Jeff McInnis' culinary career truly took off in 2008 when he was selected as one of 17 chefs from across the country to appear on Top Chef: Season Five.Following the show, McInnis became the Executive Chef at gigi in Miami, where he developed an acclaimed menu that catapulted the restaurant into the limelight. In March of 2011, McInnis left his post at gigi to open Yardbird Southern Table & Bar as Chef-Partner. Since its October 2011 opening, Yardbird has received widespread media attention as a dining destination for delicious Southern fare in South Beach, as well as rave reviews from the Miami Herald, Miami New Times and South Florida Sun Sentinel.
Sean Brock first gained national attention as Executive Chef of McCrady's in Charleston, South Carolina. It was during his tenure at McCrady's that Brock was first nominated for a James Beard Award in 2008 and again in 2009. Brock eventually won the coveted award in 2010, when he was recognized as Best Chef Southeast. Beyond the James Beard Awards, Brock won Food Network's Next Great Chef episode of the Food Network Challenge, and competed against Michael Symon on Iron Chef America.� In addition to serving as Executive Chef of McCrady's, he also helms the kitchen as Executive Chef at Husk, also in Charleston and recently voted Best New Restaurant in America by Bon Appetit.
[Jeff McInnis (Yardbird, gigi, and Top Chef), and Sean Brock (Husk) recently teamed to create a 1800s inspired dining experience.The special menu included favorites from yesteryear such as: Deviled Eggs Topped with Caviar, House Made Country Ham, Charleston-Style Frogmore Stew with Three Year Old Aged Charleston Gold Rice, and Fried Yardbird with Carolina Gold Waffles and Brussels Sprouts with Crisp Green Apple, as well as pairings from America's finest wineries. I was luckily enough to interview both chefs.
Sean Brock and Jeff McInnis Interview(s):
CL: I also grew up on a farm milking goats, growing a garden, and eating the animals that we raised. How has your experience on your family's farms influenced your cooking style?
Jeff McInnis: I grew up spending a great deal of my time on my grandparent's farms in Alabama where we truly lived a farm to table lifestyle, before it was trendy. What that meant was that everything we ate, we grew right there on the farm, including eggs, milk, meat, vegetables, you name it. As a result, I have a hard time cooking with anything but local fresh ingredients whenever possible. I also have big issues with waste, which is one of the reasons we break down our own pigs at the restaurant, using every part possible we even render our own fat which we then use in baking. At Yardbird, we support local southern farmers whenever possible, such as Paradise Farms, The Green Railroad Organic Workshop, Worden Farm, Lake Meadow Naturals and White Oak Pastures are all suppliers of the restaurant.
CL: In regards to your book, you wrote, Mother Nature is the key
ingredient and how every flavor depends on the chef's ability to use natural
fresh ingredients. I think it's within everyone's power to create artful
exquisite dishes without destroying the natural integrity and beauty of the
food." How do you convey this to a society that is used to quick and fast dining, that doesn't seem to care about ingredients or Mother Nature?
Jeff McInnis: The book is in the works, but has not yet been published. In general, I think that we are moving into an era where more and more people are concerned about the food they are putting into their bodies and where it comes from. There has certainly been a big national movement to increase awareness and while I think we have a long way to go, I also believe we are headed in the right direction. Whenever possible, I hope to educate diners on the world from which their food comes.
CL: At Yardbird you have brought inventiveness and modern cooking procedures to classic Southern dishes. How has the welcome been since you opened in Miami?
Jeff McInnis: The welcome has been amazing! We have been fully booked every night since the day we opened back in early October with tourists and residents alike. One of the most amazing things about the business we've been doing is the number of repeat customers we get. We've literally had some folks in several days in a row, which must mean we're doing something right!
CL: By utilizing the Little Haiti Urban Garden, you are helping teach young inner city kids how to garden and appreciate fresh food. Can you see a sense of growth in Little Haiti, one of the poorest areas of the country?
Jeff McInnis: I'd like to believe there's growth in the community of Little Haiti. By supporting the garden, we are trying to do our part.
CL: How did the concept of a dinner based upon Southern cooking in the 1800's come about?
Jeff McInnis: We knew we wanted to do something really cool and unique that truly paid homage to both what we're doing here at Yardbird and what Sean is doing up in Charleston at Husk and McGrady's. It just seemed right to celebrate the century that really put Southern food on the map.
CL: Can you give any hints as to what was on the menu for your 1800's dinner with Sean Brock?
Jeff McInnis: Absolutely! The special menu include[d] favorites from yesteryear such as: Deviled Eggs Topped with Caviar, House Made Country Ham, Charleston-Style Frogmore Stew with Three Year Old Aged Charleston Gold Rice, and Fried Yardbird with Carolina Gold Waffles and Brussels Sprouts with Crisp Green Apple, as well as pairings from America's finest wineries. We will also have Julian Van Winkle III on hand for a special bourbon flight presentation.
CL: I did not want to ask any questions about Top Chef, but my younger sister is an aspiring chef and demands that I ask how the experience effected you, what did you learn from the experience?
Jeff McInnis: It taught me the importance of starting with great, simple ingredients. No matter how much time you have, or what the challenge is, it's all about the ingredients you use. But above all else, it reminded me of how much I love to cook.
CL: Lastly, my mother asked if you could indulge her in some of the techniques you use in your 27-hour� chicken?
Jeff McInnis: Please send my apologies to your mother, but this one's a family secret!
CL: How did growing up in Virginia, where the Civil War began, influence your style of cooking?
Sean Brock: I realized that food used to taste better. The plants were not modified and the soil was not poisoned. People used to plant varieties of plants. It is mind-boggling how many varieties were available. I now collect seeds and grow varieties of vegetables from that era that are near extinct. Everyone used to cook. They don't do that anymore.
CL: The New York Times referred to your restaurant Husk as possibly the most important restaurant in the history of Southern cooking. How does this make you feel?
Sean Brock: I built Husk for one reason- to create a place where people can taste the current state of Southern food. We only use local food. I am really blessed to have a place where I can we can preach our gospel.
CL: How did the 1800's dinner with Jeff McInnis come about?
Sean Brock: Jeff contacted me to invite me to the dinner to hang out. But, I wanted to get involved and cook. It is going to be an incredible event.
CL: This question is from my mother, your biscuits are fabulous, do you make your own buttermilk and butter?
Sean Brock: Yes, both. I make my own cheeses, as well. I make cheeses from sheep, goat; I make ricotta. I use whey to poach and preserve vegetables. I make our butter, buttermilk, and even yogurt.
CL: Your deviled eggs are topped by redneck caviar that includes pickled mustard seeds. Do you care to divulge how you pickle a mustard seed?
Sean Brock: Sure. I mix equal parts mustard seed and alcohol, can it, and allow it to sit for at least two months, and sometimes as long as a year. This also works with beer. You can use equal parts beer and mustard seed, then add sorghum and make your own mustard.
CL: Final question. Can you settle a collard green debate that has been going on between my Grandfather and I? I like my collards simply sauteed, but he always complains that I under cook them. My Grandmother stews her collards and then freezes them for two days prior to Sunday supper. How do you prefer your collards?
Sean Brock: I do both depending on the dish, and the weather. If I am feeling traditional Southern, I will stew them with a whole pig leg. If I have baby collards, I like to saute them with olive oil and lemon juice. You can also cream them in a similar fashion to creamed spinach, using bechamel. Also, if you cook them and add sorghum, they make a great condiment.
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