This is part of a chef interview series. View all interviews here.
On a spontaneous Tuesday afternoon, I met with Chef Steven Young, Chef de Cuisine of The King’s Kitchen.
We talked about Charlotte and how fast it’s growing, how crazy good Kindred is, boring steamed broccoli, and how legit his fried chicken is. Our chat may have inspired him to get crazy with broccoli – I hope he does. I also am totally on board for a fried chicken throw down. Who’s with me?
What are your thoughts on social media playing such a huge role in the restaurant scene? Has it made a good or a bad impact?
I think social media is great as far as getting the restaurant’s name and pictures of food out there. You have to take the good with the bad with social media – it’s kind of a double-edged sword. If you use it right, it can be great but there are certain negative things that can come out of it too. We are utilizing it as much as we can and it’s helped out a lot. I have chefs that I follow on Instagram that I like in Charlotte.
What is the first thing you do after a long day at the restaurant?
The very first thing I do is take my shoes off, shoes and socks, and put some flip-flops on if I have to go outside. I definitely have a cold beverage, always. It’s time to unwind so I can sleep a little bit. I’m married and I have a daughter so she’s asleep when I go home. I spend a little time with my wife when I go home, then go to bed. That’s it.
For you, what is the most challenging part of running a restaurant?
There are so many things. It’s a very challenging profession. I’d have to say the most challenging is finding a good balance of everything that you are responsible for. You have to focus on so many different things as a chef. You have to focus on your food cost. You have to focus on planning out a menu. You have to focus on training your employees, training and building up sous chefs. You have to focus on follow up. It’s crazy. The list goes on and on. So just keeping all that focused is what’s the most challenging thing.
I find myself wishing I could just focus on this. And then focus on this. But it’s all at once. You never know what’s going to happen. You can’t get ahead. Even if you plan something out. Something always happens.
Where do you see the Charlotte food scene going in the near future?
I think that the sky’s the limit. It’s gotten so much better since I moved here. I saw somewhere on social media that Charlotte is the second, fastest growing food and beverage town in America. It’s like the second, fastest growing city in America. Johnson & Wales, the town, it’s just bringing a whole different type of people. It’s a lot of foodies, a lot of young people. So I think that Charlotte, if it’s not already there, it’s about to be on the map as far as a food town goes. Don’t know if it’ll ever make Charleston status, because it’s so close. But it’ll be right up there.
Besides Charlotte [of course!], what’s your favorite city to eat your way through?
This is such an easy question for me, now that I’ve officially been there. New Orleans is by far my favorite city. People love food down there. The food scene is just enormous. So many James Beard award-winning restaurants down there and award winning chefs. Anyone who loves food, once you go there, you’re hooked.
What is your prediction for the next “Big Ingredient” in the food world?
Trends I can kind of predict. The more we go into local food, things are going to get more and more hyper local to the point where restaurants are going to be producing their own produce, livestock, pretty much raise everything themselves so that they have their hands on something from start to finish…and some restaurants already do this. I really don’t know any particular ingredient that’s the next big thing…
Do you have any advice you would give an aspiring chef that you wish someone would have given you when you first began your culinary journey?
I kind of knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I think a lot of culinary students think they will get out of culinary school and they’ll be a chef. I thought I was going to come out and be a sous chef right out of school. The journey is long, the journey is hard and you have to be really committed. It’s a big commitment, probably more than any career. It takes a lot of growth. It takes a lot of learning under the right people. You’ve got to work for the right people that will train you and grow you to where you need to be. Pick a good mentor is the best advice I can give. No one told me that.
What is your biggest pet peeve in restaurants?
I have a very ‘green’ crew. I want everyone to be organized to the same extent that I am. I expect things to be put back in the spot where they belong, where they were taken from. Another pet peeve of mine is saying we are out of something when it’s just hidden. I always say, “What do I get when I find it?” because I know it’s in there. You just have to move stuff around.
Is there an ingredient or dish that you feel is completely overrated?
I’m going to say broccoli. It’s delicious, it’s good, but I feel like people don’t play with it enough. When someone says broccoli on a plate, you’re probably thinking about just like steamed broccoli. That’s what I think about and it’s gross. Granted there are lots of things you can do to dress it up, but I think that’s most people’s perception when they hear broccoli. Steamed broccoli.
How do you juggle the work versus life balance?
I should let my wife answer this one, because I know she wants me to be home more than I am. I’ve got to explain to her that I need to be here during this time and this time. I have to set an example. I can’t just leave early all of the time because then my sous chefs and line cooks are going to want to leave early all of the time. But I do make sure I get my days off, I make sure my sous chefs get their days off.
It is a delicate balance. It’s tough at first, but I’ve kind of gotten into the swing of things and making sure I text my wife at least throughout the day to let her know I’m thinking of her. I just try to watch the hours I work because it’s like a time warp. I never thought it would be that hard to make myself have to leave. When it’s slow you want to watch labor so you let one of your line cooks go and you work and help clean, that’s what I do. That can get me in trouble sometimes.
What do you think about this “Celebrity Chef” phenomenon?
I have mixed feelings, kind of like social media. It’s good because you inspire people. I probably wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for celebrity chefs, because I watched the Food Network and got interested in food. I was always interested in food but by watching and seeing how it was prepared and listening to someone talk about it; it kind of lit a fire under me. It made me decide to go to culinary school.
So I think it inspires people but it also gives people misconceptions that it’s all glamorous. That’s where your mentor comes in and tells you realistically what it’s going to be like. If you’re thinking it’s going to be all “lights, camera, action.” It’s really not. It’s tough, 12-13 hour days on your feet, maybe you get a break. I do think celebrity chefs have it easy. Some have earned their stripes but some haven’t and it’s more of a personality or a looks thing.
What is your favorite dish currently on the King’s Kitchen menu?
On our dinner menu, I would say two things. I love our fried oysters. I could eat them anytime of day. That’s a good one at the end of a long shift. Our shrimp and grits are really good. I don’t eat it much but I do really like our sauce, it’s a spicy tomato pan sauce. It’s really good and we use Anson Mills grits and they are absolutely fantastic.
Also our fried chicken is on point. I’ll put our fried chicken up against anyone. Against Price’s Chicken Coop. Pan-fried chicken is different than deep fried chicken.
What is your favorite restaurant in Charlotte other than King’s Kitchen?
My birthday was a week ago and I went to Kindred in Davidson. After that experience, right now, they’re my favorite. Chef Joe of Kindred used to be the chef of our company. I know him and his wife personally, so they took care of us. I was able to bring my daughter, got a tour of the kitchen, tour of the dining room. They just went all out. They get it. They get this industry. So that’s my favorite right now, like in the past year, because I don’t get out much.
There are some others I really want to visit, like Heirloom.
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