Nourish them with comfort

Another in an occasional series of Q&As with local chefs.

Another in an occasional series of Q&As with local chefs.

October 10, 2002|by KEVIN CLAPP

Randy Everhart already had nine years of experience in kitchens when he went to Sullivan College in Louisville, Ky.

But higher education wowed the Martinsburg, W.Va., native by opening new doors to the culinary realm.

"When you train and apprentice and work with other chefs, you learn what to do but not necessarily why you're doing it," the 36-year-old says. "With culinary school, it gave me the basics and a good base to build on. I knew a lot of recipes and dishes but not necessarily why I was doing the procedures I was doing."

Armed with a culinary arts management degree, Everhart has hopscotched from restaurant to restaurant across the Tri-State. He has called the Broad Axe on West Franklin Street in downtown Hagerstown home for the last 15 months.

Here, he is able to indulge a life-long passion for Southern cuisine and comfort foods that make him as comfortable serving up a plate of wings as adding cheesecake with a twist to his menu.


"I've done everything from fast food to fine dining," Everhart says. "The thing I like about this is it's less pretext. It's more comfort foods, more of the things more accessible to everyone."

In September, the Broad Axe chef sat down with Staff Writer Kevin Clapp to dish about life in the kitchen and why comfort food is so important to him.

Q: Why settle on cooking for a career?

A: Originally at the Cliffside Inn (in Harpers Ferry, W.Va.), I went there thinking it was going to be how I was going to pay my way through Shepherd College for business.

I realized it was what I really enjoyed and I think it's good to do what you enjoy doing. ...

Guest satisfaction, friends you make, employees, people you meet, that's the real compensation in this kind of work, knowing you're not just feeding people, you're nourishing them.

You're sharing their experiences, which ... I had die-casted metal for three years in a West Virginia factory and you don't get anything out of that other than a paycheck. Now I remember birthdays, anniversaries, everything. Even if it's just a meal, if you're giving somebody a nice night out you feel like you're giving something back. You're not just taking.

Q: Why such an emphasis on comfort foods?

A: With the fine dining you can get the finest, freshest ingredients in the peak of seasons, but not everyone can appreciate that, whereas at the Broad Axe anyone can look at our menu and know what they're ordering.

Ours is more what you grew up with. It's not intimidating. It doesn't intimidate the guest in any way, shape or form.

I still do the fine dining. ... I have both here, the food everyone can relate to and also anything they might request.

Q: Which style to you prefer?

A: Both (he laughs). I just love food. I'm very proud of our prime rib. For our meat and potatoes guys we have very good prime rib.

I'm a minimalist. I like to focus on the food itself rather than put 14 ingredients on a plate. If there are fewer elements on the plate, you will be able to enjoy them more. To me, the simpler things are easily appreciated because it's not masked, hidden or altered. Good food is simply good.

Q: Can chefs go overboard with complex dishes then?

A: They have their place too, but also you have food allergies and other things that would make people shy away. By stripping it down to the basics, more people will be able to enjoy the same dish. ...

I can always shock and surprise them. I couldn't get that shock value in fine dining. It's expected, whereas here it's surprising. That's a big difference.

Q: Do you have an example?

A: Like today, we're doing a Caribbean Jerk Chicken with Mango Habanero Pepper Sauce, and it's still just a chicken sandwich but at the same time it has gourmet elements.

Or just a twist on a traditional thing, like on our dessert menu we have a fried cheesecake with cherries and whipped cream. And the twist on it is it's rolled in a sweet tortilla and fried so it's crispy for a contrast of textures.

Q: Where did you learn the lesson of keeping it simple?

A: Even in culinary school. We had a chef that wasn't in school one day and I asked where he was and he was flown to England to cook lunch for Margaret Thatcher. And he said it was K.I.S.S. Keep it simple, stupid. Because you just keep it simple. It's part of my training. Everything should enhance flavor, not hide it.

Q: What do you most enjoy cooking?

A: Seafood is definitely the most wonderful thing. Seafood is fantastic.

Q: Why?

A: Because of its freshness, because of the variety. I would rather season with produce, herbs or spices as opposed to alcohol, per se, because of their natural goodness, because they have such wonderful qualities as the products they are.

We have a crab Florentine soup here that is simply creamy crab soup with spinach and three cheeses. It's very rich and one of our best sellers.

Q: And it's not flashy...

A: Again, it's simple. Everyone, they almost drink it. We sell more of it than any soup.

Q: You mentioned earlier the variety on the menu. Why is that?

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