How I Got Here - Chef James Raglan
Ready for a career move after 13 years with his previous club, Chef James Ragland began looking in different areas. He and his wife, Sherrie wanted to be near a beach. They were near Panama City, but it just didn’t feel right. The couple visited the Carolinas. Neither of them had ever visited the Lowcountry and had no idea about Haig Point or Daufuskie Island. It was love at first sight. The time between their first visit and Chef’s hire date was one month. “What better place? This is a dream job to live on the island,” muses Chef Ragland. The couple loves their new home especially the beauty and the solitude the island affords - their previous home was surrounded by people and city noise. And you couldn’t ask for a better commute.
Where did you grow up?
Anaheim, CA until I was 13. I then moved to Northeastern Oklahoma until 1993. There I met and married my wife, Sherrie. We then moved to Auburn, Alabama (When pressed, he admits he tried to like Alabama but is ultimately an Auburn fan. A charming anecdote about his then young daughters in Auburn cheerleader outfits helped sway him). His daughters Ashley and Elizabeth, now grown, live in Alabama and Georgia.
When did you know you wanted to be a chef?
I never knew at a specific moment, it was a passion I had. My dad and my cousin had a restaurant so I grew up around it. In 6th grade, I was a busboy and made $5 a night. That was also when I opened my first savings account. I got my education at Oklahoma State and started out as a young cook. I’ve worked around people and realized that you either pick it up or not. Luckily, I picked things up quickly. You could show me something one time and I got it. Cooking is a lot of thinking on your feet and having a good memory. I tell young cooks, everybody’s got a bag of tricks they walk around with, core recipes and methods they can pull out at a moment’s notice. Play your tricks. Read periodicals, stay up on trends. If not you get left behind. The more and the better tricks in the bag – well rounded, well versed – the more valuable you are. You learn the most by tasting and all experience is trial by failure. “Passion cooking” in seasoning, especially when it comes to soups or stews and braising, comes from the heart. Something you enjoy doing comes from within.
Did you eat your veggies?
Of course. My favorites are asparagus, brussels sprouts either roasted with olive oil or grilled. Always with EVOO and fresh herbs.
Favorite kitchen equipment or gadget?
I enjoy challenging cooking methods like sous vide for example. It is a method of cooking in which food is placed in a plastic pouch or a glass jar and then placed in a water bath or steam environment for longer than normal cooking times at an accurately regulated temperature. I haven’t had time to try it out here yet. It yields the most unbelievably tender and delicious dishes. I’d love to teach a class on it in the future. I embrace the new methods. Cooking is ever-evolving. It makes it exciting.
Favorite foods to cook with?
Seafood. I’ve been in wonderful seafood locations for the past 15 years. I also love to braise more difficult cuts of meats and make them delicious like briskets and short ribs. I’m also a proponent of using locally-sourced produce. One of my goals is to implement “farm to table” into menus whenever possible. I enjoy working with farmers to even source products such as goats and lamb. As a chef, you have to go out and find it. It can be easy to limit yourself but you need to step outside your boundaries and bring new things into the kitchen.
I prefer sweet tea.
What do you like to eat when you’re at home?
Cereal and peanut butter. Every night I have a bowl of cereal. I mix three different kinds, usually Life, Cheerios and Honey Nut Cheerios.
All-time favorite meal?
The whole dining experience at Kevin Gillespie’s Gunshow in Atlanta. The restaurant offers a bold, new take on the traditional dining experience. Inspired by Brazilian churrascaria-style dining and Chinese dim sum, Kevin combined the two for a decidedly fun and delicious result. Dishes are presented on rolling carts and trays to diners at their tables where they can then choose what to order. The space is set up like an old general store and seven chefs come up with two different plates. There is no printed menu, you decide as the chef’s cook. The meal ends up being eight or nine courses and it is the absolute best ever. The atmosphere is laidback and loud and each seating is about 50 people. We had phenomenal chicken-fried calves brains with braised greens and collards. Sherrie loved it although she’d admit she didn’t realize what it was at the time!
What’s your opinion of offal?
As a chef, you can’t turn anything down.
What foods don’t you care for?
None that I can think of although I can’t eat a tomato by itself on a plate. I love it on a salad or burger but I can’t do a plain tomato. I see people slicing them up and salting them fresh out of the garden and it looks delicious but I just can’t do it!