More About Shelly

My fondest memories revolve around food. I often sit at the breakfast table dreaming up what I will have for dinner the same night or for one night of the upcoming weekend. Putting food on the table is my most treasured creative outlet. Cooking is my art. Food is my medium. My hands, my heart, my soul, and my palate are my tools. This site is an avenue where I would like to share my experiences and insights with you.

Quiet time in the kitchen is what feeds my soul. I have found a way to nurture and connect with myself in the kitchen while chicken simmers in the pot with fresh herbs and mirepoix. A comforting aroma fills the house as the velvety stock is being created.

I began cooking at a very young age. My first jobs in the kitchen while hanging on to the apron strings of my grandmother were drying and putting away the dishes. I loved being in the kitchen when I was young as much as I do now.

My kitchen skills evolved over the years. My mom is a good baker, and I learned about measurements and precision from her. My grandmother was more into savory fare, so I gained an entire repertoire of good ole’ Southern cooking from her. My grandfather was a good cook, too. I learned the basic skills of grilling from him. He also taught me how to fry eggs without breaking the yolks. My general love of food came from the care that all the people in my family put into the meals that they made.

I continued to develop my cooking skills and food knowledge by reading cookbooks and trying new recipes. By the time I was in college, I had a good repertoire of meals up my sleeve. I cooked for myself every day and still do.

While I was in college, I began working in restaurants. I paid my bills on the tips that I made waiting tables at a steak house. I took the job seriously and really enjoyed being immersed in the restaurant culture. My love for cooking had me snooping around the kitchen as much as possible.

I had a couple other serving jobs in restaurants while in college, one at a Tex-Mex restaurant and the other at an Italian place. I was good at serving people. I discovered an appreciation for the finer details that could make a dining experience special for someone. I had a natural passion for food, which made learning the menus fun. I was assigned to be a trainer of new staff at these jobs based on my attention to detail and food knowledge. I become a designated keyed employee, which meant that I was just a step below assistant manager. I could open and close the restaurant if they needed me to. At that time, I didn’t pursue management; I was not interested in the responsibility.

In 1997, I moved to Shelbyville, TN and pursued a job at a new independently owned restaurant called Legend’s. I started as a server with the intention of going into management. I wanted to learn the in’s and out’s of restaurant operations. I certainly got what I wanted! After serving at Legend’s for about seven months, I was promoted to dining room manager. I was in charge of hiring servers and host staff. I was in charge of bar inventory. I was in charge of upholding service standards.

I was promoted two other times during my six-year employment at Legend’s. I was the kitchen manager for a while. I learned how to cook on every station on the line – the grill was my favorite. I made all but one of the desserts that we served from scratch. I oversaw all of the ordering and inventory in the restaurant. I oversaw the daily production and prep in the kitchen to maintain proper par levels for business, while learning how to control waste.

I was named Assistant General Manager. I could run the restaurant from any place in the building. I had developed a lot of skills and honed my instincts about the business. I learned to have an eye for precision and exquisite detail. I learned how to build and lead a team. I learned how to take an employee with potential and give them responsibility to keep them interested in their job. I learned how to put my boots on when I had to be tough. I learned the power of understanding what it was like to be in another person’s shoes. I learned how to give people a break when they needed it. I learned how to be a skilled restaurant manager and a more responsible human being.

I left the management world in October 2003. I had spent the majority of the past six years within the walls of Legend’s working 60-70 hours per week. I had learned all that I needed to learn there, and it was time for me to have a life again, outside of those restaurant walls. The experience that I gained being a manager has helped me to be a better employee and to have a better understanding of how a restaurant is run.

Next I worked as a server at an upscale casual bistro called the Tin Angel. During four years there, I picked up some kitchen shifts to make extra money and to expand my culinary skills. I learned more of a fine dining style of service there. I also expanded my wine knowledge.

Then one of the chefs who I worked with went to be the sous chef at a new Southern influenced Italian restaurant in Nashville called City House. City House was going to be more farm-to-table driven than Tin Angel. I was ready for a change and ready to learn about a new cuisine. I began working at City House in the fall of 2007 as a server on their team of opening staff. I loved that job. I really got to dig in and learn about another land and another way of eating and drinking. We had an almost all Italian wine list, which I had never worked with before. Most of the food was new to me, too, and the menu changed frequently. I was in heaven being so engaged in my work.

In mid-2008, I decided to move to North Carolina. I had been taking some personal growth classes there, which required monthly travel. I decided to move to be closer to my classes. It was a tough decision. To this day, working at City House with Tandy Wilson and crew is the one thing I miss most about living in Nashville.

When I moved to NC, I applied to work at the Magnolia Grill in Durham. After a few months, they had an opening for a server. By the beginning of 2009 I was working there with the James Beard Award winning chefs, Ben and Karen Barker. I had the opportunity to learn even more about food and wine. I was incredibly proud to serve the food there. The Barkers’ expertise made my job easy. Karen’s desserts were absolutely incredible. Ben’s food had unforgettable flavor. They both generated their menus based on what was local and in season. They were “doing” farm to table cuisine long before it was a popular thing to do.

After 26 years in business, the Barkers closed Magnolia Grill at the end of May 2012. I served the very last table the last meals and the last bottles of wine that were served in that restaurant. It was incredibly bittersweet. I was happy for the Barkers to be moving on to their next adventure after putting a huge chunk of their lives into restaurants. I knew that it would be a challenge for me to find a place to work that matched what they did.

Now I work at Pizzeria Toro in Durham, NC. It is a wood-fired oven pizzeria that focuses on highest quality ingredients. They make delicious pizza, and the menu is seasonally driven. Here, I have had a wonderful opportunity to meet new people in the culinary industry. I have had the opportunity to work with a chef who is not Southern in his style of cooking. It has been fun to see another point of view, as the chef Gray Brooks has spent a lot of time cooking in Seattle, WA. I have even learned to serve in a different style because Toro is more causal than the other places where I have worked. The atmosphere is relaxed and focused on service.

What’s next for me? I have been working on this blog and piecing together what working in this wild and wonderful world of food has meant to me. This process has given me a wonderful opportunity to assess my skills and expertise. I am still sorting out my options and possibilities, and as I meditate, I realize how much I love being part of the culinary world.

For now, it gives me great pleasure to tell stories about food and the rituals of breaking bread with people. Many wonderfully caring and talented people have graced my life with knowledge and experience. I know that this journey will continue to be a beautiful learning experience for me, and I intend to share my learning and experiences with you.