Ryan Smith has a big boy job with a fancy title where the sheer number of words in it suggest that the work it entails is quite the load. That's not the point. Besides that, he has also been steadily nursing his cooking career through Native Crave. You might've tasted his food at a benefit or a party, and if you have it's almost certain you went back for seconds, and thirds, and fourths etc... BANG! asked Smith a few questions, which rendered insight into his startling obsession with confit and deep love of egg yolk.
BANG! If you weren’t handling food as a profession, what else do you think you’d be concentrating on?
Ryan Smith Funny thing is, catering and event planning isn’t my profession. I work full time as an Applied Industrial Engineering Consultant. I started Native Crave because I was tired of being just another 9 to 5er , or in my case 8 to 5er. You know the drill. Wake Up. Breakfast. Work. Lunch. More Work. Gym. Dinner. Wine. Movie. Pass Out. Wake Up. That cycle is maddening. I’m one of those folks who feel useless if I’m not constantly moving forward and challenging myself. Before I started pursuing Native Crave as a real thing, I was doing some cooking for private parties out of friends and friends of friends’ houses because I’ve always been good at and enjoyed cooking. Well, you have to be good at something growing up when you don’t care for/ when you’re not good at sports, right? About that time, I got to thinking that would be something I could pursue as an outlet that would allow me to flex my creative muscle, meet some new folks, facilitate bringing other folks together, and maybe just maybe have a little bit of fun. So, am I a chef by trade? No. Am I my freaking khakis? Definitely not. Am I a hell of a cook trapped in an engineer’s body? I’d like to think so.
BANG! How do you think food facilitates conversation between parties or individuals that would have previously remained unbeknownst to one another?
Ryan Smith Food is a universal thing, by the way am I the only one who finds it odd that humans refer to something as being universally anything? We haven’t even physically been out of our solar system, and here we are trying to predict the preferences of the entire universe. Anyways, globally I think food, cooking, and the act of eating can bring folks from all different walks together for two reasons. One, food is a physical biological need. Two, cooking and eating food are forms of art. Food is a pretty major need when it comes to keeping you alive. It’s right up there with water and staying current with The Walking Dead. Being that food is a global need for survival, much of the development of our species and society as a whole has to do with the availability and production of food. Why do you think the spice trade was such a big deal in the 1400s? If it weren’t for food and spices, America wouldn’t exist as we know it. That’s a mind grenade right there. Our growth on any scale starts at the base level with the availability of fuel to keep us going, so that being the case we’re naturally brought together by food. I’m not saying that food is art like it’s only to be enjoyed by people who have a SCAD degree or are too cool to say “too cool for school” because they were so too cool for school before being too cool for school was even like popular man. I’m just saying taste is in the tongue of the beholder. It’s subjective. 10 people could eat the same dish and taste 10 different things based on their palettes and their background. We all bring something different to the table. Being that we’re all physically required to be at the table for survival, we might as well talk to the other folks around it to gain better understanding what got them there in the first place.
BANG! What recipe or meal have you tasted before that has made you think “Damn it! I wish I had thought of that!”
Ryan Smith I’m a sucker for runny eggs; poached and soft boiled eggs in particular. There’s just something beautiful about cutting into the yolk and letting it spill out onto your plate or if you want to be particularly naughty, eating the whole thing at once and feeling the yolk burst out the egg like caviar. That being said, My girlfriend and I went to Asheville during Christmas. While we were there, we ate at this Farm to Table place called plainly “Table”. This was pure minimalism in décor and letting what arrived at your table do all the talking. This place had the absolute best Scotch Egg I have ever had in my whole life. For those of you who haven’t had the opportunity to taste your death row meal yet, that is the last meal you should ever wish to eat, you need to step yo life up. The Scotch Egg is a soft boiled egg that is then breaded with crumbs and parmesan then flash-fried. This particular preparation was a Quail Egg over a mound of braised wild mushrooms served with the absolutely decadent and earthy braising liquid. My girlfriend will tell you, the moans of pleasure and express of astonishment was more than a little troubling to anyone within earshot.
BANG! What qualities do you look out for in terms of service and food quality with catering?
Ryan Smith Honestly, in regards to service, if most everyone is having a good time, I’m having a good time. With food quality, I do my absolute to make sure all of the ingredients are as fresh or organic as possible. I spend a lot of time and money at Dekalb International Farmer’s Market. Did you know that they sell duck fat there for like 3 bucks a pound? It’s kind of become a problem. Please let me know if you have word on any CFA groups (Confit Fiends Anonymous). Thanks.
BANG! Do the meals you offer always reflect your palette or are there some items that you know other people like but don’t necessarily enjoy personally? I hate cream cheese, but I don’t ban it from my refrigerator.
Ryan Smith I don’t particularly care for vegetarian options because I find it finicky, and we’ve already discussed my love of animal fat. Besides that I think it might be me transferring some left over frustration I have from having dated a vegan at one point in my life years ago. Ok I see no animal fat, but no cheese? That’s not just something you can get over. I’ll cook it for folks because I understand the need, but I will quote Bourdain in excess while I do it. “Vegetarians, and their Hezbollah-like splinter faction, the vegans ... are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit.” –Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential
BANG! How large of an event can you cater?
Ryan Smith It all depends on the help I can arrange prior to the event, but at this present time with one to 2 extra hands, my number tops out around 100.
BANG! Do you think food should be conscious of fads, or should a meal stay the same regardless of trending dietary waves?
Ryan Smith I think progression is always good so long as you don’t lose the heart and soul of that dish while experimenting around with stuff. Like I’m really starting to mess around with bringing in some modern gastronomy into some very traditional dishes and I love deconstructing things, but the flavors still need to be there. One particularly successful deconstruction I had the very fortunate opportunity to enjoy here recently was Abbatoir’s Deconstructed Creamsicle. It’s everything those Orange Creamsicles were when we were kids in a jar. Just delightfully whimsical.
BANG! Farm fresh ingredients are awesome, we all know this. However, that leaves the menu and options susceptible to seasonal shifts? Do you circumvent that by simply knowing what will be ripe and fresh during which months or is there some other method?
Ryan Smith I always buy food fresh. I try to start at the local farmer’s market and purchase the seasonal offerings to use them as the base for the menu, then move onto Dekalb Farmer’s Market to handle all the little details. However, if a client wants a certain menu theme in particular in opposition to the particular seasonal offering, I’ll just go to DFM.
BANG! What makes Southern food such a great base to create on top of?
Ryan Smith I feel it is for me, because that was my ground floor, but I don’t know about it being great. Not at the state it’s in anyways. The South, historically, has all kinds of influence from French, to West African, to Native American, to what have you, but nowadays good luck finding Collard Greens anywhere outside of the $40 for dinner price range that aren’t completely pulverized into mush. Don’t get me wrong, I love Southern food. I just know both through life experience and travel, that there’s a great deal more out there.
BANG!What kind of events do you particularly enjoy catering for?
Ryan Smith I’m only doing this because I enjoy it. When I cease to enjoy it, I’ll stop doing it.
For those who would like to satiate the crave, you can follow Native Crave's facebook page at : https://www.facebook.com/#!/NativeCrave/info, or at the tumblr site : http://nativecrave.tumblr.com/. Make it out to the next event Smith decides to bless with his flavorful magnificence and never leave that banquet table.