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Against the grain: Charles Loomis on mentorship and discipline
Episode 2725th May 2020 • The Big Self Podcast • Big Self School
00:00:00 00:50:22

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Charlie dishes on inner discipline, maintaining work-life balance, and not burning out on ambition.

Charlie has been cooking professionally for over 20 years. He began his love for cooking at the age of 6, always wanting to help his mother, grandmother, and Aunties in the kitchen. As he grew older, Charlie found his passion for learning about food maturing. Next he found work at a fast food fried chicken restaurant called Roy Rogers at the age of 15. He says that he almost felt as though he was cheating the system for getting paid to hang out with all of his best friends and cook food, but found his first true love… Fried Chicken…

At 17 he began working in a small bakery in his hometown of Leesburg, VA. He would go in very early to bake the breads. He says, “I felt as though I had something to prove because the chef did not believe that I would be able to keep up with a 4 AM shift, go to school by 8Am, and make it back again the next day." Charlie did this for a few months before moving into The upscale American restaurant upstairs, Tuscarora mill. He worked under Chef Patrick Dinh for 7 years, and gained all of his initial technique, cooking style and work ethic. He moved to Raleigh NC to assist in the opening of several restaurants to continue his culinary experience. It was here that Charlie earned his first sous chef position. After successfully opening several restaurants, he then chose to move to Asheville NC, where he worked as a chef for a vegetarian restaurant called The Laughing Seed café. It was here that he found his true passion for Fresh produce and also the need to have a more diverse plate. He moved on after a few years to open Greenlife Grocery In Asheville NC. He quickly became the Food service director for the company and the company then Propelled itself to become the Largest independent organic and Natural Foods retailer on the east Coast. Owner Chuck Pruett then asked Charlie to move to Chattanooga, TN to open a larger location. Charlie remained the Food service Director for both stores acting as the recipe creator for all of the perishable departments. The company sold to Whole Foods Market, and Charlie moved back into his love for restaurants.

He became the Executive Chef for 1885 Grill, which was known for their southern coastal cuisine, before opening The Feed Co. Table + Tavern southern comfort food, along with Dustin Choate and Miguel Morales. Both restaurants were voted some of the top restaurants in the city. Charlie has worked with multiple organizations to teach healthy eating in both cities. He assisted in forming “chef nights in Chattanooga, a successful program that would help children and parents in lower income areas to use fresh produce and instill healthier eating habits. He helped start multiple school garden programs, healthy school lunch programs, and healthy cookbooks.

Charlie has worked with multiple publications including Food and Wine Magazine, Organic Gardening, Epicurious, Southern Living, Local Palette, Michelle Obama’s The White House Garden Cookbook, and many others. He has enjoyed showcasing his talents on multiple Food Network and Cooking Channel shows including The Best Thing I Ever Ate, as well as winning the season one finale of Cooks vs Cons, and most notoriously, and most recently in January, he Beat Bobby Flay with one of his favorite dishes, Eggs Benedict. Charlie has recently relocated back to his hometown of Leesburg, VA after getting laid off due to Covid-19 and plans to focus on community outreach programs to help get restaurants back on track. He has started a livestreaming supper club called Ad Hoc Supper Club.


1:03 We introduce Charlie, telling about his background and what he's up to right now.

4:00 Charlie talks about how he got into cooking as a kid and talks about some of the people who influenced him along the way.

9:42 We ask charlie about the process of going from young chef to restaurant owner.

15:32 Charlie talks about Ad Hoc Supper Club, his streaming supper club.

17:00 Not many people beat Bobby Flay, but Charlie did. He tells us about the experience.

19:10 We switch gears to talk about balancing ambition and work-life balance.

25:47 Charlie talks about the food industry culture and how it lends itself to high rates of burnout, as well as how he's avoided falling into it.

30:56 Charlie gives his take on WHY many chefs fall into bad habits of drinking, drug abuse, overworking, and subsequently, burnout. He also talks about what it will take for chefs in the restaurant industry to change the paradigm.

37:10 We ask Charlie how he's surviving and thriving during this pandemic. We ask what things he wants to hold on to as we move back into normalcy.

42:05 Charlie shares a restaurant dish that can be done at home.

43:57 We ask Charlie what book or podcast is leaving an impression on him, what his morning routine looks like, and what Big Self means to him.

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