I wasn’t always a chef. I considered honing my cooking skills for several years before I began my food education, then life put me in a position to make big decisions and changes out of necessity. The most significant of those decisions was becoming a part of the service industry.
While I wouldn’t tell a younger person that it’s essential, I did attend culinary school. As an adult with an unrelated career behind me, it felt important. As a result, I had one of the most formative experiences of my life and an invaluable education, both in school and through kitchen jobs. It is humbling work and physically demanding, with long, unpredictable hours and performance pressures unlike any I had previously known. However, all of it helped me reinvent my life and inspired me to keep moving forward.
When I came to the Mississippi Gulf Coast, I started a small catering business out of a commissary kitchen. Local, seasonal ingredients are my passion, and I have been fortunate enough to showcase them consistently. I believe food shouldn’t be confusing, overwhelming or intimidating. It should accommodate our needs, both physically and socially. Foods of all kinds — healthy, hearty, ethnic or comfort — can be accessible, affordable and achievable. I am grateful to share my knowledge and experience with others through rural food education now as well.
I fell into catering along the way, and it is what I focused on — even after opening a storefront. By the time the physical location gained momentum, the world was shutting down. I found myself choosing between closing altogether or trying to reinvent my concept.
Flexibility and adaptability are key in any business. When I switched to delivery only, business increased. Catering and personal chef services increased. Savage Skillet had come full circle.
Here in the deep South, people may be Catholic, Baptist, or diehard SEC football fans, but food is our religion. It is the heart of all we do, from birth to death. It brings us together and solidifies us as a community. I do my best to honor that.
I’ll leave you with some lessons I’ve learned:
- Anyone can learn the skills of most trades. Unbridled enthusiasm and dedication can’t be taught.
- You’re going to make mistakes. It’s vital that you do so; otherwise, you stagnate.
- Realize you can’t please everyone.
- Be genuine. Be flexible. Be honest.
- A kitchen without a good cast-iron skillet and a sharp knife should reexamine its purpose.
- Putting your hands in the dirt can cleanse your soul and connect you to your neighbors.
Tara Pederson is owner/chef of Savage Skillet. Reach her at email@example.com.