*This is the first article in our “All About” Weekly series that will be coming out each Friday. The aim is to give a greater insight into the concept, history, character and personality of the places we visit, along with the owners, chefs and managers.
I’d love your feedback on the format and details included – let me know how to improve.
GOURMET meets Rock and Roll
Light crunchy brioche so airy but with a pleasant bite, perfect rosemary flavor and topped with a buttery, smoky short rib delight with a sweet, sweet cranberry burst tempered by the salty sliver of brie.
An interactive culinary experience, a gastronomic exploration, an indulgent feast of miniature magic, a flirtation of flavors…
Whatever you call it, it’s an evening of food pleasure with a bunch of passionate and enthusiastic people.
Pimento cheese like you have never tasted. Not the processed, standardized gunk that you expect in the inferior breaded cheese bites from the local chain restaurants but a fresh house made, creamy spread of happiness on a thin crispy toast completed with a candied bacon that is both moreish-ly sweet and tantalizingly savory with a perfect blend of seasoning.
How to describe the Chef & I experience?
We were invited to a tasting and demonstration at their restaurant in Lenox village and were treated to a selection of freshly cooked treats that showcased both the quality of the food and the skills of the chef. For the tasting session I will hand over to the professional; my wife, the Boss Lady…
Boss Lady’s views
Pimento cheese/candied bacon: sweet, savory, light, airy, fresh, multi-level flavor. If all pimento cheese tasted like this, more people would eat it! Bacon house made, thick, meaty. Pimento cheese house made- creamy. Thin Toast held its crunch on the edges and softened just enough under cheese to be easy to bite into.
Short ribs: Rosemary buttered brioche soooo soft yet crunchy, rosemary really comes through. Short ribs smokey, red wine cranberries would make delish spread for breakfast toast. Ate first in one bite – pleasantly surprised at how light and crunchy the brioche was. First flavor to hit was smokiness of short ribs followed by the sweetness of the cranberries followed by the Rosemary crunchy goodness. Ate elements of the second one individually – short ribs were fabulous on their own. Brie was just Brie. Red wine reconstituted cranberry spread was not too sweet but sweet enough it could be used as a jam for toast. And again- the Rosemary buttered brioche was so good it could stand alone.
Crispy duck with white cheddar stone-ground grits in a bacon tomato sauce… Duck skin crispy, cooked medium. Perfect for me but too under cooked for him. Grits were beautifully creamy and cheddar flavor comes through. Bacon sauce nice but not outstanding.
Crispy pork belly, miso jalapeño broth, chipotle fried shiitake mushrooms. Ah-maze-ing. So hard to describe. Pork belly marinated overnight in citrus juices making it so incredibly tender, no knife needed. Miso jalapeño broth was a perfect balance of the two flavors but somehow wasn’t spicy at all. The chipotle fried shiitake mushrooms had just a small hint of spice that sort of tickled your tongue but didn’t linger. This dish was especially interesting because Chef Cameron had just invented it the day before (or that morning).
Lobster cream, scallop, sautéed shallots, caper berries and house smoked salmon locks. Lobster sauce smooth and not too strong on the lobster. My scallop was like butter. His was ever so slightly over cooked so he found it a bit chewy but still completely edible and tasty in my opinion. The caper berry seemed out of place until you ate it with the salmon- bagels and locks is one of my my favorite things to eat and that bite was very reminiscent of those flavors. Only critique of this dish is that the salmon and caper berry were not needed with the shallots, scallop and lobster sauce but were so good together maybe could have used them in a different dish.
Fun gastronomy lesson with Chef Cameron- told us how to make “Balsamic Caviar” with agar and a syringe.
Lenox village in Nashville has never seen anything like this style of exciting interactive restaurant and comestible experience.
The Chef & I is actually several businesses in one. There’s the restaurant, open Wednesday to Saturday 4 ’til 9 and Sunday Brunch 10.30 ’til 2.
