MS: What was your pivotal moment in life that made you take this direction?
TC: I think this industry always had its print on me. I graduated from college, moved out west, got a job within my degree, a history major (WTF!), working with a chamber of commerce.
MS: What made you want to be what you are now?
TC: Honestly…I don’t know how I ended up here? I guess I could say it was always around me…food that is. I grew up around a garden whether it was ours or someone else’s. Both my mother and father cooked, and I spent most of my time as a kid in the kitchen watching them cook. Family dinners were a big thing growing up with extended family, especially around holidays, or family reunions. Both parents were active in church, which oftentimes would have congregational dinners, which is a big part of southern culture. Food in the south is a big part of our culture, community, and for me... obviously memories.
I had to work two jobs to make ends meet. So... finally I was like if I'm going to have to work this much, I may as well work at something I enjoy. So I enrolled in culinary school at JWU in Charleston, SC. And the rest...is history.
MS: How did you get started?
TC: My mother was a bookkeeper for a guy that owned several businesses and had one that was a BBQ restaurant, The Hungry Pig. I was 14 and started working on Sundays. I was washing dishes, bussing tables, and cleaning the floors. It was cool because money was tight growing up and it gave me some sense of independence and got me out of going to church on Sunday nights. From that point on I picked up shifts around holidays and whenever I was needed. From there, I did the fast food tour, sandwich shop stint, and then family steakhouse until I graduated high school. Went to college and worked in different spots throughout that would work with my class schedule.
MS: What are your short-term and/or long-term goals at the moment?
TC: My short term goal is to continue to push Huck's to be successful without me having a presence and without me having to cook every plate every day. I have made this a serious goal this year and so far it's working. Long term... I am still trying to figure that out. I'm 45. I look for more opportunities to be home with my family more. Cooking a la carte everyday is no longer my passion. It's tough. I love the creative process of putting things together or stepping in here and there and showing the guys that an old guy can still hang, but...not everyday. It all adds up. I think my mind is more set on developing concepts, working with people to bring them to life, fortunately, I am with a group that is usually looking to do something new.
MS: Do you have advice for people interested in the same field?
TC: Get up, dress up, show up. Keep your head down, ask questions when needed, keep your senses on high alert and soak up all you can. READ! Anything trade related that you can get your hands on. Don't be afraid to fail, and if you do, learn from what you did wrong. Working for big names isn't what it always seems. Work in a place that you feel you can learn and encourages you to do so. Most importantly, if you want it, earn it. Find the time and take advantage of opportunities. Get a good pair of shoes.
MS: What is your favorite food/drink-related memory?
TC: Watching my mom make biscuits. She never rolled them out. She made a "drop" style biscuit with milk, shortening, and self-rising flour. I vividly remember watching her on weekend mornings make them. It was just a simple almost zin-like movement or method of kneading the dough until it got the consistency that she was looking for and then she would hand form it and drop it into the pan to bake. It was so simple but yet something that for the longest time I couldn't replicate. It was my first experience with something that was based on feel rather than a recipe. It blew my mind. I remember not being able to wait until they came out of the oven and cooled. I had to have one. They would just melt in your mouth. At Huck's, the style of biscuits we make is what I grew up with.
MS: What is your favorite meal and/or drink to share?
TC: BBQ. You take so much time and effort to smoke it, baby it, and have to smoke a decent amount to be worth it.... why not? And...and it is one of the true art forms of cooking. It's like making bread. Every time is different because you are dealing with something that is alive, the fire, and you are constantly trying to control it, manipulate it while not looking at what you are cooking. There are so many nuances that it is impossible to know without getting it wrong a lot of times before, and even after that you can still screw it up.
MS: What is your ideal day in the work life?
TC: I get into the kitchen, cut everything on and while the equipment is heating up, make a french press, shuffle through the music library to find a mood and move the portable speaker to the expo window...crank the volume of course. I put my thoughts on paper and map it out to get everything done. No orders are coming in, everything is magically there and in its place. My cutting board and knives are out. I press on the french press and make the first pour. Take a sip. My beat drops on the speaker and away I go. No bullshit. No questions about a menu for an event. No emails from owners that dropped the ball on something. Nothing, but the rhythmic experience of breathing. The sounds of cooking. The smell of when something is close to being done. without having to look. All senses are on overdrive with no disruption. Cook, taste, adjust. I finish my day, everything is put away and the dishes are washed.
