Chris Moore looks back on her childhood growing up in Toledo, Ohio, with fond memories about her grandparents' garden.
"I remember cleaning fruits and vegetables after we picked them," she says. "My grandpa and grandma would give me a pile of green beans to snap the ends off of before we would pickle them. I got to help my grandpa prepare the pickling liquid and then would help with putting the beans into Mason jars to be stored away for eating later. They actually turned out pretty well. My grandma was a great cook."
Now, she not only cleans fruits and vegetables for herself when cooking at home, she prepares them, as well as a host of other dishes, for patrons dining at The Chattanoogan where she is the new executive chef over all of the dining venues at the hotel, from Forge (formerly Broad Street Grill) to High Rail on the rooftop and Stills + Mash off the hotel lobby.
Here, she talks about working at a hotel the size of The Chattanoogan and how she fell in love with cooking.
Q: Who inspired you to become a chef?
A: I don't recall anyone having a big influence on that decision. I started working in restaurants to pay my rent, and it stuck. I fell in love with the industry and the people in it — such a great collection of people with varied life experiences and backgrounds. I was drawn to it, and I fit right in.
Q: Whom do you consider your mentor?
A: Chef Philippe Boulot. He is a French master chef and James Beard Award winner. I worked for him in Portland, Oregon.
Q: How long have you been in Chattanooga, and where did you work before you came here?
A: I moved here in January. Before that, I was living in Birmingham, Alabama, and working at The Chattanoogan's sister property, the Elyton Hotel (another Hilton property). Prior to that, I spent a few years at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina.
Q: What are your duties as executive chef?
A: That depends on the day. In general terms, I'm responsible for the daily operation of the kitchen and managing the folks that work in it. But on any given day, I am a coach, a mentor, a prep cook, a student, a writer of menus, a sounding board and often a jokester.
Q; How does working for a restaurant in a hotel differ from working in a standalone restaurant?
A: There are so many more moving parts.
Q: What food or trend do you think is overdone in restaurants these days?
A: Mystery-box cooking challenges. I am amazed that there are actually cooking shows on television with that premise.
Q: Who would the other three people be at your dream dinner?
A: My mom, my grandma and my grandpa. They have all passed away in the last five years. I think that they would like to experience how far my food has come.
Q: What's the most important cooking tool in your kitchen?
A: My red vegetable peeler. One of my sous chefs, who still works with me, gave it to me in a Christmas stocking a few years ago. I still have it, and I still love it.
Q: Is there a cookbook or website you turn to for inspiration?
A: Yes, "Girl in the Kitchen" by Stephanie Izard.
Q: What food is your guilty pleasure?
A: Gummy bears.
Q: What ingredient are you crazy about right now?
A: Ras el hanout. It's a Moroccan spice that I try to incorporate anywhere that I can.
Q: Describe your overall cooking philosophy.
A: Food should be approachable, prepared with classic techniques and sustainably sourced.
Q: What chefs do you follow on social media or admire their work and career in general?
A: Stephanie Izard and Dominique Crenn. Both are very forward-thinking, creative and amazingly talented women chefs.
Q: How would you describe the menu at Forge?
A: Southern progressive.
Q: There are several dining areas at The Chattanoogan. Which is your favorite?
A: That's not fair! I can't pick a favorite. I would have to say that in this current moment, I am pouring my heart and soul into Forge and Stills + Mash. I love the vibe in High Rail, though, and I'm looking forward to bringing brunch back up there.
Q: What's one of your go-to meals when cooking for yourself at home?
A: Pan-seared salmon with pistachio salsa verde. Anything that I can prepare quickly and eat over rice or salad greens, like this salmon, is a go for me.
Pan Seared Salmon With Pistachio Salsa Verde
1/4 cup mint leaves
1/2 cup parsley leaves
1 bulb peeled garlic
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided
1/4 cup chopped pistachios
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 salmon filet
Make salsa verde: Combine mint leaves, parsley leaves and garlic on a cutting board, and chop finely together. Transfer to a small bowl, add 3 tablespoons olive oil, the pistachios, lemon zest and lemon juice; stir well. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
Heat a saute pan over medium heat. Add remaining 1 teaspoon olive oil. Generously season salmon filet with salt and pepper. Add salmon to hot pan, and let cook for 5 minutes. Flip salmon over, and repeat cooking time or until done to your liking.
Top the salmon with the pistachio salsa verde, and enjoy with a salad or over rice or pasta, if desired.