Photo courtesy of Fire, Flour & Fork
From Oct. 28 to Nov. 1, Richmond will host some of the largest names in the culinary world for the second year of Fire, Flour & Fork, four days of tasting, dining and fellowship that’s part food festival, part educational summit. Among this year’s cast of amazing characters are some nationally known names such as Patrick O’Connell from The Inn at Little Washington and David Guas of Bayou Bakery, plus many of our own city's best chefs and purveyors, who'll all take to the kitchen and conference halls for unique, one-night-only meals, demos and classes.
On Thursday night, Metzger Bar & Butchery will host the sold-out Sure Cure, a collaborative dinner between North Carolina's Katie Button (chef/owner of Cúrate and Nightbell) and Metzger's chef/co-owner, Brittanny Anderson.
We chatted with Button by phone in between photo shoots for her new cookbook, due in 2016, and learned a little more about her stellar culinary background, how she became a chef and what she plans on doing when she visits Richmond for the first time.
Richmond magazine: Cornell University — what took you there? That seems like a big jump [from there] to the culinary field. How did that happen?
Katie Button: I graduated from high school in New Jersey, I grew up in New Jersey and when I was applying to colleges that was one of the colleges I was interested in. I was looking for a place kind of close to home and, you know, a good school. I was good at math and science in high school. It was one of the best schools I got into. So that is kinda why.
RM: It is an odd path, from a bio-science degree to where you are now. When did you start serving? That was your first foray into the kitchen/restaurant world?
KB: It was. That was in 2007…? Yeah. I started serving at Cafe Atlantico/minibar, one of José Andrés’ restaurants.
RM: Oh, so you set the bar low at the beginning. What made you decide to start there?
KB: It was a coincidence! [laughs] When I moved to D.C., I was looking for a job and thinking [of] going into the hospitality industry. Restaurants intrigued me, I was really into food — I just pulled up the Zagat guide for D.C. and looked at the best restaurants in D.C. and went around with my resume and talking to the managers. [laughs] That was the fist place where the manager there, he was really great. Most people looked at my resume and were like, “She has no serving experience,” and I think it got chucked aside. But he said, "We have this standard quiz and application for you to fill out," and he was really intrigued when I aced the food portion on my standard quiz, so I think that is why he hired me.
RM: You were there for a year? Then you moved to…
KB: Spain. I worked at El Bulli in their front of the house service for five months. Then I moved to the kitchen there, but in between, I worked at the Bizarre in L.A. [and] a short time at Jean George in New York with Johnny Luzzini.
RM: All that moving, were they good moves for you?
KB: Yes, every place I left, it was with good terms. And these were great opportunities that were coming up. When I left D.C., it was for El Bulli, serving. And everybody in a restaurant understands when you leave to go work at El Bulli that that leave is a perfectly acceptable reason. When I was working Jean George with Johnny, they didn’t have a paid position to offer me. When I got a paid position out in L.A. working with José Andrés in the kitchen, of course that made more sense for me. From there, I told them I was applying to work in the kitchen of El Bulli the following year, so when I got offered that position, of course I went and did that. Then I moved to Asheville. Having the opportunity to work in the kitchen at El Bulli really changed things for me.
RM: In seven years, you have exploded with awards and now you have two restaurants and a new baby. How is it juggling immediate family and restaurant family?
KB: It is challenging but it is so rewarding. The biggest adjustment for me is working out sleep schedules. Restaurant sleep and baby sleep, they are very different. Where I used to be — it is very funny — before [my daughter], I used to tell people, no interviews before 11 a.m. in the morning or I can’t meet anybody ‘til after 11 a.m. because I used to get up at 10 a.m. after going to bed at 2 a.m. or something like that. Or I would get up at 9 a.m. and start organizing my day. Now I'm like, 8 a.m. or 8:30? Because I am up before 7 a.m. It’s amazing. We get to see her discover the world. Yesterday, we started her on solid food. So I am really excited about that because the food world is opening up for her right now. We are starting with bananas.
RM: Tell me about both of your restaurants.
KB: Cúrate is a Spanish tapas bar. It is definitely an authentic tapas bar but, as I like to say, with a sense of place. It definitely has influence and ingredients from where we are in Asheville, a combination of both worlds. Nightbell is quite different, the concept and design. The food is similar because that is the way I like to cook. It’s small plates where we get a little more creative with flavors and combinations in American food, which is really the melting pot of nations.
RM: How did you find out about Fire, Flour & Fork? Are you familiar with the Richmond food scene?
KB: I am not. I haven’t spent any time in Richmond — this will be my first time. I have driven past Richmond on the way to the beach, so I am very excited to see what is going on there. I am looking forward to seeing the restaurants and chefs. I believe someone ate in Cúrate and that is why they reached out. I know that John Fleer is going up there and he has a restaurant in Asheville: Rhubarb. And that was an, “Oh, that’s cool! I’ll get to cook with John!” Even though we live in the same town, we never get to cook together.
RM: Do you enjoy this type of event? You like to stage once a year — would you consider this similar?
KB: I am always interested in this type of event [and] trying new cities. Networking, meeting the chefs in a new area is a lot of fun. Staging is getting more challenging. I spent a year to film a show — not in the United States yet. I had the opportunity to travel to some of the best restaurants and stage in their kitchens. Basically, I spent a year at all of these restaurants staging, so I don’t feel like it has been too long since I have had a stage. In a year, I think I will plan another one. I am always thinking about ways I can learn about other chefs. I want [to] learn from a butcher — my staging is becoming more collaborative. These festivals are a way of staging a little bit; I get to see other kitchens, Metzger, for example. I get to see how [Anderson] runs her kitchen, how it is organized, dishes and techniques. I always learn something.
RM: You are cooking with one of our six or seven female chefs in Richmond, Brittany Anderson, of Metzger. And I know this can be considered a hot button issue — what are your thoughts? Have you two collaborated?
We have emailed. She is very busy — which I understand — being a chef/owner is a busy position. I think we are similar in that it is almost better to make a plan via email, where it is all in writing, and we know we will connect when I am there, over a beer or some bourbon, and enjoy cooking and learning from one another. I am excited. I looked at her menu and was really thrilled at what she has going on at her restaurant.
RM: The articles about women in the kitchen — like the New York Times one, where you are mentioned — how do feel about them? Do you get asked this a lot?
KB: People do ask in general what I think about women in the industry and their visions, and I think the way I feel about it is I don’t think about it on the day to day. I don’t think I am a “woman chef.” I don’t feel different then men chefs. I think of myself as a chef. The female aspect just doesn’t come into it for me when I am thinking about my work. However, I can see from the outside, it is true, very true, that when you look at the numbers of women in culinary school, it is a very high percentage. And then later on, as you go up the ranks, into more and more management positions, those number drop off — significantly. And then when you get to the women chef de cuisine of chef/owners, [it happens] even more. And I think that is why people are so intrigued. And the article in the New York Times does show there seems to be a disproportionate amount in North Carolina. I am certainly proud to be in the position I am — and the direction [of] my career and how it is going. What I would love to do is help; if there is anything I can do by setting an example or anything to help women feel more confident in these leadership roles in the culinary industry, that is what I would love to do. If, as a woman, I do that — my being a woman chef and owner and being successful — [if] that’s something that comes from that, great.
RM: Richmond is excited to have you. Will you bring the whole family?
KB: The whole family. We are going to make a weekend of it.