Interview with 2012 Atlanta Rising Star Host Chef Shayne Vaughan

June 2012

Katherine Sacks: You’re from Australia. How did you end up in Georgia?
Shayne Vaughan: I’m originally from Australia, and from there I went to London for a year. Then I came to the states. I was in Syracuse at Hotel Syracuse a long time ago. I moved to Atlanta for seven years, then down in Florida for five. The seasonality drove me crazy, and I came back to Atlanta. When I first got here, working in upstate New York, I really quickly realized the United States had a lot to offer. Depending on your location, there really is something to learn, there are some really cool ingredients regionally.

KS: What made you interested in cooking?
SV: I spent family vacations with my grandmother up in Northern Queensland, where I’m from. She inspired me in the kitchen; from age 9 to 11, I was hanging out with my grandma weeks at a time. In my teenage years, I started a working program and did a two-week internship at a reception center. It really sparked an interest; the chef there encouraged me to go to culinary school and then get an apprenticeship as a chef, which is what I did.

KS: What is your style as a chef?
SV: I’m very adaptable. If I had to put a style, I’d say fresh, wholesome food, minimally prepared. I’m not that big on manipulating fantastic ingredients to the point that you can’t recognize what they are and where they came from.

KS: What advice do you have for up and coming chefs?
SV: Advice I give a lot of up-and-coming culinarians is that culinary school is a good foundation, but from there, I recommend working with somebody of caliber that will enhance their education. Pick a few chefs that really fit their philosophy and needs, and start at the bottom. I think hard work is something that is imperative and being humble is hugely important; it’s about soaking up as much knowledge as possible. I also definitely encourage travel. I’m a firm believer that travel broadens horizons on a professional and personal level.

KS: What is your favorite underappreciated ingredient?
SV: Green peppercorns. It’s an ingredient that may be considered old school, but it’s a classic aromatic ingredient that has great depth and can be very subtle when used with care. I love the flavor.

KS: What has been the hardest thing to do in your career?
SV: Honestly, I think one of the hardest things was my previous job. I was a private chef for a family, and it was very different to anything I had ever done before. I was their private chef, travel adviser, and I managed their estate and gardens. I was hired as a private chef, but as my employment went forward, I also become a travel advisor and took over other duties.

It is also tough learning your local market. Going from Australia to England, the food is very different and expectations are very different. And then coming to the Atlanta area; there was a big learning curve for me to really understand the ingredients and also the philosophies behind the cuisine, where a lot of these dishes evolved from. But it’s one of the things I enjoy about being a chef: traveling and learning about new cultures.

KS: What are you most proud of?
SV: There have been many achievements throughout my career. I would say taking the chef de cuisine position here. Reuniting with Olivier [Gaupin]; we worked together down in Florida for a few years. And coming back to a hotel, being in charge of multiple outlets here, it’s definitely a proud moment for me.

KS: Where will we find you in five years?
SV: Five years from now, we could find me as an executive chef out in Hawaiil. [Loews] just signed Lowes Hollywood, so there are other possibilities. I have my top three, Hawaii, the West Coast, or the Caribbean. Or Australia, who knows? I’ve loved being here in the States, but if being an employee of Lowes would bring me to being part of an opening team down in Ozzie, that would be fantastic.