It is this love of learning that fuels Stallard to push the culinary boundaries of his craft. Recently moving to Nashville from Knoxville, Tennessee, Stallard serves as the pastry chef and sous chef at Flyte World Dining & Wine. He has served as Executive Chef and Pastry Chef at Bistro by the Tracks in Knoxville for the past year and 3 months. Before moving to Knoxville, Stallard assumed the role of Chef de Cuisine at Tristan under Chef Nate Whiting. Stallard is no stranger to the Tristan kitchen, serving as the interim Pastry Chef in 2009 while Teaching Full time at The Art Institute of Charleston where he taught Garde Manger, Asian Cuisine, Art Culinaire, and A la Carte Dining Room & Dining Room Operations. The A la Carte Dining Room serves as the campus’ own student run restaurant with seasonally driven menus that under Stallard’s guidance focused on using classical and progressive techniques. During his tenure at the Art Institute, Christopher worked numerous Wine & Food Festival events, Special dinners with local chefs, participated in Chef’s Feast, and Guerilla Cuisine. Stallard left the Art Institute to accept an Executive Chef position at Chai’s Lounge in 2011. He also served as the Culinary Mentor for the Wando High School Pro-Start Culinary Competition team. The team won the state competition and advanced to The 2011 National Pro-Start Invitational where the team competed against 42 teams and placed fourth in the nation.
Stallard relies on an extensive background in the kitchen gleaned from more than a decade of study around the southeast. While serving as Executive Sous Chef at the Orangery in Knoxville, Tennessee for two and a half years, Stallard traveled to Yountville, California for a three-day stage at The French Laundry with Chef Thomas Keller and his staff. During this time, he also assumed the role of Pastry Chef, where he developed and executed a new more substantial dessert menu before leaving to assume the Executive Chef position at Knoxville’s Little Star Restaurant. While at Little Star, Stallard competed in the Sixth Annual Bacardi Recipe Classic where he took the Best of Show title and a prize of $10,000. Never satisfied with the status quo, Stallard returned once again to the Orangery later becoming Executive Chef in 2006, easily winning the AAA Four Diamond honor for the restaurant, a distinction not held since 1993.
Can you start by telling us a bit about your background (what you do now and what other experiences)?
I am currently both the pastry chef and sous chef at Flyte World Dining and Wine in Nashville, kind of assuming a dual role. Next week will be my one year in this job! But going all the way back to the beginning…when I was a senior in high school, back in 1995, I worked as a server at Applebee’s. Then I started picking up extra shifts in the kitchen. I just had a natural knack for being in the kitchen! When I was a kid, I used to hang out with my grandma in the kitchen a lot when we were visiting her in Kentucky. I always asked her how to make things and tried to make them.
Food for me then, was just about curiosity, especially because I saw how happy it made everyone. I didn’t go to school for culinary originally, because I didn’t think it was a possibility. This was pre-food network times, and being a chef wasn’t as publicized or glamourous as it is now. It was where misfits went and I liked that about it. There was something about the culture of the kitchen that I was drawn to.
So I never thought about food as a profession. I thought that I needed to go to school and get a 4-year degree in business, then maybe get an MBA… Both my parents are in the professional world, and my parents pointed out to me that cooking is what I’m happiest doing. I had no idea how to be a chef, and I actually went back 1.5 years after graduating high school and I met with my high school guidance counselor, and the name Johnson and Wales came up. At the time Johnson and Wales was the only culinary school with a 4-year degree. After graduating, I went back to my hometown and worked for a restaurant called The Orangery as the sous chef.
After being the sous at Orangery, I worked at Little Star in Knoxville as the executive chef. I really wanted to do a prix fixe type menu and I jumped at the chance to do that at the Little Star. It was really a breath of fresh air for the dining scene in Knoxville. When the restaurant closed in 2 years, I went back to the Orangery as the sous. My role just happened to open up again – then I became exec chef after 2 years.
After that, I moved to Charleston without a plan. I started to teach at the Art Institute and taught for 4 of the 7 years I was in Charleston. It was an awesome experience, but I missed being in an actual kitchen. I eventually left the Art Institute, and bounced around some restaurants as a “culinary gun around town.”
I was looking for my own kitchen again and I was scouted to come back to Knoxville -at a place called Bistro by the Track. Then I moved to Nashville. So yeah, that was a long story that wraps up 20 years of my culinary experience.
What type of food do you like to create or how would you describe your style (i.e. cuisine, specialty, etc.)?
Over the years, I have seen myself progress in style, it’s part of growing. I went from simple food to more fine dining to ultra-modern, the liquid nitrogen and all, to now being back to basic. I still incorporate modern techniques where they make sense, but not to point where it would be odd.