The weekly menu contains such delights as the house-made pimento cheese; fire roasted red peppers mixed with artisan cheeses topped with crispy pork jowl and sunny side quail eggs. Now, I haven’t tried this yet but the description alone has my mouth watering.
Entrees include Wild Caught Sea Bass, Trio of Sea Salad and pan seared Duck Breasts with Waffles; house-made waffles, sage buttered and drizzled with macerated blackberry syrup. Macerated! What a great word…
Let us take a moment to highlight the “Ultimate Supper Club Experience”; an 8 course tapas style Chef’s Tasting, where the chef will sit you next to the open kitchen and get to know your tastes and preferences before providing you with a unique menu tailored just for you! At $75 it isn’t an everyday meal but it is perfect for any occasion for a unique and special evening out.
The second facet to this business is the catering; weddings, corporate events, birthdays, private parties and more. The Chef & I team provide a full service customized gourmet event that is cooked directly and freshly on the premises in the existing kitchen or in their own bespoke portable kitchen set up – no hot boxes here!
With no direct experience of their catering skills I can’t comment on their competencies but wedding101.net have several in depth reviews from happy couples that you can check out if you’re looking for this service.
Finally, the Chef & I run cooking classes on Mondays and Tuesdays between 6pm and 8pm. Class sizes are limited in order to provide a more intimate experience with personal attention from the Chef. The cost is $75 for around 90 minutes of eating and learning.
Head Chef Chris Raines takes the classes and has an abundant passion for the food he prepares as well as a genuine interest in the customer experience; this really sets him up well to be an excellent tutor. When you add this to his 25 years experience in the culinary world including 8 years as the Executive Chef at Levy Restaurants and over 7 years at the Chef & I, you know you are in good hands.
Q & A with husband and wife joint owners Head Chef Chris Raines and Marketing and PR graduate, Erica Raines
Tell us about the history of The Chef and I concept.
Erica: Chris was the Executive Chef for Levy Restaurants at the arena (known then as the Sommet Center) in Nashville. My degree is in Marketing and PR. We met on eHarmony, and instantly created The Chef and I just weeks into us dating. So really, The Chef and I is a love story. It was kind of like “The King and I” – and from day one, we became the chef and I in life, and in business.
At first, the concept was simple; we would create a business based on the private chef services Chris already provided to a few members of the Nashville Predators. We then expanded our client base and began doing bigger events, adding staff and diversifying our client portfolio over the years. We began in 2008, and we were able to build a restaurant a few years later after growing consistently each year. When we opened the restaurant, we expanded to dinner and brunch, cooking classes and onsite private parties.
The concept has evolved again, and we have recently added a new sector, culinary team building. We are now an option for groups looking to do unique team building activities in the Nashville market. This is an exciting new market segment for us, and we are being considered as an option to other sorts of team building like zip-lining or escape types of games. As we enter our 9th year in business, and our 5th year of the restaurant being open, we are growing again, and considering a second location. But the concept and brand has always stayed true to the love story that is The Chef and I.
What is your favorite type of cuisine to cook?
Chris: Pretty much everything we do is some form of a Fusion of multiple cuisines. I love Thai food personally so I like to work some of those flavors into my dishes for sure. Taking a non-traditional approach of melding French sauces with Thai spices and herbs for example is a fun place to start.
What are your favorite and least favorite ingredients to cook with.
Chris: I think as chefs we all have our nemesis so to speak, for instance I cannot to save my life boil and peel an egg without major issues, can’t get that dang shell off to save my life most times. They just hate me I am positive of it. So going with that I would say, hard boiled eggs, fresh artichokes and livers would be my least favorite to play with.
Favorites…. I am in love with caper berries right now as well as any fresh fish and bacon..
What is the best dish you’ve ever made?
Chris: Wow, this is one of things that I never know the answer too. And in the past I usually would say “hopefully the next dish I cook is the best”. That is definitely what I always strive for.
My latest creation was a Spiced Beef and Shallot Spring roll with a warm basil dijon miso broth with tempura oyster mushrooms. I made this gigantic stuffed springrolls with fresh ground steak and added chilies and herbs to give it a Mongolian beef flavor profile, Super tasty.
