Though born in the United States, chef Eric Taslimi, a graduate of Middle Tennessee State University and Johnson & Wales University in Charleston, South Carolina, spent his early years in Iran, where his parents were born. And it's this background that helped influence his career path.
"My mom was a great home cook, and she did cook around town at a couple of restaurants — The Loft and Town and Country (both now closed)," he says. "For Persians, food, cooking and the act of mealtime is a huge part of our life. So I would say I come from a culture of cooks."
In 2006, Taslimi became head chef at Table 2, a restaurant that opened on 11th Street near Warehouse Row as the resurgence of downtown dining was taking off. It was his first experience taking charge of a restaurant kitchen, and although he had a culinary degree from Johnson & Wales, "There's no substitute for practical experience in a kitchen," he says.
Table 2 closed after five years. In 2013, he opened Slick's in St. Elmo, his first restaurant with business partner Robb Peterson. Two years later, they moved the location to Main Street and followed with the opening of a second Southside restaurant, Southside Pizza, in 2017 on Main Street.
While Table 2 was a restaurant offering upscale dining, Slick's and Southside Pizza are casual eateries — the former known for its burgers and craft beers, the latter a laid-back pizza joint. The menus at all three restaurants, though, have two things in common: "We bring the same passion for procuring great products and pairing them with the best service possible," Taslimi notes.
Q: Do you have interests in other restaurants in town?
A: That's a complicated question. I'm fascinated in trying to figure out what the city needs and what would work here. Do I want to roll up my sleeves and build another? I don't know. If the right opportunity came along, would I be open to it? Maybe. But as of now, we're concentrating on Slick's and Southside Pizza. It's a difficult time to plan anything.
Q: What's your earliest cooking memory?
A: Peeling and cooking fava beans with my mom as a small child. Lots and lots of beans.
Q: What was your first restaurant job?
A: I was a dishwasher at TGI Fridays downtown.
Q: Who influenced you to become a chef?
A: I started cooking in high school and continued all through my college years because I enjoyed it and I was good at it. Not until my last year of school did I decide to go to culinary school.
Q: What is your most-memorable meal?
A: A recent memorable meal was eating a Di Fara's cheese pizza out on the sidewalk in Brooklyn a couple years ago.
Q: What's your most-important kitchen tool?
A: My hands.
Q: What food item is always in your kitchen?
Q: What's your favorite thing to make on the menu at Slick's?
A: I like caramelizing onions.
Q: A professional kitchen can be a crazy place at rush hour. How do you maintain calm?
A: Preparation, practice and a competent staff give you the tools to handle the rush and any surprises that may come up.
Q: If you could have a meal with anyone, who would it be?
A: The 20-year-old me. I think we would both learn a lot from each other.
Q: What food is your guilty pleasure?
A: Chocolate candy.
Q: How does your home cooking differ from that you make in your restaurant?
A: With two children under 10, we cook the standards at home for the most part.
Q: What's your favorite, go-to cookbook or website?
A: ChefSteps.com, and I go to Thomas Keller's cookbooks not so much for recipes but for technique.
Q: What's your favorite date-night place in Chattanooga?
Q: How have you seen Chattanooga's food scene change in the years you've been here?
A: Restaurants are a huge part of a city's culture, and as the demographics of Chattanooga have changed and diversified, so has the food.
Q: You mentioned that the foodways of Persia have influenced some of your own cooking. What's one of your favorite recipes?
A: It comes from my favorite Persian cookbook, "From a Persian Kitchen," by Jila Dana-Haeri. Tamarind Coriander Chutney is a wonderful relish that goes great with fish or chicken, and it's easy to make. I also like it because you can dial the heat up and down depending on the pepper you use.
Tamarind Coriander Chutney
1 medium onion
1 hot red or green chili
1 tablespoon tamarind paste
1/4 ounce fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves
Salt, to taste
Peel and grate the onion, and chop the chili. Dissolve the tamarind paste in 1/2 cup of hot water. Wash and dry the coriander, remove the tough stalks and finely chop the leaves.
In a small bowl, mix together all the ingredients, and chill in the refrigerator for at least 1/2 hour before serving. Delicious as a condiment for chicken or fish.
Email Anne Braly at email@example.com.