The Best at What They Do and How They Do It 8

Franklin’s best chefs are on the slicing edge of Middle Tennessee’s culinary Renaissance.

Although Nashville is recognized across the globe for superstar entertainers, it’s cultivating an ever-growing roster of well-known culinary celebrities as well.

But if you’ve ever wielded a knife or handled a sizzling pan in your home kitchen, you’ve probably wondered, “how does a chef do this every day?”

As part of a Chefs Roundtable Discussion, we met recently at Brentwood Country Club with some of Franklin’s best chefs to discuss their inspirations, the nuances of their craft and what they try to bring to the table for their guests. Our discussion included: Skylar Bush, executive chef at The Honeysuckle; Rick Shannon, chef and co-owner of Jack & Jameson’s; and Donnie Counts, executive chef at Puckett’s Boat House.

What inspires you to cook every day?

SKYLAR BUSH, The Honeysuckle: The fact that there is no such thing as perfect food, and being stubborn enough to try and create it.

DONNIE COUNTS, Puckett’s Boat House: I really enjoy the environment in the kitchen, the teamwork and the chance to teach something and learn something new everyday.

RICK SHANNON, Jack and Jameson’s Smokehouse: It was a necessity. My mother worked two jobs so I learned to pitch in, in the kitchen.

What does it take to produce an outstanding dining &
hospitality experience?

BUSH: It takes vision, desire, dedication, communication and follow through. Great dining experiences can be trained. Outstanding dining experiences are a life’s work of constant refinement.

COUNTS: It’s all about the team, from the front door to the dishwasher.

SHANNON: Communication. I tell my team to focus on delivering excellence in regards to the environment, service and food. If you don’t leave feeling like you were a part of our family, then we have failed.

BUSH: Having a good team is where it matters. It’s what makes you smile.

Do you have any tips for the aspiring home chef?

BUSH: Have fun! Don’t try and get too serious with it. Cook what makes you happy and try as many new things as possible.

COUNTS: Use your local farmers markets to really bring fresh flavors to your kitchen. Many items in the [retail stores] are grown for size, not flavor.

SHANNON: Throw out all of your recipe books. My kids are 29-11 and I always tell them to never let anyone determine who you are in or out of the kitchen.

Do you have 
any particular 
tools or gear that
youcan’t do without?

COUNTS: I do like my knife. It’s a Viking knife.

SHANNON: I have a perfect spatula.

What’s your best-selling dish?

BUSH: Duck and Brussels. Hands down.

COUNTS: The carrot cake is always a hit, but as far as entrees go, our BBQ shrimp and grits and our Fried Avocado and Crab salad are our number ones.

SHANNON: The brisket fritters. I go through a couple thousand briskets a week.

What makes the middle Tennessee dining scene so unique?

BUSH: Just the sheer influx of people in the past few years has given us such an eclectic and demanding community. Combine that with really great local farmers and chefs communicating and throw in a little artistry, as is the Nashville way, and you have a recipe for a unique dining scene.

COUNTS: We are the new kids on the block, and we are getting an influx of talented chefs moving to the area every day.

SHANNON: The variety. You can go anywhere from Bar Taco to Wild Ginger to a drive-through barbecue joint.

Is there a local chef that you particularly admire? Do you have a favorite local restaurant?

BUSH: There are too many to name. They are all so great.

COUNTS: I think most of them are awesome, but I really like Rolf and Daughters and City House.

SHANNON: I always look for items that I can’t get anywhere else, more than I focus on the chef in the kitchen at a restaurant. Those are dishes worth searching for.

Is there a food item in your home pantry or refrigerator that might surprise people?

BUSH: Cheese whiz. Nothing beats a cheesesteak sandwich.

SHANNON: Fermented carrots are in the fridge right now. My wife loves the fermented offerings from The Farm in Summertown.

COUNTS: Hot Pockets and Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning.