There’s nothing like being home.
In this instance, I don’t mean the place you live now, but the place where you grew up, the home where your memories and those experiences that helped mold you into the person you are today still live.
For me, that place is Knoxville. I was born and raised in what used to be an upstart of a west Knoxville community – not quite Knoxville but not yet Farragut, just a lot of rolling hills that were being turned into family homes.
A lot has changed at home and with me since I left more than a decade ago. I do have the fun and privilege of going home to the house I grew up in and of seeing my sons sleep under the same roof I did – one in the same room! As for my culinary history, I earned my stripes working in the kitchens for Randy Burleson in four of his restaurant concepts through my high school and college years.
It was good training, plus what I learned at UT as a restaurant and hospitality major. With my combined Knoxville and Seattle experiences, I have cooked in some incredible places.
That being said, it doesn’t seem to matter whether you are an Executive Chef, Chef, professional cook, seasoned cook, prep cook, weekend cook, barbecuer or Sous chef, cooking for the people you love is special. It never gets old for me.
I don’t get to spend much time at a professional stovetop these days, but I love getting back in the kitchen and practicing what I have learned in my almost two decades in the industry. Cooking in restaurants gives you lifelong skills that you take with you wherever you go.
When the opportunity came on my visit home to cook for a few beloved people in my life, I was eager to heed the call.
The dinner guests consisted of my family and parents; the Melendys (David Sr. and Amy), who we share so many stories and memories with it that would take more than a few books to tell them all; and John Retinger, who, with his wife, Meg (who was out-of-town), live next door to my childhood home and were second parents to me and my brother.
I asked my Dad, “What do you want me to cook for y’all?”
“Scallops if you can,” he said. We didn’t get the chance to eat scallops at the beach the week before, so he was craving them.
With scallops on my mind, my wife, Olivia, and I ran to the local Farmers Market on Thursday. The market on Ebenezer Road at Ebenezer United Methodist Church – my church for a while as a child – is a great one! With lots of local, fresh produce from which to choose, I quickly started writing the menu in my head as we walked.
“Pan-Seared Scallops, Roasted Crab Cake, Summer Corn Puree, Blueberry Gastrique, Endive and Arugula Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette.”
At the market, Oliva and I bought the sweetest summer corn, fresh-picked blueberries, fresh endive and several fresh herbs. We then went to The Shrimp Dock in Farragut for our seafood. Appetizers were two pastry cups, one with mushrooms and the other, crabmeat. For dessert, panna cotta with blueberries.
It was an elegant-yet-simple dinner with the freshness of the flavors all coming together for my guests just as I hoped they would as I browsed the market. When you have good, fresh ingredients in front of you, the experience shopping is just as rewarding as serving your meal and watching your guests eat. There is nothing like the feeling when it all comes together, and you’re able to serve loved ones your own creation.
As in past articles, I encourage you to go out (masks on) and support your local farmers and create something along the way. If you need a base to start your meal, sweet summer corn and my blueberry gastrique will never disappoint!
The blueberry gastrique recipe is below. The corn is so simple: Shave the kernels off the cobb and barely cover with vegetable or chicken stock in a saucepan. Add a spoonful of butter, salt and pepper and simmer until the corn is cooked. Take it off the heat and puree in a blender. Top with a swirl of the blueberry gastrique.
Brett Gardner Howell grew up in Knoxville and now lives in Seattle with his wife and two children. He has been an executive chef for the better part of his career and continues to work in culinary arts across the country.