Best Chefs – Chef Benjamin Findley: I first met Chef Benjamin Findley when he was working for Chef Chris Bolton at the Lake Rabun Hotel, who is a long-time friend of ours, that’s been more than a few years ago now. At the time Chef Findley was a kitchen helper. Recently he was hired to be the Executive Chef at the Laurel Bar in Clayton. He has come a long way in these several years.
Best Chefs – Chef Benjamin Findley
Best Chefs of the North Georgia Mountains – Chef Benjamin Findley: I first met Chef Benjamin Findley when he was working for Chef Chris Bolton at the Lake Rabun Hotel, who is a long-time friend of ours, that’s been more than a few years ago now. At the time Chef Findley was a kitchen helper. Recently he was hired to be the Executive Chef at the Laurel Bar in Clayton. He has come a long way in these several years.
Chef Findley tried college but took some time off to decide where and what he wanted to do, so he took a job as a prep cook at a new restaurant in Clayton, Rumor Hazit. On his first day he spent much of his time grinding Panko into finer dust. His philosophy was, you got to start somewhere. He was then assigned to slice tomatoes. The chef said “so Ben, do you know how to use a knife?” And just then Chef Findley cut himself rather seriously. Now, after many years of working in kitchens the chef’s knife is his friend.
I asked, so what was it that steered your career path toward becoming a chef? Chef Findleys says it is the creative outlet – something comes up in my head, it inspires me and I make it. If I succeed and it turns out delicious and beautiful then it is completely uplifting. Also, to come out of the kitchen at the end of the evening to mingle with diners and hear their unique praise that you have enriched their visit to the restaurant and to the North Georgia Mountains. It is both humbling and motivating to hear that praise.
Chef Findley says he has always been a foodie and his parents always had a home garden that he worked in. His favorite meal is one his mother often prepared, home-made pasta with home-made basil pesto with fresh from the garden. This combination always makes him feel young again. But, the evening that proved life affirming was one at 5 &10 in Athens that included Bone Marrow Fritters by Chef Hugh Acheson. That evening convinced him that working food would be his career path. He admires Chef Acheson’s contemporary Southern cookbook “A New Turn in the South.” He said “It’s the type of food I most enjoy. As a child I was a picky eater; but now I will eat everything.”
In addition to admiring 5 & 10 Chef Hugh Acheson, he also values the time he spent working with the executive chefs at Lake Rabun Hotel, including Chef Chris Bolton, Chef Louis Osteen (James Beard Award Winner), Chef Jamie Allred, and most recently Chef Ryan Spruhan. He says he learned much from each of these great chefs.
Although contemporary southern food is his standby he enjoys searching for unique foods and trends on the Internet. He wants to keep the food he produces at Laurel Bar constantly changing and improving. He would like to see happen at the Laurel Bar what happened to Lake Rabun Hotel as its following grew because of the great food. That he feels is part of his contribution to Lake Rabun Hotel’s success by assisting each chef perform their food wizardry.
After years of working in kitchens Chef Findley says his favorite kitchen gadget is the cream bruleé torch – it’s a lot of fun caramelizing sugar. And now, despite his bloody introduction to slicing tomatoes – he also loves knives – he keeps his honed sharp. His favorite places to eat locally include Fortify Kitchen and Bar and Manriques. He respects Chef Jamie Allred’s ability and passion to operate a busy restaurant using primarily local foods. He hopes to soon garner as many local sources. He also loves eating at Manriques as the food is always freshly prepared including the salsas. He said he also wants to dine at Beechwood Inn but Saturday is his busiest night, so he can’t get away.
His biggest challenge he finds for himself is putting dishes together. That is, making an entire evening’s menu work together and flow well from the kitchen to the diner. He applauds owners Chuck and Brenda Patterson as they have given him complete control over the kitchen; this freedom is a real confidence booster. He hopes to learn more about wine varieties, regions and wine pairings with food. He knows this additional knowledge will enhance guests’ overall dining experience.
When the kitchen at Laurel Bar is asleep he loves to fish. He often fishes with spinners from a canoe in our mountain lakes. This is his favorite relaxation. He is also learning to fly fish.
His near term ambition is to make Laurel Bar a food success and a map worthy culinary destination. He also wants increase his use of local products to add his personal contribution to Rabun County’s claim as the “Farm to Table Capital of Georgia.” In the future he plans to remain working as a chef and perhaps find his way to Portland, Oregon, where his sister lives. He admires the Pacific Northwest from a visit there and he would like to garner the experience of their local gardens and abundant seafood.
Eventually he sees himself with a family coming back to Rabun County perhaps to start his chef-owned chef-operated restaurant. I wish him all the best. Bon Appétit!
Best Chefs – Chef Benjamin Findley: By Chef David Darugh, Beechwood Inn – Georgia’s Premier Wine Country Inn. “Best Chefs America 2013/2014.” beechwoodinn.ws