A chef returns to his roots.
Chris Hathcock grew up in Savannah, started cooking in Athens and worked his way through two-year kitchen stints in Atlanta, Charleston, Asheville, Atlanta again and Greenville before moving back to Savannah in 2018 to take the reins at Husk. The menu is new, and terrific: On a recent evening, I started with kale salad, shifted gears to gingered cauliflower and tilefish with beets and somehow found room for the best chess pie this side of just about anywhere. Herewith, some snippets from my pre-dinner chat with Chef …
On his uncommon path to the kitchen:
I never went to culinary school. I put myself through college cooking food in Athens. I studied forestry — ecology, agriculture, stuff like that. I appreciate the growing process and the energy it takes. It’s kind of like cooking. You’re in it because you love it.
On his full-circle Savannah moment:
I left Savannah when I was in 10th grade, so I never really experienced it as an adult. I love being back in the city where I grew up, the city where my grandmother grew up. It’s nice to see old friends, to go through my grandmother’s cookbooks from the ’50s and ’60s, church cookbooks and stuff.
On kitchen camaraderie:
It’s like musicians — you have a bunch of talented people in the room, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll work. There has to be a synergy, a vibe. When you have a really good service, it feels like you’re doing a dance.
On turning a new leaf:
The whole menu is personal to me. I’ve changed every single dish. I like to push past the comfort zone and challenge people to eat a bit more eclectically. I want to put out food you can’t make at home — I definitely want to wow people but never want it to be pretentious or stuffy. I hope people see Husk as casual fine dining — upscale but modern, a place where they can feel good, and most importantly a place they can come a few times a week, for dinner or just for a cocktail and some oysters.
On the golden rule(s):
Respect and attitude are the two most important things. You have to have respect for yourself, for each other, for the ingredients and the people who took time to grow them and get them here. As for attitude, you can teach knife skills and palate, but you can’t teach someone how to be a good person. Everything else can fall into place.
On restaurant swaps:
I don’t cook at home often — mostly breakfast, late-night snacks and steak. Savannah has a great restaurant community, and on my days off, I find myself at The Grey or Atlantic, and I see their staff and management here too. It’s great to support each other and have that kind of open dialogue.
My left arm is Southeastern heritage vegetables — squash, eggplant, turnips, okra, edible flowers. My right arm is Southeast Asian vegetables — shiitake mushrooms, daikon radish, shiso. I’m a creature of habit, and I’m loyal, so everywhere I move I find a tattoo artist I like and stick with them. I used to make myself think on new tattoos for a full year before I’d do it, but now I just go for it. I have a whole Atlanta section, too — a Falcons logo, a Shaky Knees skull, even a little Gucci Mane tattoo. I’ve got some really goofy, silly ones, but they all mean something to me.
On the many faces of Husk:
Here and in Charleston, we focus on the Lowcountry, but Nashville is more Appalachian, and Greenville is influenced by Cherokee culture. Our burger and our fried chicken are the same across the board, but otherwise we don’t have access to the same ingredients, and that’s intentional because this food celebrates and honors tradition.