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15 min with Bob Waggoner

December 2014
15 min with Bob Waggoner
We caught up with the former Charleston Grill chef about his new culinary ventures, his formative years in France, and what he’s cooking this winter

CM: Tell us about your new cooking school, In the Kitchen.
BW: Guests experience an intimate, hands-on cooking class in my 1,600-square-foot custom show kitchen. I’m the only teacher, wine is included, and it feels like a dinner party with friends.

CM: What are some of the dishes you plan to teach this winter?
BW: Fun soups, warm salads, and entrees made with quail, beef, lamb, and rabbit, plus some easy desserts. I can teach anyone to cook!

CM: You’ve also been named head chef of Generalissimo, a restaurant slated to open on Upper King next April. What excites you most about the gig?
BW: Mexican cuisine is my go-to favorite meal, and I’ll be cooking Mexican dishes made with Lowcountry ingredients. Unlike French food, the presentation will be more relaxed; if the shrimp aren’t all exactly the same size, no worries! And I’ll be able to use every single part of a local pig instead of just the tenderloin.

CM: But will the French fare you’re known for influence the menu?
BW: I’ll still use French techniques, like slow-roasting, marinating, and braising at low temperatures. And I’ll still use some French ingredients. Think spicy duck quesadillas or cilantro chicken confit with Vidalia onion and yucca.

CM: Between the two jobs, how will you spend your precious free time?
BW: Hanging out with family and friends on our boat as much as possible. And gardening. We had a home garden for the first time this year. We grew tomatoes, cucumbers, and eggplants. Cutting into a truly fresh eggplant made me wonder just how old the produce we purchase from the supermarket must be.

CM: You love to travel. Tell us about your best trip ever.
BW: The 11 years I spent in France, when all I did was concentrate on food. I even opened my own restaurant, Le Monte Cristo, in 1989. It was located inside a beautiful old 1920s home in Monéteau.

CM: Was there a certain award—perhaps the prestigious L’Ordre du Mérite Agricole, which you won in 2000—that made you feel you’d succeeded as a chef?
BW: No. Awards are just awards. The true honor is the customer coming up to you at the end of the night and saying, “Do you know how special you made my wife’s birthday?”

CM: As a wine lover, what’s the most memorable bottle you’ve served?
BW: When I worked at Wild Boar in Nashville, the owner bought a bottle of 1870 Domaines Barons de Rothschild Lafite for $25,000 and asked me to cook a dinner around it. The wine was phenomenal. It was really light in color, but it was alive and still had acidity. We paired it with the last course: Brie de Meaux and fresh Périgord truffles.

CM: Are you a fan of the holidays?
BW: I’ve never been a part of them. Working in a hotel restaurant like Charleston Grill, you’re busy 365 days a year. Thanksgiving...forget it! On Christmas, I’d wake up at 5 a.m. to open presents and then be off to work. This year, Christmas will be spent at home with family and friends, wonderful wines, and great food. No more rushing off to feed the masses! 

Favorite Things: 

Mood Music
“Frank’s upbeat stuff instantly creates a festive, party atmosphere,” Waggoner says. $16.55, www.barnesandnoble.com

Piano Man
The chef bought this Yamaha player piano to entertain guests at In the Kitchen. Price upon request, Fox Music

Pantry Staple
“Shallots have more bite than onions and can go in everything from vinaigrette to pan sauce,” he notes. Market price, Harris Teeter

French Fave
The chef keeps his fridge stocked with real Dijon mustard. “A little can do a lot,” he says. $4, Publix

A Pal’s Recipes
Waggoner worked for Pierre Gagnaire back in the ‘80s, and he loves his old boss’ latest tome. $28, www.barnesandnoble.com

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