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VOL. 38 | NO. 15 | Friday, April 11, 2014

Passion for cooking fuels 14-year-old chef

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Sarah Worley of Biscuit Love Truck met 14-year-old Charlie Hilly at a career fair, and took note when the high school student told her he had an idea that would someday put her out of business.

“I got such a kick out of it,” Worley says. And, she also loved his concept – an Indian and Southern American fusion called “Namaste, Y’all.”

So fast forward a few months – after Hilly spent some time hanging out on Worley’s truck – and a plan hatched. Hilly would “take over” the Worley’s truck, with their supervision, for a dinner at the Nashville Farmers’ Market.

They would serve fried chicken tikka masala over grits, catfish curry, collard saag paneer with house-made Cruze buttermilk cheese, roasted root vegetables with vadouvan, Indian-spiced banana pudding and mango mint sweet tea.

The dinner sold out, feeding more than 140 in less than two hours (including guests like Jim Lauderdale and Martina McBride), with proceeds going to the hungry through the Nashville Food Project, an idea Hilly suggested.

“This is what gives us juice,” Worley says. “Seeing someone passionate and seeing it through.”

Charlie Hilly, center, with Karl Worley and Sarah Worley of the Biscuit Love Truck, enjoys the moment at his “Namaste, Y’all” event in the Grow Local Kitchen at the Nashville Farmers’ Market.

-- Submitted | Amanda Saad

We caught up with Hilly to hear his thoughts on cooking and the Nashville food scene, and when asked if he had seen a recent New York Times profile of another ambitious 14-year-old chef in California.

His response: “Hold up! Why am I not in the New York Times?”

Q: How did you take an interest in food?

A: “Like most kids, I always would cook with my mom. But it wasn’t until I started to take classes at the Ivy House (a community center in West Nashville offering yoga, meditation and cooking classes) that I really started to consider it as a career.’’

Q: What’s the first dish you remember cooking on your own?

A: “When I was 9 years old, I loved Mexican food, so I made a habanero salsa. I don’t remember the quality of it. All I remember was that it was spicy.’’

Q: What’s your favorite restaurant and/or food truck these days and favorite dish to order there?

A: “I love to eat at Biscuit Love, and I always order the classic Princess from them. It’s spicy fried chicken with grainy mustard on it and house-made pickles.’’

Q: Who is your role model chef?

A: “I learned to cook Indian food from a friend named Satya (Gopalan) from the Ivy House, so I would think him. But I also have watched Anthony Bourdain cook for years on television.’’

Q: If you could work at any food establishment in the world, where would it be?

A: “I would want to work in my aunt’s restaurant, the Creamery Park Grille [in Knoxville]. I have always wanted to work in the family business.’’

Q: What do you think of Nashville’s food scene these days, and what do you think it needs to go to the next level?

A: “I think that Nashville’s food scene is developing quickly into what could be an American staple, just like New York or Los Angeles and Chicago.’’

Q: Where do you find inspiration?

A: “I find it in everything I love – people, family, friends. Sometimes, I will even go to a terrible restaurant and feel like I need to make their food better than they did.

Q: What advice do you give to people who say they don’t know how to cook?

A: “That you don’t need to know how to cook, but if you don’t know, then you need to know a close friend or roommate who does.’’

Q: Is there a dish you don’t know how to make yet but would like to learn?

A: “I would love to practice making a homemade gnocchi. That has been something I have been meaning to try out.’’

Q: What’s the most memorable meal you’ve had yet (can be at a restaurant, a home, a street cart, etc)?

A: “I was in Los Angeles. I went to Umami Burger and got the truffle burger and house fries. I have never tasted better food, let alone a better burger.’’

Q: Do you have a favorite cookbook/food-related book?

A: “It is weird that I have never owned a cookbook or even read one. I guess it’s new age technology that’s advancing so quickly they have almost become obsolete.’’

Q: What are your thoughts on culinary school? Should aspiring chefs go?

A: “Absolutely. Any aspiring chef who has the means to attend should go for it. Aspiring restaurateurs in my opinion should also look into business school, as well.’’

Q: What are your thoughts on food television? Do you like it? If so, what are your favorite shows?

A: “I think that food TV is a lot better to watch when you are either sad or hungry or both. I don’t watch it that much, but I understand why it is so popular.’’

Q: What’s your prediction on the next food trend?

A: “Artisan small-batch donuts seem to have been hitting the market hard lately.’’

*In the food business, being “in the weeds” means being super busy. And that’s also how we would describe Nashville’s booming restaurant scene. In this column, Jennifer Justus, journalist, author and food culture writer, keeps us up to date on food, dining out and trends with bi-weekly reports from the table.

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