Terry Koval wants to feel good when he enters a kitchen. That’s why the chef blasts ‘90s hip-hop and punk rock when he cooks at the Deer and the Dove and B-Side in Decatur, or his home kitchen in nearby Forrest Hills. “I want everyone to feel like they’re having fun in what they’re doing and that it’s not work,” says Koval, who was recently named a James Beard Foundation award finalist in the Best Chef: Southeast category.
His spunkiness hearkens to a stint as a professional skateboarder. Koval, 46, left high school at 15 years old and moved to California in hopes of making it big. While there, Koval observed farmers delivering produce to San Francisco restaurants. Skateboarding didn’t stick, but California laid a foundation for Koval’s seasonally-driven cooking ethos.
Koval moved back to Atlanta in his early 20s and worked at Canoe, where farmers like Laurie Moore, of Moore Farm and Friends, walked in with heirloom tomatoes and fresh produce. In 2013, he took over Wrecking Bar Brewpub’s kitchen before opening the Deer and the Dove and its adjacent breakfast spot, B-Side, in 2019.
At home, Koval turns his passion for cooking into meals for his wife, Jenn, and their two children, Olivia, 19, and Jackson, 9.
What is your favorite cuisine to cook at home?
I would probably slide towards Mediterranean because I try to eat healthy when I am at home. I mean, this business is rough. You can’t eat a cheeseburger every night after work, so I regulate that to one a week.
What’s your favorite dish to make when time isn’t a factor?
Lasagna. We’ll do veal, pork and beef ground. Then we’ll do tomato sauce. We can get the cans at DeKalb Farmers Market — I’m not making tomato sauce at home. Ricotta and mozzarella. We typically try to do about five layers. It’s like the epitome of comfort food for us.
What do you cook for yourself after a long workday?
Cheeseburgers, but it depends. There are two different types of cheeseburgers. There’s the classic: cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickles, ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise. Or sometimes you’re just in the mood for the Deer and the Dove burger, which is like truffle cheese, caramelized onions, thyme aioli, brioche bun. Sometimes that just hits a spot.
What are your three essential kitchen tools?
A microplane, a mandolin and a good quality sharp knife. The Global G-2 chef’s knife is a great beginner’s knife.
What’s your best kitchen hack?
People should use a toaster oven. I don’t have a microwave, so I do everything in my toaster oven. Everything.
Which ingredients are always in your fridge?
Duke’s mayonnaise, number one. We eat lots of mayonnaise, we eat lots of eggs and we eat bagels every single day. Oh, and last one: ketchup.
What do you think is an underrated food and why?
Kohlrabi is very underrated. It’s a cross between an apple and a turnip. They’re crisp, they’re delicious. You can eat them raw, you can eat them roasted. They’re popping back up right now, actually.
What’s your best advice for home cooks?
Keep paper towels in your kitchen, like Bounty. They allow you to keep things tidy and clean as you’re working. Also, at the restaurant, I have these tubs that are Clorox wipes. Those are also really just perfect for when you’re working in the kitchen and keeping everything clean around you.
When did you first fall in love with cooking?
I always had to cook for myself at home growing up, which led into me making these huge breakfasts and having it all ready to go before my parents woke up. Then I was always in situations where if I wanted to eat, I had to make it myself. And I just always liked food.
Deer and the Dove, 155 Sycamore St., Decatur. 404-748-4617, deerdove.com.
B-Side, 151 Sycamore St., Decatur. 404-748-4617, deerdove.com/b-side.
Credit: CHRIS HUNT
Credit: CHRIS HUNT
Ground Lamb Pitas with Cucumber Tzatziki
Koval’s health-conscious daughter Olivia inspired these lamb pitas. When Koval needed to make a quick dinner that Olivia would eat, too, he turned to ground lamb from Your DeKalb Farmers Market and she helped him prepare it. These pitas are Olivia’s most requested meal on her visits home from college. Add garnishes as you please to this versatile recipe, which comes together quickly. Koval also recommends combining 2 ounces extra-virgin olive oil and 2 tablespoons za’atar and lightly brushing the pitas with the seasoned oil before toasting them.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound ground lamb
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon za’atar
2 pitas cut in half or 4 small pitas
Cucumber Tzatziki (recipe follows)
Diced tomato, crumbled feta, avocado slices, mustard greens or other leafy green, mint, cilantro, parsley or watercress (optional garnishes)
In a large saute pan, warm the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and saute until they become translucent, about 12 minutes. Add the garlic and saute until lightly golden brown, about 2 minutes. Add the ground lamb, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, and cook for 5 minutes, or until the meat is cooked through.
Strain off the fat by transferring the lamb mixture into a colander, then place the lamb mixture in a bowl and season with za’atar.
Toast the pitas. Place an even amount of the lamb mixture in each pita pocket. Add 2 tablespoons tzatziki to each pita. Garnish with your preferred toppings.
Per serving, lamb pitas only: 489 calories (percent of calories from fat, 65), 22 grams protein, 20 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams total sugars, 1 gram fiber, 35 grams total fat (13 grams saturated), 83 milligrams cholesterol, 374 milligrams sodium.
2 cup Greek-style whole milk yogurt
½ cup finely diced European cucumber
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
1/4 cup chopped dill
1/4 cup chopped mint
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
In a medium bowl mix all ingredients together.
Makes about 3 cups.
Per 2-tablespoon serving: 21 calories (percent of calories from fat, 40), 2 grams protein, 1 gram carbohydrates, 1 gram total sugars, trace fiber, 1 gram total fat (1 gram saturated), 3 milligrams cholesterol, 10 milligrams sodium.
To read about more local chefs featured in the At Home with Atlanta Chefs series, visit ajc.com/food-and-recipes/at-home-with-atlanta-chefs.
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Credit: Jason Getz/AJC