What is the best dish you’ve ever eaten?
Chris: I think my favorite is the lunch I make for Erica and I often while we are at home. Yukon Potato Hash, Two Sunny Eggs, A protein and then I make a Thai coconut sauce to bring it all together. Love that bowl of food.
If we gave you $5,000 how would you spend it?
Chris: I would buy my wife a horse. Her choice.
If you weren’t a chef & restaurant owner, what would you be doing?
Chris: Something revolving around music. Not playing mind you, I don’t have any of that talent but just too be around it would be awesome. It must ROCK though, louder the better.
Its your last weekend on earth- what city (anywhere in the world) are you eating in and what are you eating?
Chris: I am in Chicago at Frontera Grill enjoying some Rick Bayless creations.
What is your most embarrassing professional moment?
Erica: I can’t remember being embarrassed much, but I’m a major extrovert. I’m sure at some point, I asked a stupid question about food or cooking, because I’m not the chef! I’m the “I”! And before I met Chris, I didn’t know much. He taught me so much in the kitchen, as he teaches other chefs in our company and folks who are passionate about cooking and just want to learn, no matter their level.
If you could pick 4 people from history to dine at your restaurant for an evening who would they be and what would you make for them?
Chris: Freddie Mercury – Duck and Waffles with Macerated Blackberry Syrup and Sage Butter
Layne Staley – Pacific Salmon with Shishito Peppers
Marilyn Monroe – Lobster and Crab Bisque
John Belushi – Bourbon Fried Chicken
Erica: I would pick Marilyn Monroe, Ronald Reagan, Dr. Wayne Dyer, and Elvis. What a group that would be!
If you could cook with another Chef, who would it be?
Chris: My grandmother. She passed years ago and she was a wonderful cook and that is a chef to me. I always watched her cook when I was younger and was able to help a couple times as I got into my later teens. Would love to cook together with her all in just once.
Do either of you have a celebrity chef crush?
Chris: I would say it’s probably Rick Bayless for sure.
Erica: I have no idea why, but I’ve always been partial to Gordon Ramsay!
Tell us the story of how you met on eHarmony.
Erica: Well, I signed up for an eHarmony account one night and said I would only pursue it if I ‘felt’ something from an online connection. The next day I woke up to a list of new interested parties, but something drew me straight to Chris and I found him on Myspace.
We talked like teenagers on the phone for a week, then realized we were both going to the same Titans game and planned to meet there during tailgating. I was there with one of my best friends and her family, and Chris joined us for a bit. We shot Jack Daniels and ate bratwurst together at 8:30 in the morning. The minute I saw him, I knew. I ran and jumped into his arms the moments we met. True story. We were each other’s second chance at love. And I knew for sure that this was the ‘aha moment’ and that I wanted to feel this way for the rest of my life. Still feel that way every day. We tell everyone we are goobers in love. Together over 9 years, married 7 and 1/2 – and it still feels new. We don’t care if it’s sappy, we love to share the story! We love being around other folks in love which is why we enjoy doing weddings!
Final Words from the Chef & I:
The Chef and I’s restaurant in Lenox Village is interactive and unique – go for dinner and sit at the show kitchen while chefs cook in front of you, or enjoy Sunday brunch with four courses. The bar uses local liquors and has a great wine selection, and happy hour with small plates is a fun way to try a few different dishes and see what the mixologists have up their sleeves. Reservations aren’t required, but they are encouraged if guests want to sit at the show kitchen, or during peak times like weekends. Call 615.730.8496 to make a reservation, or just send a message on The Chef and I’s page on Facebook.
As a company, The Chef and I has grown consistently over the past nine years. The team building sector is the fastest growing, and The Chef and I team is known for creating one-of-a-kind experiences for every group. Each time is a bit different and everything from the chef’s tasting challenge to the mystery box challenge creates an atmosphere of fun, friendly competition, ice-breakers, and team bonding for other companies with their employees. For more information on team building, email Erica Rains at firstname.lastname@example.org