CHEFS DISH ON CHATTANOOGA

Chattanooga’s food scene is vibrant and thriving. We went straight to the experts to hear about how they cook, where they dine and why they love calling Chattanooga home. 

Kenyatta AshfordKENYATTA ASHFORD, NEUTRAL GROUND

What is one of your earliest memories of cooking? I fondly recall eating dinner together with my parents and 2 older brothers when I was maybe 4 or 5 years old. We would gather produce from our garden to make salads for dinner.

Do you have a favorite spice or ingredient to cook with? Alliums are my favorite ingredient to cook. They are extremely versatile. What’s one of your favorite dishes in Chattanooga (not at your restaurant)? I love a great pupusa or fried fish sandwich. Pupuseria Marelyn is excellent and for the perfect piece of fried fish, Uncle Larry’s is my spot.

What do you wish more people knew about the Chattanooga food scene? Chattanooga has a diverse and growing food scene.

If visitors could only visit one restaurant in Chattanooga, where would you send them (other than your restaurant)? To wherever Lil Oso is popping up, if they are not in their brickand mortar yet.

What’s your favorite thing to do in Chattanooga on a day off? Hike one of our many trails or explore Sculpture Fields. What’s your favorite thing about living in Chattanooga? Its natural beauty, I’m surrounded by beautiful mountains as far as the eye can see!

Joan Marie (photo credit Casey Yoshida)JOAN MARIE WORSHAM, BLUEGRASS GRILL

Photo: Casey Yoshida

What is one of your earliest memories of cooking? We had a tradition in our home to make fruit salad on Sunday evenings. It was a process of going to a produce market and shopping. My grandfather owned a produce store in Boston in the 1930s & 40s, so going with my mother was a real treat. I heard stories about her Dad as we looked over the fruit. Sunday afternoons, we brought out the step stool for me to stand on, and a soft butter knife and we would spend a time together cutting watermelon, honeydew melons and cantaloupes. It was a time-consuming process but marked me with a love of the social side of preparing, serving and eating food. The best conversations always seem to come after the meal over a table laden with dirty dishes. I also have learned from cooking with and for my father. He has a memory of his “Bobe” making onion kuchen with a challah dough, caramelized onions and a bit of sugar. No matter what I do I can’t get it the same way he remembered it. There is no competing with a memory!

Do you have a favorite spice or ingredient to cook with? I love cooking with coconut milk. I can bake, make stews and marinate with it. It’s such a healthy shelf-stable fat which carries a richness that blends with many spices. It has become a favorite.

What’s one of your favorite dishes in Chattanooga (not at your restaurant)? The pupusas at Conga.

What do you wish more people knew about the Chattanooga food scene? The locally owned and operated restaurants. The only reason someone would put up with owning a restaurant is their love of preparing and serving beautiful flavorful food. If visitors could only visit one restaurant in Chattanooga, where would you send them (other than your restaurant)? I love what Proof Bar and Incubator is doing.

What’s your favorite thing about living in Chattanooga? The proximity of nature to a thriving urban scene.

Chef Erik NealERIK NIEL, EASY BISTRO & MAIN STREET MEATS

What is one of your earliest memories of cooking? My grandmother cooking crawfish etouffee in her tiny little kitchen. My family was so excited about it, and I wanted to know what was happening. Turns out be one of the indelible food memories of my whole life.

Do you have a favorite spice or ingredient to cook with? Salt and acid are my 2 ride or dies…I think you can make magic happen if these two things are in balance.

What’s one of your favorite dishes in Chattanooga (not at your restaurant)? The stuffed pepper at the Boathouse. Always there for you, and always amazing.

What do you wish more people knew about the Chattanooga food scene? I wish more people knew that it was a real, vibrant scene. I’m constantly surprised at the number of visitors that remark how good it is after being here for a couple of days. It’s surprising to them, and I want to change that.

If visitors could only visit one restaurant in Chattanooga, where would you send them (other than your restaurant)? Easy—our next door neighbors at Niedlov’s. Every great food scene needs a great bakery, and Niedlov’s is that and so much more.

