Up and Coming Chefs of the North Georgia Mountains – Jenny Wilson: Gayle and I go out to lunch frequently. It has become almost a daily ritual in order to get out of the Beechwood Inn just for a small change in scenery. Invariably, the first place that comes to mind is “Fromage.” While we try to make the rounds of local restaurants, we would have to say we are Fromage “regulars.” Excuse me folks, but you are sitting at our favorite table. What attracts us to Fromage is that Chef Jenny Wilson’s philosophy on cooking matches our style, which is to use the best ingredients available, avoid pre-prepared and packaged foods, and make everything from scratch. So, yes, Chef Wilson is at least partly responsible for our slow but steady increase in girth.
Jenny Wilson has been in Clayton about 5 years, but she did not come here as a chef. Rather, she sold clothing at the Tanner store that was on Main Street. That is where she met Linda Webb, her business partner in Fromage. While at Tanner they became fast friends. They often got together with their husbands, and Jenny would end up cooking an exquisite meal. Well it turns out that Jenny is a classically trained chef. She graduated from the Pennsylvania Institute of Culinary Arts in 1996 and later worked at a series of restaurants.
About two years ago, the company closed the Tanner store in Clayton leaving its employees searching for new occupations. Jenny and Linda talked about what the future would offer and decided that they would open a restaurant. At about that same time Inger’s Fine Foods closed and the building and equipment became available – so they formed a business partnership and made the jump.
Chef Wilson acquired her interest in cooking largely from a neighbor who had emigrated from Hungary. During and after high school she was often found at the neighbor’s house cooking and eating. She took that interest in cooking and eating and enrolled in culinary school. After graduation, her first cooking job was in Colonial Williamsburg at Josiah Chownings Tavern as a grill chef. The tavern specializes in barbecue and other Colonial fare. It is also known for evening entertainment, including balladeers, colonial games and other 18th-century diversions. She left Chownings and moved to Anastasia’s, which at the time was a well-known restaurant in Williamsburg, to work for their wonderful chef. In two years, the chef moved on and Chef Wilson took over as head chef. However, after another change in jobs and some disappointing kitchen experiences she decided to change occupations.
At the time, her mother was working for Tanner clothing, so Chef Wilson joined Tanner and started selling clothing. Tanner moved her 5 times before she settled in Clayton. That is all history now, and Fromage is a great success. Chef Wilson is a creative dynamo in the kitchen, often spending long hours prepping and cooking. Fromage offers wonderful lunch fare, catering to go, artisan cheeses, and fine dining once a month featuring foods prepared from scratch. While Gayle and I have not been able to attend her dinner offerings, (on weekends we are always working in the Beechwood kitchen) we hear great praise from our guests.
Together Chef Wilson and Linda are very involved in our community. You will often see the two of them, along with their husbands, donating time, effort and food for charitable and civic events. At the present time, Chef Wilson is the President of the Clayton Merchants Association. She and Linda were the primary instigators of this summer’s very successful “Clayton Crawl.” This downtown Clayton evening event was attended by over 500 people and offered live music, samples of local award winning wines and tastes of foods prepared by some of the areas best restaurants.
Fromage also participated in this year’s Rhapsody in Rabun and served Vermont goat cheese, pistachios, grape truffles, and herbed phyllo purses stuffed with French brie and salmon lox. They were also participants in the Mountain Lakes Antique Show and the Grow Cook Eat Mountain Harvest Celebration. Chef Wilson is already working to improve and enlarge next year’s Clayton Crawl.
I asked what her favorite ingredient is and without a split second’s hesitation, she replied heavy cream. Her favorite tool is the cheese knife, hence the name Fromage. And when considering where to go for a vacation or a trip, the destination will always involve food.
Fromage has quickly become an extended family operation. Chef Wilson’s mother has planted herbs and flowers around the restaurant. They all got together and dug up a part of the lot next door and planted flowers, tomatoes and herbs. Her sister came to town to help staff the Fromage tent at the Clayton, Crawl. Husbands Mr. Wilson and Jody Webb can often be spotted in the Fromage trademark colorful aprons helping serve or clear tables.
Yes, Chef Wilson loves food and she loves what she does. We are certainly glad she has settled in Rabun County and is cooking up a storm at Fromage.