Chef Q&A: Chris Rains, The Chef & I

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Chris Rains is the Executive Chef at The Chef & I Orlando, the newest outpost of the Nashville-based culinary concept that he owns and runs with his wife, Erica Rains. Located at The Hall on the Yard, the “gourmet meets rock and roll” menu features small plates such as caramelized cauliflower with local goat cheese and brunch specialties including a local pork sausage and pimento cheese Benedict. Entrées range from jumbo scallops with spiced heirloom carrots, toasted couscous, bacon jam and coconut carrot curry sauce to a brisket-and-short-rib patty melt.

An Interview with Chris Rains

What cuisine is your specialty?

I’ve always cooked in a certain style but never with a specific cuisine in mind. The dishes kind of reveal themselves to me when I focus on flavor profiles and begin with the end result, working backwards from there. I like to watch the dish evolve with different layers and spices.

What’s your favorite local restaurant?

My wife and I have eaten at Ootoya Sushi Lounge in Thornton Park approximately 40 times in 7 months. It still makes us happy.

Who had the biggest influence on the way you cook, and why?

Both of my grandmothers, in different ways. My maternal grandmother was a baker who made amazing confections and cookies. We used to make traditional Norwegian cookies called Krumkaka every Christmas. My paternal grandmother was the food director for the Snohomish school district in Washington state, and in the kitchen, she could do it all. She had perfected the “ kitchen dance.” She moved like a chef.

Where do you shop locally for interesting ingredients?

Farmers’ markets are always a go-to when available. I like East End Market and the other area markets — there are so many around Orlando! I like to talk to other local culinarians to see where they love to shop, then go scope them out for myself. I enjoy finding small unknown places because they often have specific items. Plus, we are also supporting small businesses and keeping the money local.

If you weren’t a chef, what would your dream job be?

A mysterious rock star. Like Angus Young, Alex Lifeson or Dave Mustaine. Quiet but bad ass nonetheless.

What’s your go-to meal at home?

A protein, coconut milk, and vegetables. I use whatever vegetables I have, charred in a sauté pan, a heavily spiced protein, and a Thai-inspired coconut sauce to marry them.

What was your favorite lunch as a kid?

Salami, mayo and cheese on Wonderbread.

What three things are in your fridge at all times?

Sambal, sausages and cherry peppers.

What advice would you share with chefs just beginning their careers?

Observe while learning to calculate your movements for efficiency. This skill will help you excel in the kitchen and get you noticed. Always ask questions if you don’t understand something; people really are willing to help you! I still ask questions. I am a big believer that you never stop learning…even if you’ve been a gourmet chef for more than 30 years! And one last note for everyone that cooks: Salt is a good thing!

For more Chef Q&A’s, visit our archives.

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