Interview with Atlanta Rising Star Chef Joey Ward

February 2018

Caroline Hatchett: How did you get your start?
Joey Ward:
My grandfather was a cook in the navy, and he was my idol. I didn’t have a dad growing up. I knew I wanted to be in the kitchen when I was 4 or 5. The first thing I cooked was blueberry pancakes. I knew I wanted to do something like [my grandfather] did, just not in the Navy. On Saturday mornings, after cartoons on PBS, I would watch cooking shows: “Yan Can Cook”, Julia Child, and Justin Wilson. I remember it being so cool, and I’ve always been artistic. The kitchen is all about trying to stimulate as many senses as you can at once. When you’re cooking at a high enough level there’s sight, sound, texture, taste, that distinct “X” factor and emotion that comes from dinner service. 

CH: Who's your mentor?
I have two, both Kevin Gillespie and Kevin Walker. Master Chef Kevin Walker took me under his wing when I was 16. He was the reason I went to The Culinary Institute of America, which taught me fundamentals. Meanwhile, I was working at the Cherokee Country Club from 16 to 21, which happened to be a great place to extern. They were uncompromising. I clocked in, worked the line, and didn’t go to prom or homecoming because I had to work sauté. I’ve never been afraid of working. 

CH: How are you involved in the local culinary community?
: I do a lot of charity events and try to be active as much as I can be. I always like working with my peers. I organize Young Guns dinner for Share Our Strength. I’ve been the organizing chef for two years—the dinners have six chefs and six courses. I am supportive of anyone who raises the bar for our Nosh Talks, a discussion panel board, on how to make relationships more fluid. 

CH: What's your biggest challenge?
: I consider myself less an executive chef, and more captain of a pirate ship. We sit each week, with a chalkboard and talk about new dishes, getting ideas from different levels of experiences. A lot of people have left chef de cuisine and sous chef positions to come here. We corral all these creative people into a cohesiveness that kind of makes sense and is still kind of wacky. If someone believes in a dish, we have them take ownership, but you still must learn to edit. 

CH: What's your five-year plan?
: I’ve been here five years. The next step would be to open my own place, after Gunshow has run its course. It would be a more composed setting, with a tasting menu because my heart is in fine dining. I love creative expressions and doing fun stuff, and don’t take myself too seriously. I spent my entire career trying to leave Atlanta. I’ve visited Chicago, but I’ve always had a longing to work here. I could not be prouder of the heritage we have and the voice. I think it’s time for Atlanta to have a voice on national or world stage. Being part of Gunshow was great—I didn’t know if it was going to work. It has been a fun ride.