Frank Lee is a culinary trailblazer in Charleston. As the executive chef of Slightly North of Broad, Old Village Post House and High Hammock, and also the vice president of Maverick Southern Kitchens, it is difficult to find a chef in Charleston who hasn't worked with him or benefitted from his generosity and willingness to share his knowledge.
Q: Did you go to culinary school?
A: I did not. I started a vegetarian restaurant right out of high school. I really wanted to be a psychiatrist but worked at a psychiatric institute for a while, and it just wasn't what I thought it would be. I wanted Jungian analysis; they focused on drug therapy. So after six years in the veggie restaurant, I woke up one day and realized that I was a cook.
Q: Would you advise aspiring chefs to go to school?
A: If you can afford culinary school, it is a great thing. I think the best thing to do, however, is to get a job in a restaurant and just do it. Whether you are in school or not, you need the practical experience. I would hire someone without culinary school experience; it just depends on the person and their qualifications.
Q: How do you juggle three restaurants, particularly when one (High Hammock) is 90 miles away?
A: Lots of communication and cooperation is the main thing. One of the ways I'm able to do it is that we have a strong senior management team here at Maverick. I don't do it alone.
Q: What do you cook at home?
A: Well for Christmas, we had lobster and roasted duck. Usually, I cook some sort of stir-fry, steaks for my 15-year-old son, who is on the wresting team, and breakfast. ... I love to cook breakfast.
Q: What mistakes do you see home cooks make?
A: Trying to cook by time. It drives me crazy when someone asks, "How long does it take to cook." There are so many variables that it is an impossible question. Overcooking vegetables is another problem that I often see. All you have to do is blanch them in salted water; if you boil the dickens out of them, they will overcook.
Q: What's your favorite cookbook?
A: "The Joy of Cooking" and "Le Repertoire de La Cuisine" are books that I use time and time again. They are great for reference.
Q: What's your signature dish?
A: Our signature dish is whatever seafood or animals we can find that are local and pair that with local, seasonal vegetables.
Q: Favorite kitchen gadget?
A: Robot Coupe, or a stove.
Q: What do you think is your greatest accomplishment as a chef?
A: Being able to coach and mentor others and watch them develop. I have former sous chefs all over the country that are now running restaurants.
Q: Who is your favorite Charleston chef?
A: I love the chefs at all of the Maverick restaurants. We have a relationship, and I love to dine in my own restaurants. That being said, I certainly have a group of chef buddies that I have a great deal of respect for: Bob Waggoner, Mike Lata, Robert Carter, Ken Vendrinsky, Donald Barickman. ... I love everything that they do.