When MG Farris walked into his job as Executive Chef of Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre nearly eight years ago, the first thoughts from staff was, “Who’s the kid?” His clean cut finesse did not do justice to the years of experience he had racked up in kitchens ranging from international resorts and boutique hotels to five star independent restaurants in New York City.
By 32 years old, his culinary resume included:
Farris took a step back from both fine dining and boutique hotels, and became the sole person in charge of Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre’s food and beverage program. Now, at 40 years old, he works with only two other full-time employees- his sous chef and lead cook. The rest of his staff is contracted labor, brought in to prepare the banquet events for the Centre.
“I am very much a working chef,” Farris told me. “The worst place to be for me is in the office. Cooking is a passion. I can’t expect anyone to put out what I want them to put out if I don’t constantly inspect what is going on.”
Farris is always the first person to plate a meal from start to finish. He shows his line each step, arranging the protein, adding the starch and vegetables and finishing with a sauce or garnish. Then he turns it over to the line, where as many as four people can handle one plate.
“You’re only as good as the weakest person. For me I don’t need bodies, I need people who know how to cook.”
Farris and his team have served more than 800 people for banquet functions, yet he runs the kitchen like a restaurant. “For me I just can’t throw things on a plate and be happy with it. I have this creative aspect where I’m constantly looking to improve. People eat with their eyes. I try to hit on food that looks and tastes great. I want people to be blown away.”
Banquet cooking is mathematically driven because it deals with volume. Farris can turn out 100 plates of food in 15 minutes, with the right amount of prep before. He will cook an entrée, then let it rest for two hours to see how the temperature makes the food behave.
I shadowed Farris in the kitchen for a recent banquet event and saw his meticulous detailing put into action. Each slab of salmon was organized by size and baked on large sheet pans together, so that each plate looked the same and was cooked to perfection.
“I hate institutional food like hockey puck burgers,” Farris told me. “It doesn’t look natural to me. I miss the creativity of the restaurant industry. Sure, I can’t do 600 plates of tiny appetizers on charred wood, but I’ve achieved my goal when people tell me, ‘that was unique.’ If it’s easy for me to do, I don’t want to do it because it defeats the purpose.”
An example of one of Farris’ standout dishes served to 600 people was a spice-seared Ahi tuna loin served over Chinese long beans with a poached egg. It was one staff member’s job to make sure the poaching water for the eggs did not go over a certain temperature.
Working as a banquet chef has given Farris a lifestyle where he can spend time with his family outside of work. “After I started working at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, I remember going home at 5 p.m. to see this new thing called ‘Channel 2 Action News.’ I had heard people talk about it but never seen it.”
On his off days, Farris is still in the kitchen… with his wife and nine-year old son. “When we eat, there’s no television. We talk about our day. Getting back to the food is a social aspect and that brings everyone together.”
You can check out a photo gallery in the kitchen with MG Farris at one of his events here.