One day in 2007, a spell was cast for me by a magazine cover splashed with Local Table. The art pulled me inside for thoughtful stories about food and farming in Middle Tennessee. On the spot, I made a coffee date with the publisher Lisa Shively, a former LA music publicist and Tennessee food trailblazer.
During that date with Lisa, I was gifted a like-minded friend and champion. Local Table is her free publication-baby which is dispersed all over Middle Tennessee. Through the years, she has invited me to write about CSAs, raw milk dairies, a tomato expert, a pie maker, teachers, non profits, kitchen gardens, county events, spices and countless small farmers.
Below is taken from the story that I wrote about three Nashville chefs for the newest issue of Local Table. Deep into quarantine, magical phone interviews with these guys about their restaurants reminded me that even when things go off track, we still have the power to create enchantment for those around us – https://zine.localtable.net/
Maneet Chohaun of Morph Hospitality Family
With effervescence, Maneet colored the local food scene with spices of India five years ago. After hotel management training, she made her way to the Culinary Institute of America. The powers that be encouraged her to take a look at Nashville. “It’s booming,” they said.
A favored sentiment “nothing ventured, nothing gained,” served her well. She felt the immediate emotion of comfort upon arrival. Not unlike the town of Ranchi where she grew up, “Nashville would not stand on ceremony,” she said. The open-armed atmosphere would be the underpinning of what would become the Morph Hospitality Family of restaurants: Chauhan Ale & Masala House, Chaatable, Tansuo and the Mockingbird.
Maneet launched with a premise that food is a matter of evolution. “You must know your foundation. I’ve had curry on the table since 1998 and am proud to show the beauty of my culture, but those building blocks of flavor led from hot chicken, nachos, meat and three to our take on things. With familiar categories on the menus, unfamiliar palates become hooked on how we prepare the dish.” she said.
During the quarantine of 2020, Maneet professed the powerful empathy of all people within the food culture. “We are passionate people,” she says expressing a belief in the silver lining that
will help us all realize the humanity.
Food has a way of showcasing the best of that humanity. Just as little Maneet accompanied her father to the market in India, she and her daughter delight in processes of preparing a meal. “It has become an education for us all.”
Hal Holden-Bache of Lockeland Table
Above the Mason-Dixon line, “humble and wholesome” Sherpherdstown, West Virginia, is said to be a lovely place to live if you seek a more laid back pace of life. Hal Holden-Bache grew up in those parts enjoying what he calls country cooking. After his college experience, he was engulfed by a truer sense of Southern food and culture while working at the Greenbrier Resort.
His aptitude for barbecuing and smoking began to influence the way he summons the menu at Lockeland Table, a favorite destination for divine fare located for the past 8 years in East Nashville.
He built sensibilities for the plates served by bonding with many farmers between his home in Kingston Springs and Lockeland Table. “Those relationships, for me, have translated into a business,” he says. His intense love of local product even sources the meals on his screened-in porch at home, such as the grilling and smoking of wings with Devil’s Nectar Bar-be-cue Sauce to serve-up with a picnic salad.
Lockeland Table is evolving. “When we reopen our doors here there will still be something for everyone, but the menu will be condensed and we’ll be more creative in our use of what we buy,” says Hal.
It’s not by chance that diners will feel the vibe he absorbs by conversation with incoming staff, farmer friends and the folks he chats with on the Walk Eat Nashville tours. His passion and knowledge of cooking naturally tie into his favorite quote by Marco Pierre White – “ Mother Nature is the artist and our job as cooks is to allow her to shine.”
He honed the concept one fishing trip when he scored some trout on the Caney River and prepared it to serve with a market round-up of succotash ingredients. Call it “country” or call it “Southern” but forever know it to be intentionally straight from the source, bringing in a spirit of collaboration at every turn of the spoon.
Tandy Wilson of City House
Tandy is a well documented chef with national laurels and local roots. His presence lends deep value to the evolving Nashville food culture. His restaurant City House located in Germantown, reflects an early love of Italian fare. “Italian polenta is grit-like, working food that keeps you going,” he says. “So similar to what I grew up with; it can be stretched.”
There is a progression of focus in his work. Ingredients are heavily rooted in Southern agriculture, which speaks to the local and calls out for conservation and attention to the environment.
As an Eagle Scout, he was taken with the conservation merit badge. The influence has been endless: investment in recyclables, scrap compost, intentional menu planning, collaboration with farmers, devotion to seasonal fruits and vegetables, and as he says, “we choose the fresh water aquacultured fish over wild ocean fish.”
People cooking at home is another silver-lining during this time: Small farmers are receiving more attention. This means a lot to Tandy. “This time of year, I’d rather have the nutrient-dense turnip green rabe than just about anything,” he said about the super food.
How will a guest to City House know to order such an exotic but unheard of delicacy? “The front of the house City House staff educates themselves about what’s seasonal in Tennessee.” he said, acknowledging a crew who is ever into teaching.