Hall holds the Smackdown champ record (“We have retired Chris. He’s in the hall of fame. He’s not allowed to compete anymore,” Warner said.), but his Atlanta peer Kevin Gillespie has also competed.
“It was one of the hardest food competitions I’ve ever done,” said Gillespie, who rose to national prominence after his performance on the TV show “Top Chef” in 2009. “Their food is hard to do fast. Waffle House has a table time of eight minutes. When a guest comes in, they should be eating their food and get their check dropped off in eight minutes. That is brutal.”
The chef winner of a Waffle House Smackdown (renamed Waffle House Showdown when it moved last year from the Charleston Food and Wine Festival to Callaway Resort and Gardens in Pine Mountain, Georgia) then must go head-to-head with a Waffle House corporate trainer. In Gillespie’s competition year, he was runner-up to Houston chef Chris Shepherd. Contest organizers allowed the pair to go two-on-one against the Waffle House pro. “He beat the snot out of us,” Gillespie said. “It’s an extremely humbling experience.”
“They judge on presentation, accuracy and taste,” Hall said. “It’s impossibly hard. You have to do it exactly how Waffle House does it.”
“Waffle House has a table time of eight minutes. When a guest comes in, they should be eating their food and get their check dropped off in eight minutes. That is brutal,” says Atlanta chef Kevin Gillespie, who will cook a Waffle House-inspired dinner this month with fellow Atlanta chef and Waffle House aficionado Chris Hall for a Waffle House takeover to benefit local nonprofit the Giving Kitchen. CONTRIBUTED BY WILLIAM BRAWLEY
On Aug. 18, Gillespie and Hall will team up for the second year in a row to cook at the Waffle House on Piedmont Road in Buckhead for a private event to benefit local nonprofit Giving Kitchen, which provides assistance to food-service workers in crisis. For this Waffle House takeover, each course will feature WH-inspired dishes, and could include repeats from last year, like a cheffy rendition of the Cheese ‘N Eggs with Raisin Toast or a cake made with the company’s waffle batter mix.
Waffle House has agreed to these antics, so the pair of chefs won’t see a cease-and-desist order. Chef Ron Hsu is probably safe from one, too, since his rendition of Waffle House’s steak and eggs on the chef’s counter tasting menu at Lazy Betty is highly Japanese-inflected. Steak and eggs with wasabi and ponzu-beef jus is not just an homage to Waffle House, but also to his mother, the recently deceased Betty Hsu and restaurant’s namesake.
“That was her favorite dish there. I never understood the concept of it, but that’s what my mom always ordered,” he said.
An homage to Waffle House’s steak and eggs can be found on the chef’s counter tasting menu at Lazy Betty in Candler Park. Highly Japanese-inflected, it features steak dressed with wasabi and an egg yolk wrapped in a collard green and a finish of ponzu-beef jus. The dish is not just a tribute to Waffle House, but also to Hsu’s mother, the recently deceased Betty Hsu and restaurant’s namesake. CONTRIBUTED BY ANDREW THOMAS LEE
As for himself, his go-to order would be the patty melt. But rejiggering it for service at Lazy Betty is a conundrum. “I don’t know how I can spin a patty melt at Lazy Betty,” he said.
Yet, Hsu’s memories and appreciation for Waffle House are about more than the food. Growing up the son of immigrant restaurant operators, “it was a very rare occasion that my family got to spend quality time away from the restaurant together,” he said.
“It’s more than a place to eat,” said Gillespie, who grew up in Locust Grove, a town with exactly one restaurant: Waffle House. He called it “as much a community center as anything else.” As a business owner, Gillespie admires the restaurant’s work culture. “People who work for them are ultra-loyal. They take care of their folks.”
“It’s genuine service with genuine people in a really interesting atmosphere,” Hall said. “There is zero pretension to Waffle House. Everybody’s equal.”
And anybody can get a cease-and-desist order.
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