Tanner Marino, the new executive chef at The Chattanoogan, grew up in a family of good cooks, though none on a professional level. But it was his family's appreciation of cooking and good food, plus eating together as a family, that influenced his decision to pursue a culinary career.
"We would all come together over a meal, and that inspired me to become a chef," says the Michigan native. "One way I show my love is through cooking for the people I care about."
Marino attended one year of culinary school, then took a job at Deveraux's, a popular fine-dining establishment in Greenville, S.C., where he received more than five years of on-the-job training. Since then, he's worked around the Carolinas, including the Hyatt Regency in Greenville and the Umstead Hotel and Spa in Cary, N.C., rated as one of Forbes' five-star hotels.
When he came on board at The Chattanoogan in June, Marino, 32, became the youngest executive chef in the hotel's history. He is responsible for overseeing the daily operations of the hotel's three restaurants — Broad Street Grille, for luxury dining; The Foundry, an upscale lounge; and Stroud's, a deli — as well as catered events and weddings.
Among the new items on the menus are Springer Mountain Chicken, Niman Ranch Pork Chop. Lobster Mac and Cheese, Faroe Island Salmon and Ribeye Two Ways.
Q: So what's your earliest food memory?
A: My grandmother serving me a pickle after I woke up from my nap each day.
Q: It takes years for some chefs to become executive chefs in a major restaurant. What do you think you bring to the table?
A: Extensive culinary experience in both restaurants and hotels, which is somewhat rare in the culinary world. Oftentimes, chefs are experienced in one or the other, but not both.
Q: Do you think your relative youth brings a fresh perspective to food service at The Chattanoogan?
A: My perspective is based on my experience and my vision for what I want The Chattanoogan to become. My relative youth enables me to put in the necessary hours and physical labor to get the job done.
Q: What's a typical day for you at The Chattanoogan?
A: First thing, I go over the day and assess what the needs are. Then I have a meeting with the morning staff. Depending on what is happening that day, I might prep food, execute any catering events, oversee the cooks or work in the office on things like menus and production sheets. I have meetings in the afternoons, and then I repeat the process once the evening staff arrives.
Q: You're in charge of room service; food service at Broad Street Grill and The Foundry; catering and in-house events. What's the key to keeping it all straight?
A: Keeping myself organized, communicating and properly delegating tasks to my team and also jumping into the flow when necessary.
Q: How have you changed the menu at Broad Street Grill?
A: I simplified the menu to focus on enhancing the quality of each dish. Rather than offering too many options, I wanted to really invest energy into creating amazing dishes where the ingredients shine and provide a cohesive dining experience.
Q: Is sourcing locally produced foods important to you?
A: Yes, we get a lot of great local produce now. I look forward to making more connections with local farmers and sharing their harvests with our community.
Q: Why did you choose to work for a large hotel rather than a standalone restaurant?
A: I originally made the career decision to move from standalone restaurants to hotels because I wanted to gain more experience on this side of the culinary world. Once I made the change, I realized that I loved the challenge and excitement of so many different food-service operations being rolled into one job.
Q: Would you ever like to open your own restaurant?
A: I could see myself opening a casual barbecue or deli concept someday, but who knows what the future holds.
Q: What would you consider your cooking style?
A: I like to cook simple, but elegant, food that focuses on the ingredients, exceptional cooking techniques and well-balanced flavors.
Q: Do you cook like that at home?
A: I thoroughly enjoy cooking at home with my family (wife Keri and 2-year-old son Ryder). I gravitate towards comfort foods or Latin flavors. I also cook spontaneously based on what we have on hand.
Q: Is there an ingredient you like to use that may surprise people?
A: I enjoy making herb-infused oils, and I add them to many dishes.
Q: What's something people may not know about you?
A: I have quite a few dietary restrictions that include intolerances to gluten, dairy and peanuts. That's pretty challenging considering I am a chef.
Email Anne Braly at email@example.com.