Ask someone to describe what they think a typical chef is like and you will probably hear some of these adjectives: volatile, arrogant, unapproachable, and impossible to please. Well, five minutes with Will Doss and this stereotype evaporates in the Southern heat. Approachable, easy going, upbeat, and with just enough shyness to be charming, Will is a breath of fresh cool air in a kitchen that is easily 100 degrees. He clearly loves what he does and on a balmy Tuesday night he graciously stepped away from the stove to share his enthusiasm with me.
Are you originally from the South?
Yes, I was originally born in Greensboro, NC.
Did you want to make Southern food? Was that always close to your heart?
Well, my mom was a great cook and my grandmother was in the restaurant industry and had a catering business, which was actually my first job. I started working for her when I was like 15. She was definitely Southern at heart; she ran country clubs and stuff. I also got to work with some pretty great chefs when I was young and that got me excited about it and I’ve been doing it ever since. I do have experience with all kinds of cuisine, Southern, Asian, Mexican, a little bit of everything, so I’m pretty well rounded.
Do you cook at home?
No, (he laughs). I order a lot of take out…every once in awhile I’ll cook. We have a lot of cookouts with the staff where we’ll smoke a pig and things like that but as far as me cooking meals, no.
I often try to recreate restaurant dishes at home and even when I have a recipe I can never truly emulate the restaurant version. Other than the fact that I’m an amateur, what’s really the difference between something made in a restaurant vs. at home?
Well, a lot of it is making your own stocks; it’s really the stuff that you make from scratch that’s going to taste better than anything you buy from the store. It’s the way we build flavors. A lot of people don’t know things like starting your onions in cold oil or adding salt and seasoning throughout, they just salt the dish at the end. It’s all about building flavors. They also don’t have access to everything a chef has…or maybe it’s experience, (he chuckles a little) maybe it’s ability, I don’t know.
What would you recommend for someone who wants to try cooking with a new ingredient?
There’s so much stuff online now, they can find ideas there. We get ingredients from local farmers and we got some kohlrabi, which I’d never cooked before I came to Rx. I did it a couple of different ways and the most successful was I shredded it on a mandolin and made sort of an Asian slaw. I also marinated it in fish sauce and that turned out great so we served it with the soft shell crab. The key is to just try things.
Is your philosophy “more” or “less” on the plate?
It really depends on what I’m going for. Sometimes it’s simple- the pork belly dish is really simple- it has cheese grits, bacon and an egg, that’s just what it’s supposed to be, basic. Compressed melons with sea salt, stuff like that, I keep really simple. Things like my pork dish I try to go overkill- pork on pork on pork. I’ve got bacon in the peas, bacon and ham on top, we make our own pork rinds…I try to put pork as many different ways as I can onto one plate. Sometimes I like excess; sometimes I like simplicity.
When you eat at a restaurant are you a harsh critic or do you just try to enjoy it?
It depends where I’m going. If I go to a really nice place and spend a lot of money I’m pretty harsh because I know what goes into it. I mean, I’ll sometimes give a place another shot if it’s not great but mainly I love eating simple food, like going to the taqueria.
A customer insists on giving their compliments to the chef in person- amazing and flattering or irritating?
I really don’t mind it, it’s nice, but when people ask you to come out and talk to them it does make me feel a little awkward. My brother who’s also a chef is great at schmoozing but I mainly like to just stay in the kitchen.♥
Images courtesy of Bonnie Jean photo.