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Chef Cole Jeanes on growing up and the power of wood fires

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Until he was 12, Cole Jeanes hunted with his dad.

"My father, Randy H. Jeanes, was a hunter, and that's all I did," says Jeanes, 27. "Deer, squirrel. We fished. Every season, we were doing something."

They loaded up his dad's 1987 Toyota pickup and headed to Ames Plantation in Somerville. Jeanes then helped his father, who was a member of the Memphis Fire Department, fry the game over a wood fire. "There's nothing sexier to me than baking fat in a cast iron skillet."

Those idyllic days with his dad ended before Jeanes hit his teenage years. "He passed away when I was 12. He made me who I am today. Only short days I had with him, but it's set in stone."

Jeanes is now owner of Amelia Mae, a catering business. He also cooks for and is the co-host with food blogger Jonathan Cooper of Le Youth Supper Club, a monthly dinner for young people.

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It took him some time to get back into cooking after his father died, Jeanes says. "It changed me 100 percent. I went from an extroverted person, outgoing [to] quiet. I did not speak. I fell into a group of friends and partied too hard. From then, I started going away from where I was. I stopped hunting."

Jeanes met his fiancée, Courtney Boyd, 12 years ago at a party. "I was able to talk and express myself."

He slowly began to get back to his old self. In college, he lived on campus and cooked for himself and his roommates.

Jeanes also got back into grilling over wood fires. "I didn't realize how therapeutic it was for me when I was doing it, but being by a grill and smelling smoke — if I could put it in a cologne bottle and spray it on me, I would. I love it so much. And I honestly think it's attached to my father coming home from the fire department and smelling like burnt wood."

Jeanes enrolled at L'Ecole Culinaire. "I like design and art, so plating, the colors, the contrasts, the textures, I love it so much."

He did stints at Acre and Porcellino's Craft Butcher. He started his own catering business after he began doing a monthly dinner for a group of doctors.

Jeanes named the business for his great-grandmother and his grandmother. His great-grandmother, Amelia Cannon, was an artist. "She painted landscapes and did ceramics."

His grandmother, Dorothy Mae Jeanes, had "a decent-sized garden for the area. One of the fondest memories I have is shucking peas and corn."

Coupled with his dad's love for hunting and grilling, everything "comes together" in his cooking, Jeanes says.

Jeanes describes his style as "modern rustic." "I like rustic-style plating. I don't like constructed-looking, robotic plates. I want the ingredients to speak. Still be quality. Beautiful."

Last June, he began the Le Youth dinners as a way for young people to network and discuss ideas. His four-course meals have included braised boar's belly tamales and butter pecan crème brÛlée.

Jeanes wants to open his own restaurant in Arkansas. "I want rice fields where I can make my own sake."

And, he says, "My goal is to own a restaurant that is nothing but wood fires."

Jeanes loves to visit his mom in the country and drive around the back roads. "When I hear Chris Stapleton — he's a new artist, but he sounds old — I'm in a 1987 Toyota pickup, and I'm with my dad and I'm going hunting. I just feel it."

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