Owen Clark came to Rolf and Daughters as Chef de Cuisine a year and a half ago after a cross-country road trip led him through Music City. The Colorado native had been working in New York City for the past several years and wanted a change.
These days, he's certainly found it. He can go two-stepping when he wants. He bought a kayak. He even started tooling leather, a hobby that’s more related to his profession than might initially appear.
“Growing up with horses on a horse ranch and being around that as a functional art form is a lot of what speaks to me about cooking,” he says. “It has to be functional. But it also has to be exciting and delicious and appealing. And I think leather is the same thing. You’re working with your hands, so you get to zone-out and focus and make something that’s really beautiful. But if it doesn’t fit, it’s pretty useless.”
Attention to function and flavor might be part of why he rocked it as part of our Guest Chef Series at TNFP. When he visited with his girlfriend and photographer Danielle Atkins to make a meal during one of the volunteer cook shifts, he transformed donated, garden-grown and gleaned ingredients into a dish of chicken, sweet potatoes, apples and curry. He spotted the greenhouse out back and clipped parsley and leaves from a lime tree. “That’s one of things that inspired me to change up what I thought I was going to make when I looked at the ingredients available,” he said.
With the leaves, he made a lime, garlic, balsamic and soy vinaigrette for charred broccoli.
For wilted curly kale salad he added the chopped flat-leaf Italian parsley with the stalks folded in, too, that were large enough to be “like their own vegetable.”
Using all parts of the parsley from the garden helps demonstrate Owen's commitment to not wasting food.
“Every day I’m trying to find ways to use everything,” he says. “From a business standpoint it’s like, ‘Okay, that’s money in the garbage,’ and that’s one way to look at it. But also it’s heartbreaking to see something go in the trash. The more you know about farming and what you can do with certain things, the more you see it as a wasted opportunity and wasted work. So many hours and heart and hard-ass work went into taking this from dirt to product to what could be food. Along the way if you haven’t done your best to make it something better then you’re really doing a disservice.”
Also from a professional standpoint, Owen said he has spent much of his time hidden in a kitchen and cooking for a more exclusive clientele at places like wd-50, A Voce and Blue Hill in New York as well as Rolf and Daughters. Stepping out to cook at The Nashville Food Project gave him an opportunity to use his skills and talents for a different audience of about 70 low-income residents at John Glenn retirement home.
“It gets to a point where you want to make food for the people who need it in a way that’s still delicious and good for you,” he says. “And it’s nourishing for your soul to do that as well. That’s what I’ve been looking to do in some facet."
“That’s one of the reasons The Nashville Food Project appealed to me the most. I want to do that and feel good about what I’m making for the people who need it.”