The 40,000 acres of Appalachian wilderness surrounding Lookout Mountain's McLemore Cove must seem especially lush to Alice Springs, Australia, native Anthony Hooper, executive chef at The Creag, the restaurant at the McLemore Club golf resort in Rising Fawn, Georgia.
Hooper realized he had a talent for cooking after he'd mastered his first omelet — something every cook should learn how to cook well, he says.
But there was something swimming in the Hooper family gene pool that didn't start with a well-prepared omelet. He comes from a family of cooks — two uncles are chefs in California and Australia. And he credits a multicultural background — French Creole, Indian, Australian and the American South among them — that continues to influence the fusion of flavors he adds to many dishes.
"I was always in the kitchen with my family," he recalls. "Everyone was required to help with tedious tasks, like stuffing and folding samosas, to earn a seat at the table."
Hooper moved to Rome, Georgia, when he was 8 years old and graduated from Atlanta's Cordon Bleu culinary school in 2006. After working at St. John's Restaurant and Ruth's Chris in Chattanooga, he now commands the kitchen at The Creag, a restaurant with a menu that Hooper describes as American with a blend of Scottish, French and Italian influences that changes with the seasons.
Q: McLemore is off the beaten path. What do you think attracts people to make the drive?
A: People don't just want to play golf or have dinner; they want an experience. The land and spectacular views already lend themselves to that. We complete that experience by providing great food and warm, personalized service. McLemore is also a wonderful community, and we genuinely welcome everyone to join us.
Q: What kind of food is your specialty?
A: French is my specialty, however I'm broadening my scope and learning how to incorporate more cuisines, such as Middle Eastern food, in a way that is familiar and approachable.
Q: How does opening a new restaurant compare to taking a job as executive chef at an existing one?
A: In a lot of ways it's easier to build a team and a culture that facilitates learning and creativity from scratch, rather than trying to "turn the ship around."
Q: Whom do you consider your mentor?
A: I would not be where I am now without Joshua Safford and Kenny Burnap when we worked together at St. John's Restaurant.
Q: What's your Achilles' heel ingredient — the one dish that gives you the most trouble when cooking?
A: Baking is not my forte. While I always strive to improve, I rely on talented people on our team for that. We collaborate on ideas, and they execute the vision.
Q: What's your favorite food city to visit and why?
A: Nashville has so much going on with several amazing chefs and places to go. From Husk and Catbird Seat, to Hattie B's and Santa's Pub, there's something for everyone.
Q: What food is your guilty pleasure?
A: An absurdly large rib-eye, medium-rare with a neat bourbon.
Q: What your best piece of advice for someone wanting to pursue a culinary career?
A: There's nothing wrong with culinary schools or programs, but you don't need them to be successful. Find great chefs to work for, and give it everything you have. Don't settle — really go for it. A good friend of mine is working for chef Thomas Keller right now, and I am so happy for him. Learn the fundamentals and different cuisines, then discover how you want to express yourself through your craft.
Q: What one person would you like to cook for?
A: That's a tough one. I can say the coolest person I have cooked for, and had the pleasure of meeting, was Harrison Ford when he was in town filming "42." He's extremely nice, but I really had to try and not freak out the whole time we were talking because I've been a fan since I was 6 years old.
Q: What's your most-memorable meal?
A: Enjoying fresh-caught mackerel, snapper and beer over a fire on an Australian island with my family. Completely unplugged — fishing, swimming and sleeping in hammocks. I can't describe how amazing that was.
Q: Finish this sentence. If I hadn't become a chef, I would have been
A: A carpenter. I have a need to work with my hands and make things constantly.
Q: What other people would make up a foursome at your dream dinner?
A: Since it's a dream dinner I'm going with chefs who have had the most influence me along the way. Anthony Bourdain (Food Network chef and travel documentarian, now deceased), Dominique Crenn (of Atelier Crenn, a Michelin three-star restaurant in San Francisco) and Massimo Bottura (of Osteria Francescana, a Michelin three-star restaurant based in Modena, Italy).
This ice cream is used in The Creag's s'mores dessert with pieces of brownie and graham cracker cookies, but you can turn this into a complete s'mores ice cream by adding chocolate chips or brownie and graham cracker pieces when churning your ice cream.
Toasted Marshmallow Ice Cream
4 cups marshmallows, divided into 3 cups and 1 cup
3 1/2 cups half-and-half
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 egg yolks
Use a cooking torch to toast the marshmallows. Once the first side is toasted, flip over and toast the other side. Set aside.
In a medium saucepan, combine half-and-half, sugar and vanilla. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Remove from heat.
Whisk the egg yolks. Slowly pour 1/2 cup of the hot dairy mixture into the egg yolks while whisking constantly to temper the eggs. Pour the egg mixture into the dairy mixture while whisking constantly.
Return pan to stove, and set over medium-low heat. Add 3 cups toasted marshmallows, and cook, stirring constantly, until the custard mixture reaches 180 degrees. Pour into a medium bowl.
Prepare an ice bath by filling a large bowl 2/3 full of ice and water. Place the bowl with the ice cream base into the ice bath. Allow to cool, stirring occasionally, until it reaches 50 degrees. Chill in the refrigerator for 4 hours or overnight.
Churn in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions.
When the ice cream is ready, put 1/3 into a container, add the remaining marshmallows. Mix for one minute, then place into a plastic or metal container. Press plastic wrap onto the top of the ice cream, and freeze for 4 to 12 hours.
Tip: In place of vanilla, you can add 1 teaspoon maple syrup for added flavor.
Email Anne Braly at email@example.com.