurants in America in The 100 Best Barbecue Restaurants in America) located beside the Tennessee Aquarium; The Feed Co. Table and Tavern which serves a seasonal farm fresh menu located on the Southside on Main Street; and Fresh Pot Café in Hixson, which provides a traditional menu with Ecuadorian specials.
However, if you prefer not to go out and want to pick up a delicious meal to eat at home, Chef Tim Mulderink, owner of A Chef and His Wife has an excellent solution. You can order freshly prepared food online and pick up on your way home or have delivered to your door. His meals are low in sodium, cooked from raw ingredients, and local when possible.
What I have learned is every chef is asked the same question over and over, “What is your favorite food?” and the truth is a chef really doesn’t have a favorite food. There are so many options available.So don’t worry about settling, close your eyes and open your palette to all the amazing flavors the culinary world has to offer.