The work of an independent chef is often hidden from view. There’s no restaurant, and much of the time, these chefs are in a private kitchen or a food truck. Independent chefs also have the challenge of building a reputation via word of mouth, ordering their own ingredients while many deals come in bulk and keeping customers happy.
Chris Spear, an independent chef who owns Perfect Little Bites, is trying to solve this problem. He’s launching a collective called Chefs Without Restaurants where chefs can share food orders, offer constructive criticism on menu ideas, and collaborate on charity and farm-to-table events. Spear described his venture as simply a way to add more fun to Frederick’s food scene.
One of the first chefs who will join Chefs Without Restaurants is Rory Watts, a classically trained French chef who owns the food truck, Knife & A Kitchen.
To launch Chefs Without Restaurants, the two chefs will battle in a four-course food competition at McClintock Distillery on Tuesday. Spear and Watts even plan to craft cocktails for the event, which will have a winner based on the diners’ choice. There are also plans to have a farm-to-table meal in the spring. We talked with both Spear and Watts about the need for Chefs Without Restaurants and how they plan to compete in the kitchen.
Chris, you said this idea came 10 years ago?
Spear: When I started a personal chef business, I missed working with people. I was working in a place where I had 50-plus employees and peers — people to try things and kind of bounce ideas off of. And when you work for yourself, you’re kind of in a vacuum. You don’t have anyone to talk to and I just missed that.
Watts: [Or] you’re stuck on the truck by yourself for hours.
Spear: I needed some grits and I posted it on Facebook. Christine from the Kitchen Studio shot me a message — “Hey, I got some. Do you want to come get them?” And I just found there’s this network of awesome chefs who aren’t necessarily working in restaurants but the independent chefs were almost more willing to help each other.
I get tons of referrals from private chefs from Baltimore who I don’t really know. We’ve been following each other through social media and one sent me a text to say, “This woman needs a caterer on January 10, I gave her your information.”
Rory, are you a Frederick native?
Watts: I’m from Augusta, Georgia. When I left [Frederick], it was totally different 10 years ago. When I came back, I saw this culinary scene that really interested me.
Once I got back here, it seemed there was this one thing that was needed here, and I think [Chefs Without Restaurants] might be it. A community of underground chefs helping each other. It could blossom into something bigger to bring everything together.
It seems like Chefs Without Restaurants will create more visiblity.
Spear: For me, it was a whole bunch of things I wanted to accomplish. Obviously, more visibilty for myself and my business, but to help out these other people. So many big cities have these awesome things. You look at D.C. They’re always doing a charity dinner with five well-known chefs where they’re doing a fun event or something and Frederick doesn’t have that, that I see.
I would love for us to have six of us come together to do a big [charity] thing. Also raising awareness of local purveyors — like doing a dinner that features all the animals from one farm. You got so many great producers, whether that be like Sweet Farm kraut that makes saurkraut and awesome stuff. You can do a whole dinner with that. I have a friend who roasts coffee, and doing a whole dinner centered around his coffee and have coffee education be a piece of the event. I think there can be so many fun different things that you can do. I’m looking to branch out and do really fun stuff.
Rory, what made you start a food truck?
Watts: I’m having so much fun with the truck. I’m home more with the kids. I’m meeting people like Chris and other chefs in other areas. That normally wouldn’t happen if I was stuck in a kitchen for 80 hours a week.
You’re never going to learn everything so you want to continue to get knowledge. You can’t really do that when you’re asking your 15-year-old, “How does this taste?”
Are you guys prepared to bring it for this battle?
Spear: Yeah, I think so. All in good fun, but my game face will come out.
Watts: Oh, yeah. I was thinking the same thing. This is going to be pretty fun but I’ll be really mad if I lose.
Spear: For me, it’s figuring out the menu. It’s a mix of like wanting to do something new but also doing something that is representative of my style but also doing something you feel could win.
It sounds like you’re already plotting.
Spear: We’re just trying to build this network. It’s all about the fun and connection.