From his daily emails telling us in mouth-watering detail what’s on the menu at McClurg to his ability to please even the pickiest eater, Chef Rick knows how to feed a hungry crowd of college students, and that is why he is our favorite foodie on the Domain.
Born in Birmingham, AL, and raised in the coalfields of Prestonburg, KY, Chef Rick is a Sewanee boy at heart. “I love being alive…I like to read and paint when I have the time. If I can get outside, I like camping, and you will find me in my kayak on one of the many incredible rivers and creeks we have in the South.”
Chef Rick’s interest in food developed as a child when he would watch the women of the family cook grandiose meals before and after church every Wednesday and Sunday. Those smells of fried chicken, ham, biscuits, and pies enticed his curiosity as he played on the floor with the pots and pans. He recounts some of his favorite dishes, “Rural Southern Appalachian foods – hams, fried chicken, biscuits, lots of vegetables from our gardens, cornpone, squirrel and game meats prepared in many different ways, delicious cakes and pies, and homemade breads.” Once he could stand, he started using the pots and pans as tools instead of toys, and with the help from his grandmothers, aunts, and mother, Chef Rick learned how to cook Southern style.
But his career would gravitate to a healthier style of cooking and eating. And knowing that he wanted to be a leader of healthy eating, Chef Rick was on the lookout for a place where he could make an impact. Sewanee offered him a job, and after seeing the freshmen read, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” he was sold. This year will be his fourth leading our dining hall, and in that time, the kitchen has dramatically increased the amount of organic and local ingredients. And how about the variety of food? For such a small dining hall, there are lots of options. Chef says that he gets his inspiration from fellow workers and students. Research is a must, and he enjoys learning about unique combinations, health benefits, or any fun fact about a certain food—no wonder his emails are so priceless.
So the question you’ve all been wondering—what is Chef Rick’s favorite McClurg specialty? “I eat brown rice and greens every day. The Chicken Fried Tofu we do is awesome (shoutout to my colleague Justin). The meats we slow roast are some of the best I have ever had. The Vegan Station is my favorite station. I eat from there every day also.” The vegan line never lets us down either, Chef Rick.
We have seen McClurg gain prestige under the reign of Chef Rick, but it doesn’t stop here. With growth from the University’s Farm, exposure to fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats will continue. Sustainability is also a focus. Besides lowering the amount of waste, Chef Rick would like to see McClurg become a zero impact-dining hall in the future. Although this may be a more long-term goal, small steps will be made, such as figuring out what do when the dishwasher breaks…Other changes that will indulge you healthy eaters include a new-and-improved salad bar at the front of McClurg and an implementation of a “juicing program.”
Sewanee has greatly expanded its repertoire of delicious and fresh meals since B.C. (Before Chef). So next time you’re hauling your way to the wok line or passing the smoker on a Friday afternoon, give Chef a wave or say thanks for the food he’s prepared us.