Food was always a big thing in the Hunt household.
Growing up in upstate New York, Josh Hunt, sous chef for Andrew Michael, spent summers at his grandparents' house. "Essentially waking up with breakfast being made by my grandma and my mom," he says. "Then it's lunch. And then grandpa's grilling something.
"Food, to me, is a lot about nostalgia and memories. That's a beautiful thing."
- Michael Donahue
- Josh Hunt
He loved to eat, but Hunt didn't aspire to be a professional chef — at first. He was more interested in playing baseball.
"I tell friends now that I'm a chef, and they're like, 'Wow, we would have not thought of that.'"
Hunt cooked for himself when he was in college. He made his mother's mashed potatoes and some of her other dishes.
He graduated with bachelor's degrees in English and Spanish, but, he says, "I had no idea of what to do. I didn't have a plan."
After he got his teaching license, Hunt began looking for Spanish teaching jobs across the country. "Memphis had popped up. And I joined a program called 'Memphis Teaching Fellows.'"
Moving to Memphis in 2010, Hunt taught Spanish for two years at Hamilton High School. "I love Memphis because it's where I started being an adult, more or less. Out of the parents' house."
He quit teaching when he couldn't pass a difficult new licensing test. "It wasn't for lack of trying."
Teaching also was wearing on him. "Internally, I knew it was going to come to an end. And I just let it," he says.
While out of work, Hunt cooked daily for himself and his girlfriend at the time. "I applied for food stamps. I would just use that on vegetables."
And, he says, "Because of Memphis, I got into smoking things. So, while she would go to work, I'd smoke a pork shoulder all day. And got into creating flavors with smoking."
He bought a cooking textbook. And, he says, "I would just see beautiful plates of food and was like, 'I want to know how to do that.'"
After getting a job at a Marriott hotel, Hunt thought, "Maybe it's irrational, but if I work hard enough, things will work out. I might not be as creatively talented as other chefs, but I will work. I'll do what I have to do to get ahead."
He moved from dishwasher to prep cook. "And then one day we didn't have a cook. So, that's how chefs' stories go."
Hunt remembered when the head chef walked in the kitchen and said, "Man, I had the best meal at Hog & Hominy."
"I was like, 'Well, the guy I'm working for raves about this place, that's the place where I should go.'"
He looked on Craigslist and discovered Hog & Hominy was looking for a cook. "It said, 'No experience necessary.'"
Hunt got the job. "I remember freaking out because I was so over my head in a real kitchen. I remember being amazed by everything around me. Like, 'This is really cool. This is what I'm searching for.'"
He learned a lot from chef/owners Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman. One lesson he learned was, "There's nothing wrong with making mistakes as long as you don't make them again."
"Or, 'You learn from your mistakes.' That's a really big thing that's important in life and in the kitchen."
Hunt thought fine dining was pretentious until he moved to Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen. "The more you get into it, you really enjoy the science behind food and how something's made," he says. "How you can manipulate vegetables and sauces."
He became sous chef last January. "I just kept trying to work as hard as I could and try to advance as fast as possible. I knew that not having a culinary school background and also being older at that time — because I'd already kind of started a career and then changed — I just had to outwork everyone."
Hunt's mother recently visited him at the restaurant. "She brought me like two dozen cookies. The same cookies that I had grown up on. There's chocolate chips with the M&Ms. And they're amazing."
She brought the cookies into the kitchen after dinner. "She goes, 'These are for you guys.' Then she pulls me aside and was like, 'Don't worry. I have more for you.'"
Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen, 12 West Brookhaven Circle