Ever wondered about the person responsible for crafting iNatural’s delicious menu? From rolling pizza dough to serving Washington’s dignitaries in the JW Marriott, from learning knife skills to earning a Mizzou law degree, he seems to have done it all. This week, we sat down to chat with the Executive Chef of iNatural Catering, Forriss Elliott, Jr.
What is your role as Executive Chef of iNatural Catering?
I arrive at the business between 4 or 5 am to help our head chef and various kitchen support staff prepare the food. We make our standard bread of organic gluten-free corn muffins and organic mini palm biscuits. I’m responsible for making all of the sauces from scratch. I taste everything to make sure it’s up to our standards. Part of my role is also to craft new menus. Later I will go to our vendors and shop, as well as check inventory and invoices for commissaries delivered. After that, I return to the kitchen and help with food prep for the next day before working on various sales and administrative tasks.
From day to day, I wear many hats. Besides overseeing the food preparation, I also work with marketing. I’m currently setting aside some time each day to experiment with our salad dressings. To constantly improve our processes, I sporadically deliver orders personally so I can stay in touch with what our delivery team experiences on a daily basis. While at the client’s I conduct an in-house survey of sorts to personally ask how the food was that day and to see if there is anything we can improve upon. We have very high standards at iNatural.
Can you describe your culinary training?
I started working in a restaurant as a busboy when I was about 13 years old, so I’ve been in the food industry for over 35 years. I went from a breakfast bistro to a fast food place to a pizzeria. Then I worked with Stouffer’s. That was where I got the basis of my training: knife skills, garde manger (that’s the cold side of the kitchen), grilling, and sautéing. I learned how to make roux, soups, desserts, all the salad preparations… So that was my foundation.
I also worked under two Italian chefs in St. Louis, Missouri. They taught me soups, sauces, and all the Italian dishes. They also taught me how to make stocks. If you make a fresh, from-scratch stock, you don’t need to add anything to your food. Well, you add herbs and spices, but stock is what makes your dish complex and flavorful, not salt.
Then I also worked under a Thai chef in a Hawaiian cuisine restaurant, then under a Greek chef. I’ve been involved in almost every type of cuisine restaurant: Asian, Italian, Greek, Mexican, American, Southwestern, French haute cuisine…
It sounds like you have a very broad background.
Yes, I’ve worked in a nice smattering of restaurants. I’ve worked in every major hotel chain as well. I have been a server, busboy, bartender, front house manager, back house manager, kitchen manager… I served the first President Bush and various dignitaries when I worked in the Grand Hyatt and JW Marriott across the street from the White House — pretty cool stuff! I had to get a Secret Service clearance.
I’ve worked banquets, at hotel front desks, as a chauffeur, bellman, doorman, and pretty much everything involved in service in a hotel, all while attending undergraduate school and obtaining a bachelor’s degree with a finance concentration. I immediately went on to law school at the University of Missouri and graduated while still working as a law clerk and a waiter at a local high-end restaurant. It’s a very natural fit (no pun intended) for me to wear so many hats at iNatural. Granted, all of this hat wearing indicates the fierce growing pains we are experiencing right now.
How did you transition to creating and running iNatural?
Since childhood, my wife Shirley and I both had a passion for living and eating healthily. We look at food, exercises water, and all those different ways you can heal yourself. After we were both downsized from corporate America, we wanted to follow our passion. That’s how this company was born, from that passion to live free from chemicals and additives. And we’ve grown so much faster than we anticipated. The response has been great.
What do you hope to accomplish with your food?
It’s about more than having a company and feeding our customers. It’s about educating and inspiring people to lead healthier lives. I believe (and studies suggest) that the more you remove chemicals and processed foods from your diet, the better you will feel. You will most likely have more energy, possibly sleep more soundly at night, and have a better mood and attitude. I believe natural living makes you an overall more joyful person.
What’s next for iNatural catering?
Well, I can’t reveal all the details, but we are working on distributing some iNatural food products, like our salad dressing, in retail stores. We are also just about to open up our all-natural juice bar. There are not many in our area and people have to travel distances to get fresh juiced beverages. We’re extremely excited about this!
What’s your favorite iNatural dish?
My favorite? Just one? I love our chicken spice rub. It’s a combination of seven herbs and spices that I make. I love that on our garlic and herb marinated chicken. It’s very unique. But I guess my favorite is our kale salad.
Yes, the famous kale salad.
Yes, that’s what I most enjoy making and eating. We change it from a bitter leaf to a wonderful, flavorful salad. Lots of people love it. I guess I concur.
But I also like making soups. Tonight, I’m going to make my favorite, a vegetable soup base with hearty chunks of antibiotic-free turkey. It will have basic root vegetables and organic carrots, maybe some yellow and red onions.