Chef Justin Keith’s culinary roots have always been in Georgia, where he grew up. As a kid, he watched his grandparents cook and now as Executive Chef of Food 101, he has included some dishes that remind him of his childhood, such as the Seven-Layer Salad. Keith progressed from line cook at Food 101 to chef at the first Meehan’s Public House in Vinings before returning as executive chef to Food 101.
What basic skill sets did you learn at Meehan’s that you were able to carry over when you came back to Food 101?
They gave me latitude to do the menu development, get the kitchen dialed in, and that got my feet wet as far as advisory and chef roles. I had a handicap because there wasn’t more opportunity for creativity due to the limited Irish pub theme. The doors were open much wider as far as creativity at Food 101.
You have a lot of pride with being from the South and have pulled that in to Food 101’s menu.
The original chef started a resurgence of featuring food that mom used to make. Over the years I’ve tried to read and research more dishes about things that people would associate with the South so I’ve been able to develop the concept further.
How does the process for menu-development go?
A really big part of the process is knowing what is available in the season, since we change the menu seasonally. Right now in winter you have a lot of root vegetables, mustard and collard greens.
Chef’s Typical Day:
Arrive: 9 a.m.
Before Lunch Shift:
Food Prep: stocks, sauces, vinaigrettes, trimming meats/seafood.
Deliveries: organize fresh produce, meats, seafood.
Creation: lunch and dinner daily specials.
Before lunch and dinner shift:
Line-up: go over shift for front and back of the house, sampling of daily specials, any menu changes.
After Dinner Shift:
Inventory: Go over orders and place deliveries for the next day.
Leave: 10-11 p.m.
Specials seem to be a big part of each day. What drives them?
We deal with 8-10 different purveyors for produce, fruits, cheeses, meat and seafood, so we are in constant contact with them to find out what is available and new.
How much of the day do you spend cooking?
I’m very hands-on, a lot of times I will personally be the one preparing the specials for the day. We operate with a three-man line, then myself and the sous chef will step on the line and assist as necessary during the dinner rush.
Where are you eating on your days off?
I like downtown Decatur for Brickstore Pub because I like to try a different beer each time. My fiancée and I go like hole-in-the-wall places. Our favorite is Lee’s Bakery off Buford Highway because the food is great and it is cheap.
It seems like you enjoy venturing around the city for dining.
I personally have no problem driving across town just to eat at a restaurant. I feel like Food 101 has a good reputation that people are drawn here, but we are also a great community spot for Sandy Springs.
-By Alexa Lampasona for the Food & More blog