Interview with Fresh Concept Chef Aaron Siegel of Fiery Ron’s Home Team BBQ – Charleston, SC

by Antoinette Bruno
November 2013

Antoinette Bruno: What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?

Aaron Siegel: I grew up messing around in the kitchen. I started cooking for groups of people in college and really enjoyed it. I didn't start working professionally in kitchens until I was 20. I was an English major at the University of Georgia. Halfway through college, my mom saw my interest in food and offered for me to go to culinary school. I moved up here and cooked at a restaurant in town called Zebo while applying to culinary schools.

I went to CIA and did an internship in California for Kevin Rathbun. I went back to school after my internship with Nalva and finished in fall 1998. I decided to go to Aspen and cooked Pinons. I worked at Cache Cache, a French bistro but more expensive because it was in Aspen. When I came back South, I wanted to open up my own place. I had become interested in barbecue when in I was school and messed around with it. I became executive chef of Blossom, and Craig Deihl let me use the smoker a fair bit. I messed around with ribs and [pork] butts and started looking for real estate. My friend was in real estate and I purchased this property—an old gas station from the 50s with a dirt road out the front. We designed it together; it took 10 months. I was still working at Blossom when I was talking to people about property and funding.

AB: What is the hardest thing you’ve had to do?

AS: The hardest thing I have had to do is manage. Managing and motivating people is a whole different story. My theory is you have to get people to buy into what you're doing and respect you from day one. It is simply the biggest challenge. It all trickles down from there and your food ends up out of your hands. You need that loyalty. The cooking part is easy.

AB: What is your proudest accomplishment?

AS: Creating a team of motivated people—the team I have around me and the family atmosphere. People grow up in your restaurant, get married and have kids.

AB: Who would you consider your mentor?

AS: I would consider Chris from Cache Cache my mentor. I went to school with him. He taught me how to manage people. Chris was born in France. His demeanor, the way he went about his business, and the respect he gained from his employees is how I try to go about my business every day. Another is Kevin Rathbun, who cooks high-end Southwesten dining. He is breaking the rules—cold and hot items, accenting different things, combining classical knowledge and fundamentals with other things. Dean Fearring, too.