Nathan Diener, head chef at Parkway Pourhouse, spent much of his childhood, from ages 6 to 14 — the formative years when many future chefs begin to realize their love of cooking — in Athens, Tennessee. From there he moved to Lexington, Kentucky, before settling into life in Chattanooga when he was 26.
At 42, he's worked in various food-related jobs, from making pizzas at Mellow Mushroom to rolling sushi at Greenlife Grocery. Now, he heads the culinary team at Parkway Pourhouse, where Cajun fare is the specialty and "laissez les bons temps rouler" (let the good times roll) is a way of life.
Q: Do you come from a family of cooks?
A: My mother has always cooked, as well as my grandmother. My earliest memories of food are breakfast at my grandmother's house. She was from eastern Kentucky and cooked traditional Southern cuisine. Her sausage gravy is the best I've ever had, and my mother carried on that tradition.
Q: Who was your biggest influence in pursuing a culinary career?
A: I can't name any one person in my decision to become a chef. I've always enjoyed food and started in food service because I liked the atmosphere and the camaraderie of a kitchen and also the flexible hours. It wasn't until I moved to Chattanooga and got a job at Greenlife Grocery and began to learn how to roll sushi that I really fell in love with cooking. Also, Greenlife was full of amazing, talented, enthusiastic people from all walks of life. There was an atmosphere of creativity that really allowed me to thrive.
Q: You've been the head chef at Parkway Pourhouse for the past two years, so have you made any changes to the menu?
A: The original head chef at Parkway, Marcus Willis (now operating partner at Barque BBQ), did an amazing job creating the menu, and many of his creations still anchor the menu. We've added many items along the way, and we are constantly tweaking recipes to get them just right, though.
Q: What food or trend do you think is overdone in restaurants these days?
A: Nashville hot chicken.
Q: Who would join you to make up a foursome at your dream dinner table?
A: Anthony Bourdain, chef Jiro Ono and Jerry Garcia.
Q: What cookbook or website are you liking now?
A: I use Pinterest whenever I'm looking for a recipe or need a little inspiration.
Q: What kitchen tool can't you work without?
A: My 10-inch Shun kitchen knife. I pretty much use that one knife for everything.
Q: What food is your guilty pleasure?
A: Detroit-style pizza. Community Pie's is great.
If you go
Where: Parkway Pourhouse, 801 Riverfront Parkway
Hours: 3-10 p.m. Monday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday
Entree price range: $11-$23
Q: What ingredient are you liking right now?
A: I love garlic. We use a lot of roasted garlic in our recipes, and we save the oil that we roast the garlic in for cooking with as well. Also, apple cider vinegar. It's amazing what a little apple cider vinegar will do for a sauce.
Q: Describe your ideal date night in Chattanooga.
A: If the weather is right, I would prefer a nice walk around downtown, stopping at a bar or two for a cocktail before having dinner and then seeing some live music at Cherry Street Tavern. No Hard Feelings is a cool spot with a great vibe and great cocktail menu. I like the bar at Meeting Place for drinks and dinner. Or Two Ten Jack is a great low-key spot.
Q: What's your cooking philosophy?
A: Less is more. Keep it simple, and don't take yourself too seriously
Q: Complete this sentence. If I hadn't become a chef
A: I would be involved in the music industry, either promoting concerts or producing events.
Q: What's your favorite food on the Parkway Pourhouse menu to eat?
A: At the moment, it's our Debris Po' Boy with horseradish mayo. Debris is essentially roast beef with a beef gravy, and it's very messy but totally worth it.
Q: What's your favorite thing on the menu to make?
A: Our gumbo. There are many layers to a good gumbo, from the dark roux to the filé powder, roasted duck meat and all the other wonderful spices. Also, gumbo takes a long time to make. With multiple components. It's a real labor of love, but I love making it.
Q: How would you describe Parkway's menu?
A: Elevated bar food with a Cajun flair, like Jamba-sotto, Parkway's take on jambalaya.
Parkway Pourhouse Jamba-sotto
1/4 cup chopped onions
1/4 cup copped celery
1/4 cup chopped green peppers
1/2 cup andouille sausage, cut into 1/2-inch slices
1/4 cup Chef Paul Prudhomme Redfish Magic Cajun seasoning
2 tablespoons roasted garlic
2 cups arborio rice
1 quart chicken stock
1/2 cup cooked and chopped chicken thighs
1/2 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
In a 4-quart stock pot over medium-high heat, cook the veggies and andouille until the veggies are soft. Add in Redfish Magic seasoning and roasted garlic; mix well and cook for a couple more minutes. Add arborio rice, mixing well.
Turn heat to low, and add enough chicken stock to cover all ingredients. Bring to a simmer, adding chicken stock as needed until rice is cooked. Cooking the arborio is a slow process over low heat. You will need to constantly stir and only add stock as the rice absorbs the stock. It should take about 20 minutes for the rice to fully cook. The closer the rice is to being done, the less stock you will want to add. You want the rice to be fully cooked, but not mushy, and all the liquid needs to be absorbed.
Sauté the shrimp in butter, and season it with Redfish Magic or salt and pepper. Set shrimp aside.
Once the arborio is fully cooked, add in the thighs and apple cider vinegar. Top with sautéed shrimp, and enjoy.
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