The brewery’s executive chef leads the South End taproom’s new in-house kitchen
Relationship status: Boyfriend of three years
Hometown: Charleston, South Carolina
Currently lives: NoDa
Currently reading: Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
How did you get started in this business? I was living alone in Charleston at 16 and really fond of not starving (laughs). It led to experimenting with cheaper ingredients, getting on the internet, and reading lots of cookbooks. I waited tables and got into bartending as I got older. I had some things going on in my family that made the restaurant industry feel like a safe haven for me.
Did you go to culinary school? No. I went to high school in Aiken, South Carolina, and I really wanted to go to College of Charleston. So I took online classes and summer school and graduated early. I majored in psychology and minored in neuroscience.
How did you transition to the kitchen? I went into management at Outback Steakhouse because it was a job I could always transfer. I got moved to Charlotte to open the Concord location, and that’s where I made the transition to back-of-house. My manager said, “I know you love to cook, so get back there.” When I got told to go back into the kitchen, it just kind of clicked. I felt like I got to be more creative, and I had control over my day.
How did you land at Wooden Robot? I left Outback and started working at Superica, which gave me a better quality of life. When we moved to NoDa, we hung out at The Chamber all the time. When Twisted Eats parted ways with Robot, Brandon, who works at The Chamber, mentioned they wanted to start an in-house kitchen. I perked up and thought that sounded like a good idea. A few months later, Dan Wade (Wooden Robot’s head brewer) said he wanted to talk to me about it. I said, “I absolutely want to do it,” and started at Wooden Robot in February 2022.
Tell me about building the menu. The number one thing you want with brewery food is stuff you can eat with your hands so you can keep drinking. We wanted something approachable and a little different. But first we have to win people’s trust. We had to have a burger on the menu, so we put the Wooden Robot spin on it with the Good Morning Vietnam Burger. Same with the Fried Chicken Sandwich; it appeals to most people. But Dan was super-passionate about having the Chicken Bánh Mì.
How much taste-testing does your job require? It’s daily. Menu development is all about tasting. With the beer cheese, we’d try it, and there might be too much cayenne, so we dial it back and do it again.
Is there one recipe you’d still love to master? I spent the last few years doing Tex-Mex, so now I want to learn a lot more about Asian cooking. There’s such a variety of flavors and styles to delve into with Asian cuisine.
What’s your favorite adult beverage? Beer. Right now I’m super into wild ales and sours. The funkier, the better.
Any foods you won’t touch? Oysters. I should probably get my South Carolina card revoked for saying that out loud.
What’s your favorite restaurant in Charlotte other than your own? Haberdish.
What’s the most surprising thing about you? I don’t have fingers on my right hand. It wasn’t a cooking accident—I was born with it. Apparently my mom is not good at putting humans together (laughs).
What’s your guiltiest pleasure? Bingeing shitty cookies at night. Like, a whole bag of Chips Ahoy!
Any rules to live by in the kitchen? We’re gonna have to go through it either way, so we might as well go through it having fun.
THE TOUGH STUFF
Chocolate or cheese? Chocolate
Coffee or tea? Coffee
Beer or wine? Beer
Hot dog or taco? Taco
Cake or pie? Pie
Soft serve or soft pretzel? Soft pretzel
Beer cheese or fried cheese curds? Fried cheese curds
Curry ketchup or soy mustard? Curry ketchup
Lobster roll or egg roll? Egg roll
Street eats or sit-down? Street eats
Comedy or drama? Comedy
More money or more free time? Free time
Twitter or TikTok? Neither