For our final dinner of our 2019 Friends of the Café series, we are excited to announce that Tandy Wilson will be our surprise chef. Chef Tandy Wilson is a true Southern boy with a passion for good food and the humbling ability that it has to bring folks together. Whether Wilson is cooking at City House, doing a charity event or throwing a yard party—rest assured, there will be thoughtful food and you will feel like you are a part of the family.
We are excited to have Tandy Wilson present his dishes at our Friends of the Café dinner, scheduled for October 10, 2019. Purchase your tickets here. We took the chance to speak with Tandy in anticipation of the event.
AC: You have described your food as “blue collar Italian” and Southern cuisine. What ways do the ingredients of both cultures complement one another?
TW: Nourishment, which I also refer to as the “Grandmother Theory.” The feeling has evolved from feeding your family to sustain a day’s work into nourishing not just your stomach, but your need for community, music, and art, amongst others. That is the experience we are trying to give: one that speaks to the new exciting food and dinning as well as the beloved family dinner table.
AC: You have described your cooking philosophy as “heart and soul” based. What does that mean to you? And how do you try to get that across to your diners?
TW: To me heart and soul means expressing passion. I think that we express that to our guests from the moment they walk through the door and smell what’s cooking, see the wood fire oven, see the open kitchen, the way the servers take them through the journey of our menu, and ultimately the food. It’s the passion that flows from this that drives us.
AC: When did you know you wanted to open your own restaurant?
TW: I loved cooking but didn’t have the desire to do my own thing until I had the pleasure to work with Margo McCormack. Margot showed me that you can do this and be a good person and care about the people working with you. I had seen some of these things before, but no one had put it all together. My 2.5 years with her were crucial for the success of City House as well as the push forward to do it.
AC: You are known for getting complex flavors by using a few, simplified ingredients in your meals. Why do you think simple is best for your kitchen? And are you opposed to playing around with more “complicated” preparations?
TW: I would say that simple is best for me and it comes from the food culture I was raised in. Southern food, done right, is a very seasonal food culture that depends on agriculture for its economy as well as nourishment. I spend quite a bit of my time with farmers, finding anything delicious, and the rest of it trying not to mess that up.
AC: What is one thing that City House does well that separates you from other restaurants?
TW: Dessert! I have a serious sweet tooth and for the last ten years Rebekah Turshin has rocked the position of pastry chef here, never leaving that sweet tooth unsatisfied. If you come to City House and don’t have dessert, I gotta tell you, you are making a mistake. Nashville is growing like a weed, with great restaurants opening all the time. I know having killer dessert is the difference maker in many guests’ decision on where to eat.
AC: What is the biggest challenge you face as a restauranteur?
TW: I think the biggest challenge is the amount of hats you have to wear as a chef and restaurant owner. You are constantly managing building maintenance, the growth of your colleagues, their work environment, the menu, traveling and doing events, philanthropic work, and after all that the most important hat is that of a loving father and husband. It’s crazy but I wouldn’t trade any of it for anything.
AC: What is your earliest food-related memory?
TW: My earliest food memory is my Nana’s sweet rolls. Nana was an outstanding cook; she had Southern classics and more global food that came through her love of travel. There were so many delicious family foods, but sweet rolls are something you just can’t resist at any age. My sister carries this tradition on at the holidays and special occasions, and Nana would be proud of how Chrissy has continued the love of a family recipe into new generations.
AC: In a culture where fast and easy solutions often prevail, what do you think is most important for home cooks to focus on? And what should they avoid buying when pre-packaged, if at all possible?
TW: Always know where your food comes from, not just the store; it’s best to know the farmer. There are some agricultural practices that go on in this country that are destroying our land and waterways, as well as causing major health epidemics. The awesome byproduct of this is more delicious food, pretty much all the time.
AC: At Alabama Chanin, you can often find music influencing the mood and the workflow in the studio. Do you have the same experience? If so, what is your favorite music to cook by?
TW: I live my life to music! We play music at home. It’s all music in the car and it’s always on at work. I’m in that constant search for new music, so I’m into most things. I really like country. I’m very particular as to which brand, only the good stuff please. I listen to rock-and-roll and hip hop, as well and some new electronic stuff, too. My highlights have to be outlaw country and its new resurgence, Southern rock, Delta blues, The Shoals! and Mos Def, Common; I really like it all, but only if it’s awesome.
P.S.: Tandy curated a playlist for the upcoming dinner. Listen along here.