Becoming the cheese man
I have always been a cheese fan. But I have not always been the cheese man. That's a story that's been ripening for 10 years.
In 2001, I left the Ellijay Police Department to become a stay at home parent. If I'd been told that in two years I'd be living in New York City, attending the French Culinary Institute and working for one of the largest cheese shops in the country, I would have laughed you out of town. I didn't leave police work to pursue another career - that was the last thing on my mind. I chose to be a stay at home parent because we wanted our daughter to have the best life possible.
I was Mr. Mom for the next two and a half years. This, of course, involved a lot of cooking. Knowing I would return to work again one day, I started exploring my options. To return to law enforcement would mean starting over with a new department. Culinary school was something I had always talked about, so I looked into some schools, both local and across the country. I became set on the French Culinary Institute in New York. My wife, being ever supportive, said, "If you get in, we'll go." I applied and was accepted.
I grew up off the beaten path. I had seen more barns than skyscrapers. New York was the greatest place I had ever seen. The smells, both good and bad, the people, the vibe. The city had a heartbeat and a soul. It is old and new.
The FCI is full immersion from day one. I did some short internships with Daniel Boulud and Rocco Dispirito. Then one afternoon I attended a seminar with Rob Kaufelt of Murray's Cheese. I always knew the stuff in the grocery stores was not what made the French famous, but it was the history and traditions of cheese making, handed down from generation to generation, that captivated me. I loved the simplicity of the fact that cheese is made from milk, salt and rennet - three ingredients that can produce such a wide variety of tastes and textures simply by way of the cheese maker's hands. The organization of a cheese plate from mild and young to older and stronger appealed my OCD nature.
As luck would have it, Murray's was opening a new store in Grand Central Station and was looking for people to man the counter. I jumped on the opportunity. I learned cheese fast. I also learned that cheese mongering is a lot more fun than standing over a hot stove.
During this time, my wife, Kim, was still working for an Atlanta law firm, so a return to Atlanta was imminent. A co-worker produced a magazine that highlighted Star Provisions, so I sent in my résumé to chef Anne Quatrano and was offered a job behind the cheese counter. A few months later the cheese buyer/manager left and I was promoted.
Strangely, my job is a lot like policing. I collect the evidence and the suspects (the cheese) and forward the information on to you - the jury. In this new monthly column, I hope to share my passion and inspire you to get out there and eat some cheese.