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Ask the Chefs: Sarah Simmons and Aaron Hoskins

Hilary Deutsch

February 04, 2016

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Sarah Simmons has won many admirers through the elevated Southern dishes at her lauded hot spots City Grit and Birds & Bubbles. For her upcoming Beard House dinner, Simmons and partner Aaron Hoskins will create a Southern sweetheart feast to satisfy the heart and the soul. In anticipation of their event, we spoke to the two about the pleasures of gummy candies, the New York City meal they still dream about, and why they're eerily excited about beef stew.

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What is your inspiration behind the menu for this Beard House event?

Sarah: Aaron and I are opening a restaurant together next year and this menu pretty much encapsulates our vision for the new restaurant. 

What's a dish on your Beard House event menu that you're especially excited about or proud of, and why?

Sarah: When we started working on the menu, we each created a separate menu and then came together to discuss our ideas. We both had a vision for an elegant version of beef stew that was eerily similar from the components all the way to the plating. So we're really excited to bring that dish to life. 

Aaron: Our beef stew has steak bavette with salt-roasted celery root, fried herbs, carrot bordelaise, and celery leaf.

What’s your guilty-pleasure food?

Sarah: Twizzlers.

Aaron: Swedish Fish.

Tell us about the last great meal you ate.

Sarah: When we have a chance to eat out, we're fortunate enough to eat in restaurants that some may consider “special occasion” spots. But out of all of the places we’ve been, we still talk about our last meal at New York City's Pig and Khao. We dream about it.  

Who's been your biggest inspiration, and what dish would you cook to thank them?

Sarah: JBF Award winner Frank Stitt’s food opened my eyes to what Southern food could be and to this day, he remains my biggest inspiration. If I could cook for him, I would want to serve him my shrimp and grits, or maybe the baby kale salad I serve at Birds & Bubbles. They're both simple dishes with complex flavors that let the ingredients shine.

Aaron: While working in Richmond, Virginia, I had the pleasure of working for a chef named Tim Bereika. He was the first chef I had worked for that not only believed in me, but opened my eyes to an entirely different way of thinking about food and creativity. My love for pasta grew out of his passion for it. I was lucky enough to get to feed him many times while working in Richmond, but I would love to have another stab at it. The Chicken and Pastry dish from our Beard House menu would be something I would love for him to taste. It emphasizes turning a few ingredients (like roasted chicken, sofrito, and consommé) into a satisfying and elegant dish. 

What are the best places to eat in your city these days? 

We’ve been spending a lot of time in Columbia, South Carolina, where we just opened Rise, our first counter-service concept. Terra is our go-to date-night spot and we also love the Oak Table. Camon, a sushi restaurant that’s basically in a parking garage, has some of the best Japanese food we’ve had on the East Coast. But the best thing about Columbia, South Carolina, is the multitude of hidden gems, like the world’s greatest hot dog or cheese steak—which, believe it or not, both come from gas stations.  

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received, and who gave it to you?

Sarah: In college I worked at this old-school meat and three joint where the owner always said, “If you count your change, you don’t have to worry about counting your dollars.” I remember that every time I build a budget or think about waste. 

Aaron: I was lucky enough to get to work for Justin Severino (of Cure and Morcilla in Pittsburgh) for a little while. So much of his advice made a really dramatic impact on me. He once told me, “No one wants to work for the guy holding a clipboard.” For some reason that still resonates with me and says a lot about the work ethic required to really lead a team of cooks and inspire them not only with your vision, but also with how you work. 

View this event's menu here.

View all upcoming Beard House events and book your seat at jamesbeard.org/events.

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Hilary Deutsch is editorial assistant at the James Beard Foundation. Find her on Instagram.