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Quotable Keith Hicks: words of wisdom from a cool cat

Posted 8:16am on Thursday, May. 09, 2013

Talking with chef Keith Hicks is like being plopped down into a dream that’s part zen, part spoken word poetry, and always deliciously entertaining. Here are a few thoughts from Hicks on …

His beard ...

“Been growing it on and off since 2000. There are occasional flare-ups, I saute it, gets a little singe-y. Watch the fire, Keith. It also demonstrates patience, because guys’ll come up all the time and go: ‘Man, I love your beard, I wish mine would grow like that.’ I say: ‘Well, you never know until you just let it go and don’t touch it.’”

... and whether people ask to touch his beard

Allll the time. It’s a little weird. Mostly I say yeah, sure. But most of the time they’re already grabbing at it. I think they’re really interested in the texture of it.”

Working in an open kitchen

“It’s controlled chaos. If you cut yourself, burn yourself, you gotta watch the cussin’. That’s why I can tell people now: ‘Hey cat, cool it. Take it to the cooler and scream. Just relax.’ We all know it’s chaos, so that dreaded noise that we love, that eh-eh-eh-eh [imitates the cash register printing receipts], the ticket machine just goin’ on and on. I tell them all the time: ‘Cats, you chose to do this.’”

Perspective while cooking

“Regardless of how it comes out, you always gotta smile, and say: ‘Hey, it’s just food. A steak ain’t nothin’ but a fancy hamburger. I’m like, ‘Cats, relax, it’s just food, man. Do it out of love. Do it out of love.’”

His brief stint as a vegetarian, ‘many cows ago’

“We grew up as Seventh Day Adventists. They’re into that healthy lifestyle. Mom came back into the church, 1976, ’77. My mom is still a vegetarian. She likes for her little soy patties to get kind of close to the hamburger patties that I’m barbecuing. She says: ‘Put it over there, get a little flavor on it.’

“I did it for about five or six years. I got tired of going to Burger King and asking for the meatless Whoppers. ... I still like to eat healthy; one of my favorite foods is Vietnamese.’

The tattoo on the inside of his right forearm

“It’s a chicken wing and a collard green.” [The words below the illustration are “pho,” the Vietnamese soup; and “umami.”] “The first four elements of taste are bitter, sweet, sour and salty. Umami is the fifth tasting element, the flow of all four of them coming together, that makes you go: ‘Oooh, wowww.’”

The tattoo he’s planning next

“I’m about to get Adam and Eve, and their arms are going to be coming underneath my back, and then above that is going to be the Last Supper. But cats in the Last Supper are going to be Uncle Ben, Colonel Sanders, Aunt Jemima, Marvin Gaye, probably Bob Marley, Johnny Cash. Just all the cool cats sitting there, a combination of food and music.”

His fantasy ‘last meal’

My West Virginia grandmother Ruth “Huff” Henderson’s pot roast, and fried chicken from my Alabama grandmother, Hortense “Nellie” Braxton. And a hot dog from Ted’s Hot Dogs out of Buffalo.

— Heather Svokos

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