Homegrown & Handcrafted
Kelsey Barnard Clark
For Enterprise, Alabama, native Joey Russell, it wasn’t a direct path to a career in the culinary industry. He originally planned to go into pharmacy work like his father, and studied biomedical science at Auburn University for three years before transferring to Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Atlanta in 2009, where he trained for two years in the art of classic French cuisine.
“I knew I had always been able to cook; I just never saw myself being able to do it professionally,” Russell says. But after considering the regulatory hassles pharmacy ownership would entail, he decided he wanted a different option. “I think sitting behind a computer all day will wear and tear on you. Having to deal with all the insurance and stuff,” Russell explains. “My family supported me, but it was definitely kind of a shock—me wanting to go from being a pharmacist to a chef.”
His interest in cooking wasn’t new. “Growing up, watching Food Network was always a blast to me—all the traveling possibilities, all the different cuisines. I ate a lot of steak and potatoes growing up,” he recalls. “The different cuisines I had no knowledge of is what really intrigued me—learning about new cuisines.”
While living in Atlanta, Russell worked for Aramark at Turner Field in the 755 Club. After graduating in 2011, he joined the Buckhead Life Restaurant Group. “At night, I worked under executive chef Piero Premoli from Milan, Italy, at Pricci, a modern traditional Italian restaurant, and in the mornings, I worked at the Atlanta Fish Market under executive chef Robert Holley who has worked at Le Bernardin in New York with chef Eric Ripert,” Russell says. “Chef Piero and chef Holley were two huge influences on me and helped mold me into a well-rounded, diverse chef.”
In 2015, Russell moved back to Auburn after seeing the amazing things chef David Bancroft was doing at Acre, a restaurant featuring a new take on Alabama cuisine. The offerings change daily based on what’s ready for harvest in the gardens around the restaurant. “We truly feature the best of what Alabama has to offer,” Bancroft says. “We practice time-honored techniques passed down from our heritage. We try to grow and make as much of our product as possible, and what we can’t grow, we source from our neighbors.” Russell says, “Coming from a farming community, like Enterprise, I realize how important it is to keep the local farmer in the big picture of the culinary world.”
As the Acre pastry chef, Russell bakes fantastic breads and wonderful desserts. His passion for making artisan-style bread is apparent. “Bread-making dates back thousands of years. As long as people have had beer and yeast, there has been bread,” Russell asserts. “Bread-making takes extreme amounts of patience, something I was not used to in Atlanta, where speed was a necessity.” .... [subscribe to read full article and see more photos]