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A Q&A with Chef Todd Richards of White Oak Kitchen & Cocktails

In Eager Anticipation for AFWF16, We Sat Down with The Legend Behind an Atlanta Favorite
April 29, 2016

White Oak Kitchen & Cocktails restaurant styling, Waiting on MarthaBurger and fries and salad, Atlanta restaurant White Oak Kitchen & CocktailsChef Todd Richards of White Oak Kitchen & CocktailsWhite Oak Kitchen & Cocktails southern food, Waiting on MarthaWhite Oak Kitchen & Cocktails' rooftop garden, Atlanta 2016-04-25_0003 Atlanta restaurant matchboxes, Waiting on MarthaCheeseburger and fries, White Oak Kitchen in AtlantaRooftop garden, AtlantaA well-stocked bar, White Oak Kitchen & CocktailsLunch at Atlanta restaurant White Oak Kitchen & Cocktails2016-04-25_0017White Oak Kitchen & Cocktails restaurant interiors photography, Waiting on Martha

Perhaps one of my favorite things about good food (besides of course, eating it) is finding out more behind the apron and what chefs themselves are craving and cooking up at home.  With food that’s just as drool-worthy as it looks, I’ve just got to know the whole story!  This is exactly what inspired today’s drop-dead-gorgeous feature of a favorite local hotspot of mine, White Oak Kitchen & Cocktails and the guy your tastebuds need to thank: Executive Chef Todd Richards.  

I first became enamored with Chef Todd at my first AFWF experience; the man is a legend on the Big Green Egg. If any of you follow on Snapchat (username WAITINGONMARTHA), you’ll know I love me some Big Green Egg grilling.  And after seeing his smoking demo on the rooftop, two Food & Wine Festivals ago, and discovering his cold smoking techniques (FYI cold smoking is simply a way of infusing a smoked flavor without cooking the food, ie. smoking a block of cheese), I couldn’t wait to try it on my own at home. 

A self-taught chef, Todd became the Executive Chef of White Oak Kitchen & Cocktails almost a year ago.  His background as Executive Chef at Ritz-Carlton Buckhead, Chef at The Shed (where he was recognized as a James Beard Best Chef semi-finalist) as well as Concept Developer for One Flew South (the top rated airport restaurant in the US) have lent amazing experience and a strong footing for Todd to blow it out of the park at White Oak Kitchen.  Everything that comes out of his kitchen is truly satisfying, yet totally approachable and unpretentious (there’s nothing worse than ordering a bizarre dish that just stares at you from the table, am I right?!). Chef Todd simply knows what people want and gives them that. 

Chef Todd will be back at the festival this year, hosting a Vegetable Versatility class on Saturday, June 4, where guests will explore the wide range of flavors, textures and colors that vegetables can embody in both a Caribbean and Southern palette.  I’m already mapping out my itinerary while at the festival (since it really is the most wonderful time of the year), and this class is one I won’t be missing!  Until then, I caught up with Chef Todd to pick his brain about his favorite dish at White Oak, what he REALLY loves to cook at home, favorite sip & more, which you’ll find below.  And please tell me I’ll be seeing all of you at AFWF16?! Cheers!  Truly, MKR

WOM: Tell me a little bit about your rooftop garden; what are you growing?
TR: Our primary items we are growing right now are hot peppers, okra, Thai basil, radishes, turnips and greens. We have a few specialty items as well such as shiso, & nasturtiums. Blueberries have just started as well.  

I do grow some items at the garden at home as well. We planted 8 tomato plants as well as cucumbers, mild peppers, eggplant thus far.   

WOM: Favorite dish on the White Oak menu right now?
TR: My favorite dish of the moment is the carrots glazed in ginger. There are 2 versions of this dish. The first is a side item. We glazed the carrots with carrot juice, ginger, fermented black beans and herbs.  The carrots are placed on carrot puree and garnished with pea shoots and micro shiso. The second version is garnished with tuna.  

WOM: Favorite food or dish to cook?
TR: I enjoy working the fish/meat station the most. I love how precise you have to be cooking those items.   Finding the exact spot to sear fish on the plancha or ensuring there is enough seasoning on meats to get the perfect crust is always exciting.  Also adding traditional techniques like finishing meats over charcoal is always special.  

WOM: Favorite food or dish to eat?
TR: My favorite everyday item to eat is soft scrambled eggs. My favorite gourmet item to eat is uni and/or caviar.  My favorite vegetable is broccoli.  My favorite meat is chicken followed by duck. Especially duck cooked with duck eggs.   Got a thing for eggs I guess.  

WOM: Favorite libation?
TR: Champagne.  What else goes better with caviar, uni and scrambled duck eggs…Maybe that’s why I have it for breakfast.  

WOM: How are you participating in AWFW this year?
TR: I’m very excited to do the class on southern sandwiches. We serve a collard green sandwich at the restaurant currently.   It’s  the part of the southern cuisine that I don’t think gets enough credit in its sophistication.  

WOM: Anything or anyone your looking forward to seeing at AFWF this year?
TR: I’m looking forward to seeing the cognac class with Miles Macquarrie and Kelly Thorn. I’m not familiar with the use of cognac in cocktails and can’t wait to see what they come up with.  

Also seeing Ashley Christiansen and Rodney Scott team up for a class.  They are two of the most dynamic personalities in the kitchen.  It should be a very exciting demo.   

