rewarding. What makes the job great is
the constant sense of accomplishment
with every wave of tickets. It’s not like
spending two years on a giant project
as an architect.
how important is making food
lg: I appreciate elegant food, but some
people get too caught up in the art. I like
to make food look good, but I am very
much into the idea that it’s just food.
I prefer to serve a high-quality simple
piece of fish with a little bit of roasted
vegetables—three or four things on the
plate rather than garnishing that goes
on and on. To me, simplest is best. Food
without all the tricks is the hardest to pull
off. You have nothing to hide behind. A
beautiful piece of flounder or crab should
stand on its own.
your best advice to new and
lg: Stay on a job for two or three years.
The only way to learn the ins and outs of
the business is to stay put. Dale Reitzer,
with whom I worked for five years, was
a fantastic boss, open and honest with
everyone. He’d open the books and
show you how things worked. You need
to learn how to cook, but you also need
someone to show you behind the curtain
and to be brutally honest about life and
left: Lee Gregory and
partner Kendra Feather
opened The Roosevelt in
Richmond's Church Hill
neighborhood in 2011.
right: This salad of
smoked bluefish, roasted
and raw beets, arugula
and buttermilk dressing
was part of a seasonal
menu at The Roosevelt.
catfish, shell bean
succotash, surry sausage
and tomato broth.
tell us about your early days.
lg: Our family moved around a lot. I
would have loved to have grown up with
the same kids, but moving around taught
me to deal with turmoil, in a sense.
Psychologically, it may have helped
me let things roll off my back and learn
to deal with some kinds of pressure. I
experienced food in the different places
we lived in South Carolina, but mostly I
rely on food memories with my parents,
grandparents and extended family. At
family reunions, we’d eat chicken and
watermelon set out on picnic tables. I
ate lots of boiled peanuts. And a kind of
South Carolina Lowcountry paella made
with leftover chicken, clams, sausage
and ham, called purloo.
In the early days, I was yelled at a lot in
the kitchen. I learned how to push harder
and harder and how to take a beating.
This made me want to go in a different
direction. Chefs used to be able to yell at
you. You can’t do that anymore. Now you
have to figure out how to push buttons in
other ways by pulling people aside and
correcting them. Sure, you get angry and
frustrated, but you can’t throw a tirade.
You can’t throw pots across the kitchen.
You can’t be Marco Pierre White.
Kitchen life is high-pressure, tense
and exhausting, but it’s also highly