Guest Chef Series: Hattie B's Hot Chicken

When we invite professionals to our kitchens each month for the Guest Chef Series, it often feels like a family affair with husband and wife teams or kitchen crews generously taking a break from their regular days to prepare a meal in our space. But it has never felt quite like the family reunion as when the clan of Hattie B's Hot Chicken pitched in to help. 

Executive Chef John Lasater and his wife Brittany Bishop Lasater arrived first to get started. The TNFP meals team had left them notes and a recipe to work from based on produce that had been gathered from the garden that week and donations gleaned from other farmers or partners like Whole Foods Market. 

They pulled ingredients from the walk-in cooler labeled for the day and destination... 

...and John headed for the greenhouse to clip fresh herbs.

Back in the kitchen, Brittany began mixing the cornbread while John put the beans on to soak with aromatics alongside pans of sizzling sausage donated from KLD Farm. Even with their busy schedules, the couple keeps a garden of their own and has been renovating their East Nashville home kitchen. "We do enjoy cooking at home from time to time," Brittany says.  

Both John and Brittany grew up in Middle Tennessee and attended Western Kentucky University. Then Brittany left for art school and John left for culinary school and work in New York City. They didn't officially meet until both moved back to Nashville and joined a kickball league. 

"I've always enjoyed cooking," John says of his path in the business. "My mom started us cooking and would give me my budget for three course meals -- an appetizer, entree and dessert." 

His aunt and grandmother also ran a catering company called An Affair to Remember cooking for the likes of Alan Jackson and George Strait. "Whenever family got together, the meal consisted of four meals, like 10 sides...food was always the focal point." 

John says he loved working in New York City, too, at restaurants like Gramercy Tavern. But like others in the city, he had trouble affording the Big Apple on a chef's starting salary. He moved to Nashville and took a job at The Hermitage Hotel's Capitol Grille with Executive Chef Tyler Brown as well as friends Chris Carter and James Peisker, who went on to open Porter Road Butcher. 

But of the career twists and turns, perhaps his biggest test came when cooking for Brittany's family. Her father, Nick Sr., has been in the restaurant business for 30 years.

"He made pimento cheese au gratin potatoes," Brittany says of a birthday dinner John cooked for her dad. "They were gone in lightening speed -- like, it evaporated." 

Right on cue, Nick Sr. arrived at TNFP to help finish the meal. His son, business partner and Brittany's brother, Nick Jr., arrived too.

 From left: John Lasater, Brittany Bishop Lasater, Nick Bishop Jr., and Nick Bishop Sr.

From left: John Lasater, Brittany Bishop Lasater, Nick Bishop Jr., and Nick Bishop Sr.

Nick Sr. grew up in the Morrison's Cafeteria family of restaurants. His father started in the business as a dishwasher in Savannah in the 1940s and retired as President and CEO of Morrison's. The group also bought Ruby Tuesday and grew the chain to 900 stores before selling it. Then, after Nick Sr. "retired" and opened Bishop's Meat and Three in Cool Springs, both Nicks began experimenting with hot chicken. The dish took off as a favorite, and they decided to open Hattie B's Hot Chicken with John stepping in as a consultant just for three to six months initially. Now about four years later, John still works with the company, and his pimento cheese gratin from that fateful family dinner made its way to the menu as pimento mac and cheese along with many other popular dishes. 

Back in the TNFP kitchen, Nick Sr., with his natural restaurant instincts, checked the Delvin Farms sweet potatoes roasting in the TNFP ovens before they headed for John Glenn residential center, and John finished the main course by layering white beans with sausage and TNFP-grown kale. 

"I like the idea of using what you have on hand," John said.

"I want to do it again," Brittany added. 

And maybe they'll bring even more family next time? 

"I don't think you have a kitchen big enough," John teased, "for what we could bring."