Where There’s a Will

Chef Will Herrington dishes out eclectic eats at Cohen's Retreat. Photo by Katie McGee

This spring, Will Herrington took his show on the road, moving from Kitchen 320 at B Historic Savannah hotel to the more eclectic environs of Cohen’s Retreat.

While he kept some crowd favorites on the menu—field peas forever!—he’s already made plenty of changes, with more still to come. Next up: a kitchen garden, a chef’s tasting table, and of course, Sunday brunch.

On location, location, location:

I’m never gonna be a molecular gastronomist. But being at Cohen’s allows me to explore Savannah in a new way and still use what’s right in front of me. I’m driven by Savannah, by the people I work with. [Cohen’s Retreat owner] Colleen Smith really pushes me with her creativity. What I have out here is a unique opportunity, and I know that. A restaurant in a less expected neighborhood can create community.

On keeping the menu familiar:

I brought the crab grit cakes from Kitchen 320 because it’s a beautiful, simple dish. And the field peas, I don’t think I’ll ever get rid of those. I eat them year-round. It’s interesting, I sell more orders of field peas in the Moon River district than I ever did downtown.

On working with old friends, like Rafe Rivers of Canewater Farm:

I met Rafe in college, in Athens. We stayed in contact and when I moved back to Savannah he was one of the first people I looked up. I always use Canewater’s spring greens, arugula, mizuna. Whatever he’s got, I’m gonna bring in. He started growing callaloo, which is kind of like Jamaican spinach. When you look at Lowcountry cuisine in general, it’s a hodgepodge of African, Caribbean, so many things. My guys had no idea what callaloo was, but it’s been fun to introduce to people around here.

On integrity:

One of the biggest things we as chefs need to do is to teach. Not just how to fry an egg, but where food comes from and what it actually takes to get it to your plate. When the produce is good, you don’t need to do much. I don’t want to take away all the hard work the farmer’s done. I like to cook radishes in radish juice, for example. It keeps everything true.

On making Savannah home:

Savannah’s my spot. I love the city, I love the people, I love what’s going on right now. The new restaurants popping up—every day it’s something new. Being surrounded by creative people keeps you on your toes. I don’t want to sling some sandwich out. I’m not interested in un-careful food.

On reciprocity and room to play:

I like to tell my staff, I grow when you grow. I love being surrounded by that passion, the kind of curiosity that doesn’t turn off when you go home. My wife is super creative, too, a total renaissance woman. She sews, she’s a big gardener, she paints—she’s a driving force in what I do and how I do it. When I really want to do some research and development, it starts in my kitchen at my house. She inspires me so much, and if she can’t come eat with me at Cohen’s, I better bring something home. On our days off, it’s a bit of a cooking lab situation.

On growing up in the kitchen:

My mother cooked, my grandparents cooked. I always spent time in the kitchen. In college, when me and the boys hung out I was always the one cooking, but it took a while to click with me. Then I went to culinary school in Nashville and eventually moved to Savannah and worked at the Westin with Roger Michel. He really taught me how to get along in a kitchen—to embrace the process, to be a strong leader. He also taught me that if you don’t have passion for this, don’t do it. It’s a hard business, it’s long hours, it’ll test every fiber in your body. But there’s something about the people who succeed. You can see it in their food and in the way they carry themselves.

On the moment it all comes together:

Seeing people enjoy your food—it’s hard to describe. You brought people to that table, you brought conversation to that table. It opens up doors that have nothing to do with food. For them to come here and have food they enjoy … it kinda lights you up.

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