What’s your favorite thing to do in Chattanooga on a day off? Get outside! Anywhere you can . . . Chattanooga has a luxury of riches when it comes to the outside, and it’s almost hard to describe how amazing it is. 

What’s your favorite thing about living in Chattanooga? It’s the people who live here that make Chattanooga special. It does not matter if you were born here, but when people live here, they take ownership of Chattanooga in a way I’ve never seen anywhere else. I’m proud to live here and be a part of it . . . and I think many others feel the same way. 

TiffanyTIFFANY PAULDON-BANKS, LIL MAMA’S CHICAGO STYLE HOAGY

What is one of your earliest memories of cooking? My earliest memory of cooking was definitely when I was about the age of 5. I remember being in the kitchen with my mom while I was practicing my church speeches and instead of focusing on getting my speech correct, I was asking a MILLION questions about what she was cooking, how she was cooking it.

Do you have a favorite spice or ingredient to cook with? Garlic! Whew, I love to use garlic in anything. Garlic bread, garlic potatoes, garlic aioli (I make a killer one by the way)! Just garlic on garlic!

What’s one of your favorite dishes in Chattanooga (not at your restaurant)? Shrimp + Grits from Stir! I don’t typically care for grits but I brunch there just for their shrimp and grits. Theirs is an all-time favorite!

What do you wish more people knew about the Chattanooga food scene? The Chattanooga food scene is really beginning to boom! Being from a place known for amazing food it was difficult to relocate to and not know how the new food scene was going to be. 4 years later and Chattanooga is filled with so many restaurants with uniqueness, charm and great food. The best part is everyone supports each other!

If visitors could only visit one restaurant in Chattanooga, where would you send them (other than your restaurant)? Most definitely The Flaming Rooster! It’s my mom’s favorite when she comes in town!

What’s your favorite thing to do in Chattanooga on a day off? My favorite thing is to try new local restaurants and find the best lemon drop martinis in the city. Current contenders: Bone Fish and J. Alexander’s.

What’s your favorite thing about living in Chattanooga? I love living here because of the people. Chattanooga is filled with so many supportive and loving people. It’s such a great place to call home.

Jorge ParraJORGE PARRA, TAQUERIA JALISCO ANIA

What is one of your earliest memories of cooking? As a child with my grandmother making homemade tortillas.

Do you have a favorite spice or ingredient to cook with? Garlic!

What’s one of your favorite dishes in Chattanooga (not at your restaurant)? I would say I am loving the okonomiyaki (Japanese pancake) at Flying Squirrel currently! SOOO GOOD!

What do you wish more people knew about the Chattanooga food scene? The amount of work that goes into it.

If visitors could only visit one restaurant in Chattanooga, where would you send them (other than your restaurant)? This is a super hard one! For an elevated dining experience: Easy Bistro or Meeting Place. For the views: Boathouse or Whiskey Thief. For a fun environment: The Flying Squirrel.

What’s your favorite thing to do in Chattanooga on a day off? Brunch!

What’s your favorite thing about living in Chattanooga? My favorite thing about living in Chattanooga is the diversity!

David SherrillDAVID SHERRILL JR., HAN MI

What is one of your earliest memories of cooking? On a fishing trip, my uncle taught me how to clean, slice, and gut a fish. We added the fish to a large pot of ramen and used the leftover fish broth to mix with rice.

Do you have a favorite spice or ingredient to cook with? Garlic!!!!

What’s one of your favorite dishes in Chattanooga (not at your restaurant)? Alleia’s short rib with cherry relish.

What do you wish more people knew about the Chattanooga food scene? Thai hot is not the same as Korean hot!

If visitors could only visit one restaurant in Chattanooga, where would you send them (other than your restaurant)? Alleia.

What’s your favorite thing to do in Chattanooga on a day off? Head up to Raccoon Mountain. It’s quiet, peaceful, and has great views. What’s your favorite thing about living in Chattanooga? The Raccoon Mountain reservoir and Laurel Point.