We want to know what chefs eat! So, we asked pastry chef Megan Williams of Nashville's Etch and sister restaurant etc. what she enjoys making when she's not at work. Read our interview below on her favorite foods, where she finds inspiration, how she got her start, her culinary idols, and what she's looking forward to.
Treat yourself to Megan's desserts anytime at downtown's Etch and Green Hills' etc. Find @etchrestaurant and @etc.nashville on the internet for your daily sweet tooth cravings. All photos by Etch & etc.
We want to know what chefs eat. What do you enjoy making for yourself at home? Do you go all out, or keep it simple?
I usually keep it simple for dinner and try to make something that's ready in about 30 minutes. My father-in-law is an avid gardener, so in the summertime we have an abundance of fresh vegetables. Lately, panzanella salad has been a go-to side dish. I always have some day old bread! Add any grilled meat and that's dinner. If I have time, I'll make a casserole or something like lasagna that we can eat for a few days. My two-year-old son, Mitchell, loves almost any kind of pasta. Also, I really love pizza, so much that it's a joke among my friends. My husband doesn't love it as much as I do, but when I get my way we'll order Jets or Five Points.
What’s your go-to recipe?
What is your favorite dessert you’ve created for Etch? Which are you most proud of?
One favorite is my almond olive oil cake. It was on my menu a couple years ago and people would ask me about it after I took it off. I put it back on the menu with a few updates a few months ago and it is still popular. It goes with buttermilk sherbet and lemon curd. I'm proud of our chocolate hazelnut mousse with cherry. My boss wanted me to make something a little fancier than the chocolate mousse bars we used to serve. Now we make a stone-shaped chocolate mousse and cover it with a shiny chocolate glaze. I'm really happy with how it looks and tastes.
How do you find inspiration for your dishes?
I eat out when I can. My favorite pastry chefs in town are Kayla May at Josephine and Rebekah Turshen at City House. There are several new pastry chefs in town making great-looking stuff I haven't gotten to try yet. I've been meaning to check out Rolf and Daughters desserts since they hired a pastry chef. I also read as much as I can and follow pastry chefs in other cities on Instagram. My best desserts are usually inspired by nostalgia. For example, I decided to make my chocolate hazelnut mousse because I love nutella and have since I was a kid.
How frequently do you change your dessert menu?
Not as often as I would like! We opened our second restaurant, etc., a year ago. I am responsible for desserts at both restaurants. At etc. I do all dessert prep, and at Etch I have two wonderful assistants. I usually change a couple desserts three or four times a year for each restaurant. I used to change something every couple months when it was just for Etch.
Are you experimenting with any new flavors or concepts now?
I've been trying out adding different teas to desserts. I made some chocolate jasmine tea ice cream this week that I liked so much I want to work on that flavor some more. I'd also like to experiment with tahini and sesame in general.
Do you source your ingredients locally? Any particular place you enjoy getting your ingredients the most?
Deb does source local ingredients when they are available. We order from Farmer Dave for both restaurants. It's not as much a focus for me in my desserts because the local season for fruits are very short and I need menu items I can run for a few months. I do love ordering goat milk from Noble Springs. We have had goat milk vanilla ice cream using the Noble Springs milk on our list since we opened. I also use Tennessee Real Milk buttermilk. I get most of my ingredients, both produce and specialty items like chocolate, from Creation Gardens. They are a local company with really good customer service.
When did you know that you wanted to become a pastry chef?
In high school I was interested in culinary school, but my parents didn't think cooking was a great career and encouraged me to go to a traditional college. I got my bachelors degree in journalism at UT Knoxville in 2006. I studied print journalism, and by the time I graduated it wasn't looking too good for newspapers. I wasn't sure I wanted to be a reporter after all. I moved to Nashville to live with my parents, did some freelance writing and also got a retail job at Williams Sonoma. I spent all my spare time baking. One day I decided I was going to try to get a job baking and I went to Provence Breads to see if they were looking for any unskilled labor. They happened to be losing their pastry assistant and they hired me to do stuff like scoop cookies and make muffin batter. As I mastered different tasks, the pastry chefs would teach me something new. I stayed there for several years and learned from several wonderful and very patient pastry chefs. I also spent six months working at Mesa Grill in New York, but decided I wanted to make Nashville home and moved back.
What’s your favorite kitchen tool?
Growing up, was food celebrated in your home? Did you become interested in cooking because of your family?
My mom didn't really like cooking very much, but when I was interested in learning to cook she was really supportive. I would pick out recipes I wanted to make and we would go grocery shopping together. I think she was thrilled that I wanted to cook dinner. My family was less enthusiastic during my vegetarian phase but it was short-lived. We visited my grandparents often and my grandmother made hot meals for lunch and dinner (actually called dinner and supper in my mom's family), complete with homemade biscuits and sometimes dessert. My uncles, aunts, and cousins were always welcome and my grandmother would invite over neighbors or friends to join us too. I just took Mitchell to visit her last weekend and she made us chicken pot pie. Mitchell didn't want that so he filled up on biscuits.
Who are some of your culinary idols? If you could serve them a dish what would it be?
I really admire Chad Robertson and Elizabeth Pruitt of Tartine in San Francisco. Their bakery makes delicious bread and pastries, and I have almost all of their cookbooks. They just seem like really good people. I would be much too shy to serve them anything, but I guess I would just invite them to come to Etch and have a few desserts!
Do you have anything you’re looking forward to coming up? Anything else you’d like to share?
I'm looking forward to fall. I am ready for some roasted apples and fall spices.
As far as anything else to share, I would say I'm very lucky to have a restaurant job that lets me balance work and family life. Chef hours are long but I come to work early and get off in the early afternoon. I have time to play with Mitchell and cook dinner for my family almost every day. That is not easy to come by in this business.
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