There is a common thread that ties my food together. I like foods that evoke emotions and memories. My favorite scene in Ratatouille is when the food critic was being served a meal. The dish is presented in a new way, but a bite instantly takes him back to his childhood to a memory of his mom. That’s what I try to do with food: take food that you associate with memories and modernize it, but when you eat it you know exactly what it is.
I have a chicken and dumplings dish– made with chicken confit and bacon fat, with that smoky bacon element, then some carrots and celery. It’s a play on Chicken and dumplings – It’s composed and plated, there is roasted chicken breast on top, but when you eat it you are instantly comforted by it. You are eating chicken and dumpling in a fine dining setting. I tend to not like flavor combos that people don’t get or understand, when it comes to flavor, my philosophy is: “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it”
Where do you usually look for inspiration for recipes?
So many different places. I have a story from my Little Star days –we had a regular diner come in and our server asked him: “How was your meal?” He said his lunch – a tuna fish sandwich was better. So we then made a “tuna sandwich” dish: Miniature tuna fish sandwich with micro potato chips and water cress, with poached tuna for the tuna salad. The dish just totally put him at ease, we amused him and made him laugh with this dish.
Another inspiration came from one of my good friends and coworkers, Will. It was Will’s birthday, and his girlfriend wanted to make him a cake. So Will always ate a Coca Cola cake on his birthday, it’s a tradition for him but she couldn’t make it that year. So I made it for Will, and I tasted it, and it’s amazing. Then I thought: “Wouldn’t it be amazing if we can do a version on the dessert menu?” I jotted down the ideas in my Moleskin – thinking, I’m gonna do this someday.
When I came to Nashville, I then created a bourbon and coke cake. I took traditional coke cake toppings, marshmallow, pecan, with a buttermilk element; I served buttermilk ice cream on the side. You know what it is when you bite into it, but on the plate you don’t get it until you taste. So this story of a friend of mine was an inspiration.
Sometime my inspiration is just an ingredient. I’ve never had black raspberries, and we got some in Nashville a couple of weeks ago. And it was so phenomenal that I wanted to make a dessert right then and there. There was minimal prep required. Sometimes the ingredient tells you what to do – if it’s stellar, it basically just coaches you. I made a fruit tart with vanilla ice cream to feature the fruit front and center.
What is one book you most often recommend to aspiring chefs?
The French Laundry cook book constantly inspires me. It is a timeless book. It has so many recipes that are classic but so refined and so well thought out. On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee. There is no better book for learning the science of cooking. The Eleven Madison Park cookbook. And Bouchon Bakery.
With those four, you got your science, classic, modern, and baking bases covered.
What’s your most recent fascination (i.e an ingredient, technique)?
It’s a tough one. Being in Nashville for a year, I’ve been into the local foods. Here we have a lot of farmers doing a lot of different things. I’m fascinated with what local agriculture has to offer.
Technique-wise, the use of percentages in recipes. A few years ago as I got into progressive cooking, the use of percentages in recipes became fascinating as well as so efficient. There is no waste at all. The best example is a deviled egg trio at Bistro by the track, even if you get all large eggs, the weight of the yolks will be different every time. You might measure out the 2 cups of yolk, and still have a quarter cup leftover, that gets tricky. Most people would rather throw it away rather than do the math, but with percentages, I can take every bit and weigh it, 45% mayo, 1% salt, etc, measured in grams. And the final taste is so consistent. By using percentages rather than measurements, you can create a consistent product every time.
Do you have an original recipe that you would be willing to share for the readers?
Sure, I will have it for you! Chicken and dumplings.
Pan Roasted Chicken Breast, Potato Gnocchi, Glazed “Mirepoix,” Chicken Velouté
This dish is a kind of play on Chicken and dumplings. Glazed pearl onions, carrots, and celery are mixed with the gnocchi, which has been lightly browned in whole butter. Chicken confit from the leg and thigh is folded in. The breast is seared and then finished in the oven and placed on top. The dish is finished with parsley leaves.
For the Chicken and the Chicken Confit:
2 each Whole Chickens
As Needed Chicken Confit Cure (2:1 Poultry Seasoning:Kosher Salt)
As Needed Duck fat & Bacon Fat
Method of Preparation:
- Process the chicken by removing the leg and thigh quarters and reserve them. Continue by removing the breast leaving the wing attached. Remove the “wingette” and wing tip from the drumette, leaving the drumette attached to the breast to form an “airline breast.” French the drumette if desired. Reserve the cage and wing tips for chicken stock. Reserve the airline breast to finish the dish.
- Rub the confit cure on the chicken thigh and leg quarters let refrigerate 24 hours. Rinse off cure and pat dry.
- Place the leg and thigh quarters in a small pan that will hold it in one layer and cover with duck fat and or bacon fat to submerge.
- Cover pan with foil and cook at 250ºF. for 1.5 to 2 hours or until tender.
- Allow to cool in the fat at room temperature until it is cool enough to shred with your hands.