MS: What is your ideal non-work day?
TC: I drop the kids off at school. No issues, no morning meltdowns, and drop off is a piece of cake. The coffee is always hot. No errands to run, no work issues to deal with. I finally have time to do that wood project, or just sit and sketch in my book, or read a chapter or two in the book that has been sitting on my nightstand. Then at the end, pick up the kids, dinner magically appears, everybody eats everything and it goes in their mouths. Bath time is easy, everyone gets on their PJs without a wrestling match...wait I like that, that's kinda fun..then when it is bedtime everyone goes to sleep instantly. Then the wife and I have a shared moment over a drink and conversation in silence.
MS: How do you approach a work life balance?
TC: Keep perspective. My family is everything to me and being around when I need to and am able to is important. I build my schedule around that need. I also work on keeping my mind clear by either running, swimming, reading, drawing, or some type of creative outlet. Again this isn't easy. You have to work at it and make it a priority. I encourage my sous chef and cooks to take care of their mental well being. I try not to overload them with hours, but keep them consistent.
MS: What is something you wish people learned or knew more about in your industry?
TC: Mental health and the impact of people in the industry. The stress of the day to day grind of creating, producing, and replicating at a high level and pace. The toll that it takes on individuals in the business leads to substance abuse, an overall lack of self-care and neglect. I've lost a couple of friends to suicide or overdose. During my career there have been points where I have had to step away and take a break because I'm burnt out. When you step back and look at the work expectations for Chefs and Managers in this industry...it's insane. 55+ hour work week is expected. Any other profession, you would and should get compensated for anything over 48 hours. 12-14 hours shifts are considered the norm. In other professions (medical, EMT, fire fighter) if you work 12-14 hour shifts back to back, you get 2-3 days off, but not in restaurants. My wife, God bless her... has never worked in the industry, but does work in mental health, and just can't wrap her head around this and when you say it out loud, or type it out and look at it, it is insane that this is a common expectation. A truth that is often overlooked, is that this industry was already seeing a decline in people entering the workforce before the pandemic, and since then a drastic drop. People in the industry have had time away to do something else, realize that they don't have to work these hours and can spend time with family or be home at night. Or that they can go into another industry and use their skill set to succeed elsewhere. The Latino population that has made up a lot of the workforce has shifted into landscaping or construction opportunities because that has been and continues to be where consistent work is. I can't blame them. Those folks are here for the sole purpose of providing for their families back home.
“I make sure that my sous chef and I get out early when possible. I limit long shifts. I do what I can for my crew whenever I can to keep them mentally and physically rested. I always check in on them and their mental well being. I make the effort to be sympathetic and understand that life happens. We all deal and cope with real life differently and what works for me isn't gonna work or carry someone else through. I wish more people would understand that... sometimes, oftentimes, we just need a hand up.”
MS: Where/who do you draw inspiration from?
TC: I have come up with a saying about the food at Huck's, "Food is memory, Food is moments." A lot of what I do or how I design a menu is based on a previous moment in my life. Some of the food on the menu is from memories of childhood, good or bad. For example, one dessert or the abstract, is based on a dish that my mom would make for me as a kid. Another, at least the ingredients, are based on working in a garden as a kid and hating it at the moment, but looking back, I realized how lucky I was to have done that.
MS: What does community mean to you?
TC: Being part of a community is a natural human desire. We need and want a group to belong to. Fortunately, I operate a business within the community in which I live. I go to and support the local farmer's market. I feature items on the menu and highlight where I get the produce from. I talk to the farmers to find out what they are doing and how. I pass that info along to the staff so that they let the customers know. I believe that it is necessary to pass along information and to spotlight things as part of being a member of a community. Also, because I live in the same community as my business, I care about what goes on. So all of the considerations and things that I mentioned earlier play into how I participate in my community. My goal is to make it better. I think that is a basic member responsibility of all members of a community. Otherwise what’s the point? Why do it?