Who or what was your first cooking influence? My grandfather. He was a master griller. My first food experience was cooking steaks with him.
What made you decide to become a chef and when was that? I cooked through high school and through college and started noticing I had a knack for it. Things started clicking for me in the kitchen, using ingredients. And I liked the thrill of being in the kitchen.
What was your first food-related job? I was a dishwasher for a YMCA camp when I was 15 out in Colorado. Mom would put me on the bus in the summers and send me off to the mountains.
What was something important that a fellow chef taught you? Stephen (Hassinger, innkeeper at The Inn at Hunt Phelan) has probably been the most influential chef. The words of wisdom from him are to take a simple idea and make it the best you possibly can. Don't go overboard or try to make something too crazy.
What is the Russell Casey style? I'm pretty meticulous. I'm a perfectionist. I like everything to be perfect foodwise. All the cuts are perfect. Just paying attention to the small details of things -- garnishes and, of course, flavor. Making sure the flavor is there.
Describe one of your dishes on your current menu? Potato-crusted halibut with sauteed spinach, tomatoes, andouille sausage and parsley jus.
What do you cook or bake at home, if anything? I don't really cook for myself. I've got to have an audience. If the roommates are around and everybody's home at the same time, I'll try to cook something really good. They're meat eaters, so I'll throw the fillets on. The good old steak-and-potato boys. And, of course, they think it's the best thing they've ever eaten. They all have girlfriends, so we've got to feed them, too.
Worst cooking accident: I was basting some fish. My hand hit a hot pan and I had a spoon full of boiling butter and threw it on my forehead. It was the last course of a seven-course meal on a Saturday night. Finished that and one more course after that. Then we went to the hospital.
The Inn at Hunt Phelan is at 533 Beale; (901) 525-8225.
-- Michael Donahue: 529-2797