For the Chicken Velouté:
2 Tablespoons Clarified butter
3 Tablespoons All Purpose flour
2 cups + ¼ cup Chicken Stock
¼ cup White Wine
Taste Kosher Salt & White Pepper
Method of Production:
- Warm the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan and add the flour stirring with a wooden spoon to make a roux.
- Temper in the stock and wine by adding it a little bit at a time to the hot roux whisking until smooth with each addition to ensure a smooth sauce with no lumps.
- Bring the sauce to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes.
- Season to taste with salt and white pepper.
- Strain and keep warm until ready to serve.
For the Potato Gnocchi:
¼ cup Olive Oil
Taste Kosher Salt and Black Pepper
3 pounds Russet potatoes (you will need about 4 cups of riced cooked potato or 2 pounds [scaling is more accurate])
2 cups All Purpose Flour
3 each Egg Yolk
Pinch Kosher Salt
Method of Preparation:
- Rub the potatoes down with the oil, Salt, and pepper and bake the potatoes at 350º F. for 1 hour or until fork tender.
- Work with the potatoes while they are still warm (wear gloves if necessary), split them in half and scoop out the flesh and press through a potato ricer.
- Make a well with the potatoes and add the half the flour, add the yolks, and top with the rest of the flour.
- Chop the yolks and flour into the potatoes with a bench scraper for 15 to 30 seconds and then kneed the dough with your hands until it comes together. Do not over work the dough.
- Roll the dough into a “Snake” and cut into desired size pieces (a pizza cutter works great for this). Use a Gnocchi board or a fork to roll each piece and make an oval shape with indentations.
- Cook the gnocchi in a pot of boiling water until they begin to float. Transfer to an ice bath with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper or kitchen towels.
- Place them in a single layer on a parchment lined baking sheet if they are to be cooked that day or freeze them on a lightly greased baking sheet. After frozen they can be put in zip lock bags until ready to use. Do not thaw, cook from the frozen state.
For the Glazed Vegetables:
Use the method of preparation for each of the vegetables listed below glazing each separately and reserving for finishing the dish.
2 cups Pearl onions, peeled
2 cups Carrots, large dice or oblique cut
As needed Kosher Salt
As needed Sugar
As needed Water or chicken stock
As needed Butter, cut into small cubes
Method of preparation:
- Toss the pearl onions with a little salt and sugar in one bowl and do the same with the carrots in another bowl.
- Warm small sauté pans that will hold the vegetables in one layer, one for each vegetable.
- Melt enough butter to coat the pan and add the vegetables. Sauté them to coat them with the butter and let them slightly caramelize.
- Add enough water or stock to come up about two-thirds the sides of the vegetables. Do not submerge.
- Reduce the heat to low-medium, place one or two cubes of butter and cover with a parchment paper lid.
- As the liquid reduces and the vegetables become tender, remove the lid and begin to gently toss the vegetables and swirl the pan. A glaze should begin to for around the vegetables. If it looks oily rather than glazed, add a little bit of stock and continue to swirl. If the vegetables are tender before the liquid reduces to a glaze, remove them until the glaze forms and then toss them back in to coat.
- Pour on to a sheet pan to cool until ready to use.
To finish and assemble the dish:
4 each Reserved Airline chicken breast
As needed Kosher Salt
As Needed Fresh ground black pepper
As Needed Canola or grape seed oil
2 cups Potato Gnocchi, frozen
1 cup Chicken confit, shredded
1 cup Glazed Pearl Onions
1 cup Glazed Carrots
1 cup Celery, sliced
½ cup to 1 cup Chicken stock
As needed Chopped parsley
As needed Lemon Juice
As needed Chicken Velouté, warm
As needed Flat leaf parsley leaves
Method of Preparation:
- Season the chicken breast with salt and pepper on both sides.
- Heat the canola oil in a large sauté pan until it begins to smoke slightly.
- Sear the chicken breast skin side down until golden brown. Turn it over and cook for another minute before transferring it a sheet pan.
- Place the chicken breast in the oven at 400° and cook until it registers 160°F on a meat thermometer at it’s thickest point.
- While the chicken cooks in the oven, prepare the vegetables and gnocchi in the same pan that you seared the chicken by returning it to the heat and adding the gnocchi to the pan. Add a little more oil or some butter if needed.
- Brown the gnocchi on one side and then add the onion, carrot, celery, chicken confit, and the chicken stock.
- Gently stir the mixture to coat and glaze the gnocchi and vegetables until all is warmed through, then add the chopped parsley and season with salt, pepper, and lemon juice if needed.
- Divide the elements and plate on four warmed plates. Place a ring of Velouté on the plate. Spoon on some of the gnocchi-vegetable mixture. Place a roasted chicken breast on top of the gnocchi-vegetable mixture. Garnish with Flat leaf parsley leaves and serve immediately.