Today, we introduce you to FACES of the South. Just like FACES of Nashville, this series features someone whose work helps makes the South a more beautiful place to live. Look for FACES of the South to pop up every so often. As proud Southerners ourselves, we’re excited for this development and we hope you are too, wherever you may live!
Jennifer Chandler is best known outside of Memphis as the author of Simply Salads, Simply Suppers and Simply Grilling. She is also a talented chef, restaurant owner, wife and a mother to two beautiful girls. Her love for cooking is “simply” contagious and she makes the kitchen an inviting place for even the most novice of cooks. Jennifer’s cookbooks introduce us to delicious recipes that are enjoyable to cook, easy on the taste buds and leave you feeling like a champ in the kitchen. It doesn’t get much better than that!
Here’s what StyleBlueprint Memphis writer, Lauren Patterson, discovered about this talented woman in a recent interview:
Where did you grow up?
We moved from New Orleans to Memphis when I was in elementary school. I spent every holiday and summer back in New Orleans growing up, so I like to call them both home!
Has cooking always been a passion or is it something that you fell in love with later on in life?
I really started to enjoy cooking while I was in college (Georgetown). DC had so many great restaurants and markets that I really fell in love with good food. I would call my Dad (who is a fabulous cook) and he would dictate recipes to me over the phone. His enthusiasm for cooking was contagious and it’s a bug that I’ve never gotten over!
When did you know that cooking could be a career?
My first job after college was as the business manager for a DC special events company. I was intrigued by the success of a caterer we often used – Design Cuisine – and the owner, Bill Holman, took me under his wing and advised me to go to culinary school. Food has been my career ever since.
When was your first cookbook published and what does that process entail? It seems like it would be pretty tedious.
My first cookbook, Simply Salads, was published in 2007. Writing a book is a labor of love. It takes about a year from start to finish and it does involve a lot of attention to detail and testing. I want to make sure my recipes are written so that even a beginner cook can easily follow them, as well as having interesting twists to appeal to the more experienced home cook. But, since I honestly enjoy being in the kitchen, it is really doesn’t feel like a job!
Describe your cooking style in 3 words.
Simple. Approachable. Yummy.
What inspires your recipes?
Most of my inspiration comes from eating something wonderful at a friend’s house or at a restaurant. I then go home and try to re-create those same flavors in my own kitchen.
Where did the concept for your restaurant Cheffie’s Cafe come from?
Cheffie’s Café is really just one department from my first restaurant Cheffie’s Market & More. The original Cheffie’s was a 10,000 square foot market that included prepared foods for take-out, a full bread and pastry bakery, a cheese department, retail foods, a hot grill, and a sandwich & salad bar. We closed the first Cheffie’s when I got pregnant with my second child. For the past 8 years I had been hearing over and over again how much people missed my salads. When Matt Wilson approached me about creating a new concept with him, I knew this would be a winner.
Can you share a favorite cooking memory with us?
I have a few, definitely! My most cherished memories are cooking in the kitchen with my girls. Their enthusiasm and creativity make a mother proud! Plus, cooking with your family is a great way to bond and spend quality time together.
Professionally, one highlight this year was when Kelly English of Restaurant Iris invited me to do a brunch with him at his restaurant. It was fun to see my “home” recipes like Potato Chip Chicken Fingers and Cheeseburger Pie on his menu!
How do you think southern cooking differs from other regions?
I think food is important in all regions – every part of the country claiming to have their specialty. But across the board I think Southerns take time to cherish family and friends over good meals. With traditions that run the gamut from Sunday supper to football tailgating, good food made with love and care places a central role in Southern culture.
What is your most used cookbook besides your own?
I am a huge fan of Ina Garten and her Barefoot Contessa cookbooks. Her recipes always work, are simple, and delicious!
Do you follow any food blogs? If yes, we’d love to know which ones!
I do like to check out what other authors and home cooks are doing! Blogs are great for that. Gosh, I constantly check so many that it’s hard to name just a few! Two of my favorite websites are www.Food52.com and www.thekitchn.com. Also, I LOVE Pinterest! It’s a great way to find fun stuff at a glance.
Where should you splurge and where can you skimp on kitchen utensils and appliances?
The two items you should not skimp on are pots & pans and knives. If you buy quality at the front end, you won’t have to replace them. My All-Clad cookware is still going strong and its had about 20 years of hard use! Also, my KitchenAid Stand Mixer is about that old too!
Retailers like Target and Bed, Bath & Beyond are great resources for smaller appliances and gadgets.
Any tips learned from cooking disasters of your past?
Every cook has burned something or had a dish really turn out awful. I have learned to always set my timer!
What is your favorite food trend circulating right now?
One trend that I am excited about is eating local. I love our local farmers markets. If you haven’t been, you must go! Food truly does taste better when it is picked that day. When using quality ingredients, you can let them shine without much fuss on your part.
Between your family and your career, you stay pretty busy! What keeps you centered?
We try to have dinner as much as we can as family. No TV, iPods or computers to distract us from each other. It is the time of day where we slow down and reconnect with each other. I treasure that time and I think my kids do, too.
Do you have any tips for all the working mom’s out there on how to prepare a healthy meal on a time crunch?
Your freezer can be your best friend! On those nights when you have time to cook, make double or triple batches of dishes that freeze well. Then on those nights were there really is no time, you have a home cooked meal (I call them freezer go-to’s) that can be re-heated in a flash.
Where can fellow foodies find your cookbooks?
My cookbooks, Simply Salads, Simply Suppers, and Simply Grilling are available at most local bookstores. They are also available online at Amazon.
I am sure you host some pretty impressive dinner parties at your home. Any go-to dishes that are sure to please?
Braised Short Ribs with Stone-Ground Grits are always a huge hit. What I love about this dish is that all the prep work is done hours before the guests arrive. Pop it in your oven and forget about it for a few hours. When your company comes over, your kitchen smells divine. This recipe is in my book Simply Suppers.
What words best describe you?
That’s a hard one. I hope people look at me as friendly, honest and hard working.
What is the greatest piece of advice you have been given?
If you don’t try, nothing will happen.
On the slight chance that you have time to read, what books can be found on your bedside table?
Obviously lots of food titles are on my bookshelf, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver. Omnivore’s Dilmemma, by Micheal Pollan are both excellent reads about eating local.
I also read to escape. I just read The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick with my daughter and loved them!
I am sure there is quite a bit of travel in the cooking world. Where are some of your favorite places?
France–anywhere in France (except maybe those touristy cafes on Champs Elysses or by the Louvre in Paris!)
Italy–I have had some amazing meals in Rome and in Venice.
New York–there are just sooooo many amazing options!
Name three things you can’t live without (excluding friends, family and God).
Chocolate. Chocolate. Chocolate
A special thanks to Memphis photographer Christen (Jones) Morrison for her fabulous work featured on StyleBlueprint today. Be sure to check out her website here: www.christenjones.com