For Bravo Top Chef contestant Chef Joy Crump food is an extension of family. She says, it requires love and patience, and, well, a few sprinkles of salt. Crump is a long-time proponent of farm-to-table cooking and her philosophy centers around using natural ingredients wherever possible, with a keen eye on foods grown, farmed, butchered and purveyed in the Southeast region. We caught up with the Fredericksburg, Virginia based culinary queen who shares what it’s like to be Black, female and a boss in the culinary business. (And her go-to ingredient.)
Can you talk a bit about being a Black female chef and the joy of being your own boss at your restaurant?
I maybe enjoy a little bit better control of my experience because it’s my company. That’s an advantage that I have. I think there’s been so much advancement that I don’t really feel like I come up against a lot of obstacles that are specific to that, but I think that there’s a long list of being Black and then really promoting southern food. There’s certain types of things that are associated with that criteria. Like foods that are maybe richer or fattier or traditionally southern, old-school southern. It’s always fun to break somebody’s idea of what they they think they’re going to get when they come to get, what I consider, traditional southern food. It’s a little bit cleaner. It’s fresher. It’s lighter and it’s more about the preparation and the individual ingredients then it is about sticking to the traditions that we’re used to.
What makes you passionate about going into the kitchen and creating something delicious?
I think that the cooking for me has always been about family. I have a very big family. I have three brothers and two sisters, so there are six of us. My parents were divorced when I was really young, like three. All my life I went back and forth between living with my dad and my brothers or living with my mom and sisters. Getting together for birthdays, Christmas, any holidays was always a really big priority for my parents. Even though they were divorced, they would spend those holidays together so that we could all be together. That sort of traveling together was so expensive for us to have to get on and airplane to go to each other, by the time we got together we didn’t have a lot of money to spend on going out or buying gifts, so it was always about cooking. That was a way that we celebrated being together. It was sort of just ingrained in me that cooking for one another was an expression of love and that time, that was special and that we should treasure, because we weren’t always together.
What’s your favorite foodie moment?
I think it’s probably my mom’s fried chicken. I can remember when my head just came up to her waist and then on and on. Then when I was allowed to actually turn it myself, laying it out on the paper bag to let it drain. Just all those things that make me think of her. I lost her a year ago and she taught me everything. It’s just so cool because it’s mine forever. We have fried chicken and waffles on our menu. We do it every weekend. Only on the weekends and we have it on Wednesday nights on our dinner menu. We actually, in 2015, we won best dish in Virginia and it’s chicken and waffles. It’s my mom’s fried chicken. That was cool.
What’s your favorite thing to cook?
I think I appreciate things that take a long time. I appreciate things that have a lot of preparation behind them. Not that they’re complex, but if you have to smoke bacon for seven hours, I think that makes it so much more special. Or if it’s the same thing, first I’ve got to cure it overnight then I have to smoke it for seven or eight hours and then I have to chill it. Then I have to slice it. Then I have to cook…I like the fact that by the time you get to this thing, which is really simple, which is a piece of bacon, there’s been so many steps and care along the way. Same thing with ice cream. Anything that really involves a certain level of time commitment I think is really special because it’s a way for you to say to whomever’s going to eat it that you took care and you thought about it for a long time.
Do you have a go-to ingredient that you always use or incoporate into your cooking practices that really take a meal to the next level?
Salt! I depend on it heavily. I think it’s obviously overused, but I think that it’s like the alarm clock for food. It wakes it up. I think you can have a delicious, perfectly grown, perfectly ripe tomato in the middle of the summer and you bite into it and you’re like, “That’s really good.” Then you put salt on it and it’s like something that you know is special. It’s just, to me, salt is the thing that is the most important ingredient in any kitchen.
What’s a quick and amazing recipe you can share that’s easy for someone to put together?
My favorite way of cooking is on the grill. I like the fact that by having fire touch food directly you get so much flavor and smoke and tar and all those things that have a little bit of complexity without having to add butter, fat and cheese or whatever. A simple steak taco is one of the things that we have on our menu and it sells really well. Really it’s just take a nice lovely piece of lean steak on the grill, pull it off when you want it to, medium or whatever, slice it quickly and then fresh tomato salsa, fresh avocado, shaved radish, tortilla. Boom, done. We don’t have sour cream on it, we don’t have cheese. It’s just about the fire and the meat. That ended up sending a lot of flavor through.
Mom’s love getting great homemade things from their little ones. What’s a quick meal that tiny chefs can whip up for their moms?
I love tiny chefs. I think french toast is always…that’s so easy and anybody can help you with that. Two eggs and a little bit of sugar and some cream in a bowl. Then throw some old bread, which we always have around, and then brown it up. It can be ugly but when you put it on a plate with a strawberry on top and syrup, she’s going to love it. If you don’t want to keep them near the stove, then just yogurt, fresh berries and granola. Again, you can layer it and make it look really pretty and serve it in a special, tall glass. I’m sure your mom would love that.