Like many chefs, Charlie Loomis, executive chef at Feed Co. Table & Tavern, learned his trade by working his way around the kitchen and up the ladder. It all started in Leesburg, Va., where, at age 14, Loomis sweated as a fry cook at his local Roy Rogers Restaurant. Then, for eight years, he was employed by a local bakery, South Street Under, where "I worked every position," he says.
Now 37, his resume includes sous chef at Michael Deans in Raleigh, N.C.; and chef at Laughing Seed and Tupelo Honey in Asheville, N.C. He helped open Chattanooga-based Greenlife Grocery in Asheville as well, and that's what brought him to Chattanooga, where he became food service director for both stores. When Whole Foods purchased Greenlife, he moved back into the restaurant business, becoming head chef at 1885 Grill, before becoming part of Main Street's dynamic food scene at Feed when it opened in August 2015.
Here he talks about his background in cooking, his television exposure and the recurring theme of fried chicken.
Q: Who influenced your cooking the most?
A: My grandmother and my parents — all great cooks. My mother is a by-the-book, scientific cook, and my dad is an experimental cook. My grandmother was always just an amazing cook all the way around.
Q: If you hadn't chosen a culinary career, what field of study would you have pursued?
A: I always wanted to be a teacher.
Q: What has been one of your biggest challenges as a chef?
A: Learning when to say no. I have had a lot of great opportunities, and it used to be that I would jump at every chance that I had to grow. Learning that it is OK to say no to some of these amazing opportunities has helped in order to take time with my family or even just to rest.
Q: Are there any culinary trends that spark your interest these days?
A: I am really excited to see vegetarian and vegetable-centric dishes coming around. I love produce.
Q: What's been the most-difficult cooking skill you've had to master?
A: Fried chicken.
Q: You enter a lot of contests. What's been your favorite?
A: I really enjoyed being on "Cooks vs Cons" on the Food Network. I was excited about just getting a free trip to New York City, but winning it made it that much sweeter! I also really enjoyed the Southern Wing Showdown this past summer in Atlanta. We wound up taking first place against 25 of the best chefs in the South, and we won bragging rights to having the best wings in the South, a Big Green Egg smoker and a trip to the World Food Championships.
Q. How does participating in the contests help your career?
A: Interacting with other people in your field of work really helps any of us chefs. You always find little efficiencies that you'd never think of and get to taste new, funky things. It's really cool because everyone always gets along great, and everyone gets it. We all get excited about competing.
Q: What food is your guilty pleasure?
A: Fried chicken.
Q: What's the one kitchen tool you can't live without and why?
A: My Lodge cast-iron pan. It's the same answer every time. I literally use it for everything, from baking cornbread and cooking eggs to frying chicken, which sometimes I still have a problem with!
Q: What's one of your favorite holiday recipes?
A: I have started making a green bean casserole on top of buttermilk whipped potatoes and topping it with fried onions. It was my wife's idea, and we don't even have a name for it. But it is so good.
Green Bean Potato Casserole
4 pounds baking boiling potatoes
2 cups buttermilk
6 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup sour cream
8 ounces goat cheese
Salt and freshly ground pepper
For green beans:
1 pound green beans, cut into 2-inch pieces
2 tablespoons butter
12 ounces button mushrooms, sliced
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 1/2 tablespoons flour
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup half-and-half
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup fried onions (homemade or store-bought)
For potatoes: Bring the potatoes to a boil. When they are fork-tender, strain and allow to sit for about 5 minutes. Add this to a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. On level 3, whip the potatoes for about 30 seconds. Add the remaining ingredients, and turn up to level 5 or 6 . Whip this until well incorporated., about 2 minutes. Be sure not to overwhip, or the texture will be unpleasant.
For green beans: Blanch beans in boiling water for 3 minutes, and shock in ice water. Melt the butter in a sauté pan. Allow the butter to brown slightly over medium heat. Add the mushrooms, and cook until most of the water is cooked out of them (5 minutes). Add the garlic and nutmeg, and cook for 1 more minute. Add the flour, and cook on medium low for 1 minute. Whisk in the chicken stock and half-and-half; cook until it begins to simmer. As soon as it thickens, turn the flame off. Fold in the green beans, and season with salt and pepper.
To prepare: Place the whipped potatoes in the bottom of a buttered, 12-inch cast-iron skillet or any ovenproof baking dish. Top with the green beans, and top the beans with fried onions. Bake at 400 degrees until bubbly, 15-20 minutes.
Contact Anne Braly at firstname.lastname@example.org.