Editor’s Note: This is part of a series of interviews with local chefs.
Southern food is Charles Patterson’s first love. He’s worked in fine dining, he’s owned a catering business. He even owned two Lee’s Fried Chicken restaurants with his father. But he always comes back around to cooking Southern-style dishes and creole, and that love is on full display when Patterson talks about his method of making grits.
Essentially, it’s three steps that takes multiple days, with the grits milled and steeped in chicken stock, then cream, then cheese.
“I’ve been making grits for 30 years,” he says, so yes, he knows what he’s doing. But the engaging Patterson — who also is imposing at 6-foot-4 and well north of 300 pounds — isn’t a white-coat chef. He takes pride in dressing the same as his staff and getting his hands dirty.
For him, making food for the patrons at Flavour Restaurant & Lounge, where he has worked for just a couple of weeks, is a team effort.
Flavour, a restaurant that combines Southern, Cajun and Caribbean influences, opened earlier this year in the Highlands.
Patterson, a Lexington native and University of Kentucky graduate, had lived most of his adult life in Charlestown, S.C., and had returned to Lexington for a few years before coming to Louisville last year to work at Finn’s Southern Kitchen, getting back to his kitchen roots.
Finn’s, however, closed just as 2017 became 2018. Patterson took a job as chef at 301 Bistro and worked there for a few months before Flavour came calling and hired him as executive chef.
“This is the kind of food I wanted to do,” he says.
Patterson started cooking at age 11 when he ran a snack station at a country club in Lexington. He’s been making a living as a chef for the past 30 years and hasn’t lost his passion for food that started with his family.
“When I was growing up, food was just a big deal in our house,” Patterson says, adding that not only were both his parents good cooks, but his sister is a food consultant and author. Food was always a focal point of his family, who ate dinner together every night.
“You couldn’t get through lunch without somebody asking what the hell was going to be for dinner,” he says. “And what my mother made is what you ate. Holidays were a big deal in our house, too. Everybody pitched in and helped cook. Even today it’s like that.”
His love of cooking comes through when you talk to Patterson, who occasionally gets so excited about what he’s saying that he forgets to finish sentences before moving on to the next one. Ask about the grits, which he describes as “nice and thick and fluffy,” and you’ll get the idea.
“People are not used to grits like that up here,” he says, proud to bring his rendition of Southern-style grits to Louisville. “Most people ate grits at a Waffle House at 2 in the morning, drunk, and they tasted like gravel.”
He’s already altered the Flavour menu, not so much in terms of the dishes offered but how they’re done. He’s tweaking recipes, blending in more ingredients and spices for deeper levels of fusion.
“I’m just taking what we’re doing and enhancing it and making it different,” he says, adding there is a shifting emphasis toward the seafood on the menu. Bread pudding is now Caribbean spice-infused. He’s re-tooling the way the fried chicken is made, adding a touch of honey to the batter.
You already know the shrimp and grits are going in a new direction.
Most of all, he wants the entire restaurant to operate as a team — you’ll see him talking to customers when time allows, and he pledges to listen to what they and his co-workers and kitchen team tell him. He’s open to ideas. He wants to present the food in a great way in addition to making great food. His extensive experience in the restaurant business is coming to the fore in a variety of ways.
While maybe everyone can’t match the passion Patterson brings to cooking, you can bet it’s at least a little contagious.
“That day of the ranting, yelling, screaming chef is over,” Patterson says. “That stuff’s done. You’ve got to have people who want to come work with you. It’s a group effort. This business is tough. If you’re not willing to completely dedicate yourself to it — you’ve got to be all in, all the time. Relentless pursuit, every single day. We don’t cut corners on something because it’s easier, and we don’t take a shortcut.”