Willett says “it’s a part of your DNA, it goes back to memories, it’s the respect of the ingredients!” What does southern cuisine mean to you? Steve Frabitore said “Southern food is a great canvas, very vibrant eclectic food.”
These guests discuss why Southern Cuisine is considered comfort food and the most important parts of cooking this cuisine. Chef Jeff McInnis says, “find the right ingredients, cook from your roots, and always remember the tradition.” When the restaurant brokers asked for each guest what makes southern fried chicken so special, these guests weren’t ready to dish out their grandmother’s top secret recipes!
Listen in as our guests discuss the Cajun and Creole flavors to the barbecue favorites and what really make Southern Cuisine a comfort food. Listen to the entire restaurant radio show live on Atlanta radio station WGKA, TALK 920 on Saturday at noon or the rebroadcast Sunday at 1 PM on Biz 1190.
This Week’s Guests:
Chef Jeff McInnis, Root & Bone
Jeffrey McInnis was born to either fish or cook. Growing up on fishing boats around Niceville, Florida, by 16, McInnis was peeling shrimp, cutting fish, and cooking on the line at The Marina Cafe. Long Southern summers working his grandparents’ Alabama farms further stoked his passion for fresh, local food.
McInnis attended Johnson & Wales University. After graduation he traveled, going from a position at Caribbean-Asian Asolare in St. John, Virgin Islands, to the Asian-French Azie San Francisco, to rural Virginia’s Keswick Hall. A post under Norman Van Aken at Norman’s took him to Miami and ultimately The DiLido Beach Club, where he won a 2008 StarChefs.com Rising Star Award.
When McInnis cooked his way into the finals of “Top Chef,” his already widespread acclaim went national. In 2010, he became the executive chef for the Miami-based gigi, and in 2011, he was nominated for “Peoples Choice Best New Chef” by Food & Wine. With so much success, McInnis returned to his roots, becoming chef-partner of Yardbird Southern Table and Bar in Miami, where both chef and restaurant received James Beard nominations. Chef Jeff McInnis recently opened Root & Bone restaurant in NYC. Both Yardbird and Root & Bone serve traditional Southern fare.
Felicia Willett, Felicia Suzanne’s
With all the Southern charm you’ll find in Felicia Suzanne’s, it won’t come as a surprise that chef-owner Felicia Willett’s culinary career was inspired by the big traditional Southern dinners that she grew up helping her grandmother Lovis make. That early exposure to good Southern food was only the start of a career that eventually led to her training for eight years under Chef Emerill Lagasse. Felicia is the co-author of two of his “New York Times” bestselling cookbooks – “Everyday’s a Party” and “Emeril's TV Dinners” – and was producer of his “Good Morning America” segments. While training, Felicia further developed her talents at putting her take on Southern classics from across the region.
At Felicia Suzanne’s, Felicia draws inspiration from the places from her past: the piecrust she helped her grandmother roll while growing up in Jonesboro: Charleston’s fresh seafood, the towns along the drive down I-55, Alabama’s back roads and the barbecue style of Memphis. And when you dine at Felicia Suzanne’s, you’re tasting the true South, because she uses locally sourced ingredients whenever possible. Her expertise in local food has led to the creation of her product line, called Flo’s Homemade Goodness. She cans each product seasonally and makes enough tomato jam, pepper jelly, chow-chow and pickles to keep her customers happy the entire year. She’s also an ambassador for the Memphis and Tennessee culinary community. She has participated in the “Memphis BBQ/Winemaker Dinner” in Santa Barbara, CA; “Memphis Goes Hog Wild in Oregon” in Portland, OR; “West Comes East” at Blackberry Farm in Walland, TN; and in two James Beard dinners. Felicia especially enjoys learning about the traditions and history of the Southern Foodways Alliance and attending SFA events. These experiences constantly fuel inspiration for her Southern menu and new Flo’s products.
Steve Frabitore, Tupelo Honey Cafe
Since purchasing downtown Asheville’s iconic restaurant, Tupelo Honey Cafe, in 2008, Frabitore has directed all restaurant operations, including sales and marketing, public relations and advertising, budgeting, purchasing and inventory control and management. In 2010, he opened a second location in south Asheville, followed by the opening of Knoxville’s 1 Market Square store in October 2012 and Greenville, SC,’s location at The One in June 2013 along with restaurants in Chattanooga and Charlotte that same year. In 2014, he opened locations in Johnson City and Raleigh. The restaurant is expected to open five more locations in 2015 including Myrtle Beach, Arlington and Virginia Beach along with Atlanta.
Under Frabitore’s leadership, the restaurants have been successfully integrated with state-of-the-art recipe mapping programs and a POS system delivering actionable information with ease of use and expandability. His systems have ensured management’s complete understanding of food cost and menu pricing to create an outstanding customer experience. Frabitore’s leadership has resulted in key metrics that place both restaurants above the top quartile of all restaurants in a similar check average according to the 2010 NRA restaurant Operations Report. Robust sales gains, reductions in food costs and efficient deployment in labor have led to industry leading net profits for the company and substantial infrastructure investments.
Prior to his role as president of Tupelo Honey Cafe, Frabitore’s extensive 16 year career in consumer products companies like Procter & Gamble, Tambrands and Empire Berol led to his being named Vice President of Sales for Rexall Sundown, Inc., in Boca Raton, FL, and eventually to the position of President, Sundown Vitamins, a division of Rexall Sundown. In this capacity, Frabitore directed performance, business and organizational development, as well as leadership for this $700 million division. With a consistent track record of increased revenues and operating income, Frabitore was an integral part of the sale of Rexall Sundown to Royal Numico, NV for $1.85 billion in 2000. As an entrepreneur, Frabitore has a track record of results and success in companies as diverse as yacht building to outdoor power equipment. In his most recent acquisition, Frabitore purchased a small independent OPE dealership and drove revenue up six fold in four years. He also opened a second location and was recognized as one of the top dealers in the Southeast. Frabitore is married to his college sweetheart, has four boys and is proud to have graduated Florida State University where he also caught trapeze and walked the seven man pyramid on the high wire in the Flying High Circus. Frabitore was named North Carolina Restaurant & Lodging’s Restaurateur of the Year in 2012 and the Asheville Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business Owner of the Year in 2013. He is past president of Asheville’s Independent Restaurant Association and sits on the boards of the North Carolina Restaurant & Lodging as well as the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority.