A fun Q&A with some of the state’s up-and-coming chefs as well as culinary superstars.

Photography by Janet Warlick

MARY BETH RINGGOLD

owner/executive chef  / Cajun’s Wharf, Capers and Copper Grill

Hometown: Beckley, West Virginia

Are you a formally trained chef or an on-the-job-trained cook? I was trained in the ‘school of hard knocks.’

Where were you trained? Initially, in the Cajun’s Wharf kitchen, but, as you can imagine, in the past 30 years, I have spent a lot of time in kitchens.

How many years have you worked in the food industry? I grew up in the industry with my grandfather and my father. But, I officially started in 1982.

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What or who inspired you to become a chef/cook? I actually started on the audit side of operations, as a part-time bookkeeper at Cajun’s in Knoxville, Tenn., while I was in college. Then, my interest gravitated to the back of the house and I started spending more time in the kitchen. Keep in mind, this was way before food-centered television — back then it was the Galloping Gourmet and Julia Childs. They weren’t quite as dynamic as the food stars of today’s culture.

What was the first item or meal you prepared? As a kid, I made lots of experiments with eggs, and I made killer gourmet toasted sandwiches. I also set our kitchen on fire, and the fire department had to be called. It’s a long story. But, at least my mom got a kitchen makeover out of the deal.

What is your favorite meal to prepare? My comfort meal starts with a whole roasted chicken, but my favorite meal of the year to prepare, hands down is Thanksgiving dinner. So many favorite recipes, and I love all that goes into making a great turkey. Then, I always enjoy making a big pot of soup with the leftovers.

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What is your favorite meal? Mussels, clams and squid in a coconut and spicy tomato broth with butter toasted baguette slices … maybe with a smattering of pasta as a base.

What is your favorite meal to eat out? Foie gras. I wouldn’t make a meal of it, but I won’t pass it up if it is on a menu.

What is your favorite junk food? Popcorn … with a variety of added ingredients, such as fresh rosemary and Parmigiano-Reggiano or Louisiana Hot Sauce, etc.

What is your favorite type of cuisine? I love traditional Mexican food as well as authentic Italian. But, I find new American trends to be interesting, and I enjoy experimenting.

What is your favorite utensil, gadget or piece of equipment? If I were stranded on an island or just for every day? An 8-inch chef’s knife — it’s not sexy, but there is never a day that I don’t use one.

Where do you find new recipes? Ideas for new recipes? I ‘Google’ concepts for recipes for inspiration. I still take a variety of food magazines just to browse through.

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For whom would you most like to prepare a meal? My family and friends — my business partners are my family and best friends, so we end up spending special occasions together. Most times we end up in the kitchen together.

Music or silence? Always music!

Salty or sweet? Salty.

Bake or nah? Not so much … I prefer savory much more than pastry.

Beer, wine or cocktail? Wine. I drink across the board. The menu or the mood influences me. A few go-to favorites are Rombauer, Rodney Strong Chalk Hill or White Oak Chardonnay(s), Belle Glos, Robert Sinskey or Shug Pinot Noir(s). Robert Mondavi, Stag’s Leap, or Jordan Cabernet(s). … too many to name really. I like an occasional cocktail — a single malt scotch and water or Tito’s and tonic work for me.

Do you cook at home? I love cooking at home, always with music. I am surrounded by trees, and it is a very peaceful.

What food or meal do you wish you’d invented? Pizza. You can do anything with pizza.

What food trends do you like or hate the most? In general, I love fresh, organic foods — cooked simply. I have a sincere hate for chemicals in foods. I can talk about it for hours. People who know me well probably want to hit the ‘stop’ button when I get started on the subject.