TL;DR Here is a snippet of our interview with Chef Will Fincher. If you are interested in reading the full interview along with interviews of other inspiring chefs along with a lot more goodies check out our upcoming book.
Being home-schooled in the small town of Decatur, Alabama, Will Fincher had plenty of time to work in local restaurants. Will got his start in the food industry at age 15 and has worked in the business since that time. In 2006, Will moved to Charleston to attend the Art Institute where he received a B.S. in Culinary Arts Management. Upon graduation in 2010, after working for REV Group for almost 3 years, Will was promoted to Executive Chef of Monza and Closed For Business. During his time there, Will also spearheaded menu development for REV Group’s other restaurant concepts. Over the years, Will has made Charleston his home and has established many rich relationships with his guests, colleagues and the farming community. He has also volunteered with Lowcountry Local First, the Green Heart Project and many other local charitable causes. Will’s passion for Italian food, his commitment to Farm to Table practices and his outstanding reputation in the Charleston food and beverage community helped make him a natural fit to lead the kitchen at the Obstinate Daughter. Having spent 6 months with Executive Chef Jacques Larson at Wild Olive prior to opening of The Obstinate Daughter, Will’s interim position on John’s Island helped solidify his mission to deliver well executed and simple seasonal cuisine.
Can you start by telling us a bit about your background (what you do now and what other experiences)?
I started working in restaurants when I was 15, starting in small delis, doing food prep, then doing line work. It started as necessity and it has grown into something much larger. I grew up in a small town in Alabama called Decateur, and I cooked there until I pretty much exhausted all the resource in that town. I was actually a corporate management at Denny’s for 2.5 years before I left!
At that point, I realized that I needed to go to culinary school or move somewhere bigger, so I moved to Charleston about seven or eight years ago. I started culinary school there, and started working in a restaurant group called REV. After three years, I was promoted to the Executive Chef at Monza. Then, I was approached by Chef Larson about this new project, and now I’m at that project, the Obstinate daughter, as the Chef de Cuisine.
Can you walk us through your typical recipe development process?
Typically we start with an ingredient. In this case at our restaurant recently, we wanted to have a nice beet salad. From there, you start exhausting the list of “what am I going to put with this beet salad?” There is a gazillion ways you can put it together.
Roasted beet is the style we decided on. Then the question becomes: how do I roast it? What do I want to roast it in?
We had been using a ricotta and buttermilk base for a lot of salads. Typically people do goat cheese with beet. But we are using this ricotta that has a bit of a blue cheese feel to it, and this South Carolina tangy buttermilk. When we mixed the two together, it has a tangy goat cheese flavor. We use this mix as the base to help cool everything down.
Then we wanted a bit of a crunch – pistachios, and we wanted a bit of spicy – and we went with a pickled chili. We wanted something really interesting and the executive chef recommended pomegranate molasses. It’s basically pomegranates boiled downed until it’s really sticky and sour and sweet, and it tastes kind of like a sour patch kid. When you mix it with the earthy roasted beet, all the flavors balance and it’s delicious.
In all, I like to start with an ingredient, think about what would you normally put with the dish, then come up with a different way to do it.
Sometimes it takes weeks, even month to develop a new recipe, and something it comes out right away. A thing we always abide by in our restaurant is: the best idea wins, no matter who it comes from, whether that’s cook or server. The best idea always wins. Everyone in a restaurant has different takes and has seen different things, it’s not like the chef just decides on everything. I would always start some conversations on the cooks line, being like “I’m working on a new dish, what do y’all think?” and everyone pitches into until a great idea comes out.
What is one book you most often recommend to aspiring chefs?
I love Mike Rulman’s “Making of a Chef” and Daniel Boulud’s “Letters to a Young Chef.” One of my favorite books is “The Devil in the Kitchen,” which is the biography of Marco Pierre White. He’s sort of a lunatic, this lunatic who does crazy food. He didn’t care if anyone liked his food or not. I loved that style and that reckless abandon, that “if you don’t like my food that’s fine” attitude that comes with creation. That’s definitely one of my favorites.
What’s your most recent fascination (i.e an ingredient, technique)?
I think I’d have to say…my new favorite ingredient is white miso. It’s extremely versatile. People are sort of scared of it – they are scared of fermented white beans. But it’s easy to work with and has a great umami flavor. I’ve been rubbing it on pork shoulder and letting it add flavor for 24 hours. It makes an amazing pork steak. I’m still trying to come up with more dishes with white miso.
Do you have an original recipe that you would be willing to share for the readers?
Yeah! Of course! Always. We have lots of fun stuff.
(Check out our book for his Roasted Beed Salad recipe!)