Alley on cooking school, "organic" labels
RH: You’re self-trained, but has anyone influenced you?
Alley: I’m self-trained as much as anybody can be. My influences include all the current hot Southern chefs: Hugh Acheson, Frank Stitt, Dale Hawkins. They are doing it in a much more visible way than I am.
RH: What happens when you hire people who have gone to culinary school? Is there a culture clash?
Alley: No. I’m not anti culinary school. But I think one of the things that’s difficult for kids coming out of school is that they will wash dishes and peel potatoes and make nothing doing it. The ones who put up with that succeed.
RH: You have been dismissive of the push for organics. Why?
Alley: I think it’s great inasmuch as if someone is concerned about those practices, they are typically concerned about the quality of the product and the health of the people consuming it. I like to know the grower, where the food is coming from and what they’re putting into it. It doesn’t make sense for a farmer to spend a whole year working on a crop and not spray because they want to be certified organic. I think sustainable growing practices are more important.
RH: Besides your personality, what do you consider the main draw at your restaurants?
Alley: What I try to do in both restaurants is create an environment where people can get delicious food and a great beverage program in a supercasual environment. I don’t want anyone to feel like they have to put a jacket on. I think people respond to that.
RH: You’ve been cooking all your life and worked in restaurants for more than two decades. Have you developed any pet peeves over the years?
Alley: I think a lot of the dining public thinks they’re more savvy and in touch with the restaurant business because of its high visibility on TV. People talk about being in the weeds and use other restaurant lingo. They act like they know a little more than they actually do.
The money sucks, the hours suck: It’s the same old story. But I don’t know how to do anything else, and I love it. You can make a living at it, but I find that people who really excel in the restaurant world are those who are really driven to do it.
I can’t imagine doing anything else.