Photography, Kathryn McCrary for Waiting on Martha | This post was in collaboration with Atlanta Food & Wine Festival, a brand we love and adore. All opinions are 100% our own. 

Classic Shrimp Scampi Pasta

A Simple, Light Entree to Enjoy Any Night of the Week
April 26, 2016

Classic shrimp scampi recipe via Waiting on Martha

There’s a reason shrimp scampi is a go-to recipe for me this time of year.  It’s so simple, so fresh, so light, and so much easier than it looks which means it always impresses.  My classic shrimp scampi recipe doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel, but that’s the beauty of it.  Sautéed fresh shrimp sit atop light angel hair pasta, that has been soaked in tangy lemon, spicy red pepper flakes, and plenty of garlic (I’m a garlic lover, #sorrynotsorry).  Its rich flavors, and presentation can easily fool you into thinking it’s a fancy meal. BUT secretly know it only took 15 minutes to whip up.  One of the best warm (or cold) weather recipes to enjoy around the table (or al fresco if you’re lucky), I’m telling you. 

Another thing I love about this meal, it’s almost a “one pot” meal.  While the pasta is boiling away (one pot) you’ll begin to build flavor in a large sauté pan or cast iron skillet (two pot).  Hands-down, one of my favorite aromas in the kitchen is that of garlic and onions sautéing away in a little butter and olive oil…I mean my mouth is watering just imagining it right now. After you bask in those aromatics for a few minutes, you’ll mix in a light bodied white wine like Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio, allowing the wine to reduce and the shrimp to cook.  While your wine doesn’t have to be as high of quality as the one you’d uncork to go with the meal I do suggest cooking with at least a mid-tier wine.  Remember you’re still using it to flavor your food and I would hate for any amazing recipe be ruined by cheap wine.  Anyway, once you’ve properly cooked the shrimp, in that same pan or skillet you’ll build your dish; adding the pasta, chopped fresh parsley, lemon wheels, and sprinkles of oregano, black pepper and crushed red pepper flakes for a little heat (I have a heavy hand with the pepper, duh).  And voila!

Tell me, friends, is shrimp scampi pasta one of your go-to’s this time of year, too?  I’d love to hear how you prepare this crowd-pleaser at home!  Truly, MKR

P.S. If you’re looking for warm-weather, patio season wines to pair with this dish, check out my top 8 recommendations. xo

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Photography, Rustic White for Waiting on Martha

Queso Drenched Vegetarian Nachos

Everyone's Favorite Drool-Worthy Nachos, Perfectly Layered & Loaded
April 22, 2016

Layered nachos with queso recipe via Waiting on MarthaThe best ever nachos via Waiting on Martha Loaded nachos with queso and fresh avocado recipe | waitingonmartha.com

Nachos need no introduction.  EVERYONE loves nachos…I literally don’t know anyone that doesn’t perk up when a platter of loaded nachos with creamy, warm queso is plopped in front of them. When we shot this recipe, our photog Robert and I could not stop eating them (which if you know what an insane, in the best way possible, health nut he is, then you would understand the gravity of that statement)!  But of course, like everything drool-worthy, there’s an art to making perfectly loaded nachos (which I promise I’ve been practicing for quite some time)…and it’s all in the layering, my friends. 

There’s nothing worse than reaching for a nacho that has nothing on it, and in the dream world, every chip would have the perfect proportion of toppings and melty, ooey-gooey cheese.  But there’s ALSO nothing worse than soggy nachos, and you run that risk when drenching your nachos with queso.  So, I’ve made it my mission to whip up the ultimate loaded nachos that avoid both of those travesties; just follow my lead friends and I promise everyone will have a perfect pile on their plate. 

First, layer the pan with unbleached parchment paper (or tin foil) for easy cleanup…because scrubbing the baked cheese residue off the nacho pan later is not worth anyone’s time, let’s be honest.  Use a mixture of yellow and white chips (or homemade tortilla chips if you’re feeling ambitious; they’re so worth it) and make sure to spread them out in two layers, moving them around to make them as even as possible.  It’s okay to spend a little bit of time doing this, and throw out those broken chips.  Next, in order to avoid a soggy-nacho situation, you’ll want to cook only some of the ingredients: starting with the beans first, which serve as a layer to shield the queso from the nacho making the chip soggy.  Next up: queso, red peppers, fresh jalapenos, and the shredded cheese.  And please take the extra time and buy the high quality block cheese and shred it yourself which I’m sure your mother did.  It is SO, SO, SO much better than pre-shredded, and worth the extra effort. 

Cook the nachos until the cheese melts, then pull them out and layer on the toppings as high as they will go.  These will all serve as the cold, crunchy topping to the loaded nachos.  This way, you’ll get a warm, melty, cruncy, spicy, and creamy cold bite all in one (which is absolutely incredible I might add). So go ahead and pour on the green and red peppers, green onions, homemade pico de gallo (which is just red onions, tomato, jalapenos, cilantro, plenty of lime juice and GARLIC salt), cilantro and fresh, creamy avocado slices (not guacamole).  I’ve found that the fresh avocado is actually much, much tastier in each bite than a hunk of guac, and really adds that creamy texture.  Happy layering friends…now go pour yourself a margarita and nosh on some nachos!  Truly, MKR

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Photography, Rustic White for Waiting on Martha

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