Hannah Young is the executive chef at Adele’s in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward. Her farm-to-fork style is rooted in her family’s cooking. Recently, Young talked about that and more.
What inspired your cooking?
I grew up in a really small town in Arkansas. I have a big family. My mom has four brothers and sisters. She’s the youngest. And, everybody had a style that they liked to do. There was a lot of hunting involved, and smoking deer and elk, and that kind of stuff. But, essentially, they were always making something out of nothing.
But, cooking wasn’t your first love, was it?
I grew up playing all kinds of sports, but I had an extra love for basketball. I went to school on a basketball scholarship. I was a shooting guard, and that was the path I saw myself on. I wanted to be in the WNBA. I wanted my last name on my jersey. But, I tore my meniscus going into my last season. I kept playing for about a month, then I had surgery, but I couldn’t get back to where I wanted after that.
When did you decide you wanted to cook for a living?
After I graduated, and my mom turned 50, we went on a cruise together to celebrate. On the cruise, you see all types of food, and I was just so in awe of the entire experience that I kind of wanted to work on a cruise ship. So, I ended up going to culinary school in Orlando. It kind of changed my life. I found a job at the Palm in the Hard Rock Hotel.
What was your path from there?
They sent me to Boston, and then Nashville, which was a little closer to home. So, I moved to Nashville, and they did groom me to be a great sous chef, but I wanted to reach my next goal, which was executive chef.
Now that you’re executive chef at Adele’s in Atlanta, what’s your take on the city?
I’m still figuring out where things are, and where I fit in. But, I live super close to the restaurant, so I’m learning the area, and Atlanta is growing on me, for sure.
How did you put your mark on the Adele’s menu here?
We have a lot of smoked stuff, and confit, and braised dishes. We have a smoker out back. That was my one thing that I really wanted. We do short ribs, we do duck, and trout for our trout dip. I wanted to show my style by smoking entrees. We have wood ovens and charcoal grills, and I’m a huge fan of all of it.
The menu seems to balance what’s known as “California cuisine” with heartier influences.
The owner, Howard (Greenstone), is from California. He likes the simplicity of California cuisine. I grew up cooking Southern-style food, and smoking or braising everything. To put that together, one thing I like to do is something as simple as taking our smoked short ribs and putting a light, fresh salad on the side, like a mustard green salad. Why not? It’s the freshness I’m looking for, with the peppery bite.
You’ve worked hard to get to where you are, but there’s no doubt that, as a Black woman, you had some extra challenges.
It’s been a lot of understanding who I am. I came into this as a Black woman who was an athlete, so I had a place. That was something to identify myself as, going into the culinary world. Coming into a kitchen, it’s male-dominated, obviously. But, also, being a girl, and a Black girl not as seasoned as these guys, it made me have to work 50 times harder, always. It lit a fire in me.
It seems your family has been the greatest influence in your life and your career.
You have owners, and a management team that supports and helps you, but your family gives you that core support that you specifically need. They have uplifted me and brought me down some pegs, too. I wouldn’t be here and have the confidence to do this if it wasn’t for them.
What’s the story behind your tattoo?
My grandmother had a cookbook based off her recipes and our family recipes. This is what she wrote in the cookbook for me: “Happy cooking I love you.” It’s her handwriting, and I had it tattooed on my arm. The tattoo only took like 15 minutes, but I was crying, and I was all emotional.
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