Creative Endeavors in the Claymaker Kitchen
Creative Endeavors in the Claymaker Kitchen
When I’m not working in film and television, one of my favorite forms of creative expression (and an all important stress reliever) is cooking. I have been captivated by all things “kitchen” for as long as I can remember, and cooking and entertaining are very a much a part of my adult life. My earliest memories of culinary craftsmanship are rooted in the kitchens of both of my grandmothers: my late grandmother “Juke” and my Grandma Mae. At Juke’s house, I’d often be found helping her make coleslaw for a summer barbecue, or the frequent birthday cake – even if it wasn’t actually someone’s birthday. At Mae’s house, country cooking still rolls out daily, with three hots and two snacks, and it’s always a bevy of fried Southern staples, several of which are in my regular repertoire.
The Beginning of a Creative Era
My fascination with kitchen gadgets and tools often got me into trouble as a kid, I might add. Being caught playing with the ‘Mix Master’ without adult supervision, shredding a potted plant into a “salad” and pouring bottles of dried spices into dishes were regular offenses. But what can I say? I love cooking! As with other art forms, presenting a completed dish is its own journey of idea and discovery. And the showmanship of it all, from table side flambés to sprinkles of fleur de sel, has always captivated me.
As I grew up, there were many opportunities for me to explore the kitchen at home. Through cookbooks, Food Network, dear friends (Linda, Annabel, and Heidi!) and with many, many epicurean disasters along the way, I now consider myself what Ina Garten would call “a home cook with maybe a little more experience than most.” On the subject, the Barefoot Contessa herself is perhaps the most significant of celebrity influences on my current culinary point of view. Her books of meticulously tested recipes, her effortlessly casual presentations and her endearing affection for her friends and husband have all helped shape my own style and purpose for entertaining – to show my friends and family I love them. (Emphasis on show, as I’m all about the showmanship!)
Aspiring to Become a Master Chef
I started turning my focus to some of the bigger and most respected names in all of food toward the end of 2014: my life was forever changed as my family and I enjoyed the dozen course tasting menu at the legendary Daniel Boulud’s eponymous flagship restaurant. That meal elevated my perspectives and approach to “the dinner party” to something surreal. The standards of service, the marriages of familiar and exotic ingredients, the wine pairings, the work-of-art presentations, the choreographed ballet of the waitstaff, the table side white truffle shavings (oh my!) and meeting Chef Boulud himself – I could go on forever about that night. Suddenly, I found myself studying the masterpiece publications of Boulud, Thomas Keller, Joël Robuchon, Daniel Humm and Éric Ripert for new inspiration.
The Claymaker Kitchen in the Present
Nowadays, a typical Claymaker dinner party is an enchanted night of discovery and fellowship with those friends and family I hold most dear. While conventional wisdom suggests that your dinner guests don’t want to feel as though you went to a lot of trouble, anyone that knows me at all will attest that it’s going to be a production at Clay’s – I think somehow we’re all OK with that! I love to use the kitchen stage and the dinner table canvas as outlets of personal artistry, and I love to show what efforts I will eagerly make to present a world-class night of food and conversation to my special people.
It’s also fun entertaining alongside my parents, as we now have our own choreographed ballet of showmanship when dinner service begins. Mom curates the most gorgeous tables with flowers, centerpieces and the collections of china we’ve amassed over the years. Dad casually busses dishes in and out of the dining room. And EVERYONE follows closely behind me with a kitchen cloth to clean up the falloff when I get all “Salt Bae” with garnishes. And even when it is a night with a lot of dishes, it never feels to us, or our guests, that it’s a chore. Everyone ends up helping in some way, and that’s when the laughter and joy of being together in the kitchen and at table really come out. And THAT is what food is really all about for me – creating magical experiences for amazing people.