“I’m a huge supporter of Five Loaves. Honestly, I think that’s the only way, through programs like Five Loaves, that we can really bridge the gap between communities and between classes, especially as the City continues to grow.” – John Hall
Tell us a little bit about your passion for food and how it came about.
My dad and both my uncles were always really good cooks. I think seeing my dad and uncles cook growing up – those male influences – gave me the confidence that I could cook, that it was something that I could learn and explore. Seeing what was out there and considering the endless possibilities really peaked my interests.
You are used to working with quality ingredients for creating great dishes. What would you say are the critical ingredients for seeing change in Birmingham?
Support. People getting out and supporting local chefs and local restaurants. What I see as being key; people supporting local farmers. Where we are, we’re such in a great city, great area, great region for produce and agriculture. I think a lot of times we get caught up in the major stores or a bargain as opposed to education – a lot of people don’t know where their food comes from. As we continue to grow as a city, I think we need to get people more excited about where their food comes from and trying to locally source whenever possible. It’s very important to keep that going for sustainability.
How do you see food having the ability to impact people throughout Birmingham?
Anybody who lives down here knows, we don’t just eat to live, we live to eat. It’s part of our culture, it’s part of our Southern heritage. We associate food with family, with good times and bad times. It’s not just the meal, it’s a social setting. It’s people coming together to fellowship. Food plays a major part in the development of the city and just people coming together. It’s a vital part. You can’t really have too many functions that brings people together that doesn’t have food and/or beverage, if not both. It’s part of who we are in the South, especially here in Birmingham.
Do you ever go to Pepper Place farmer’s market?
I do. I love Pepper Place. I’m a huge supporter of what they’ve done. It’s definitely gained momentum in the time since I’ve been back in the South. It’s been going for a while, but it’s definitely picked up. You can see the city wants it and people are supporting it. It’s here giving people the availability and us really driving home and making a campaign for it is key to keeping it going.
As a Birmingham native who has moved away and came back home to the South, how does Five Loaves fit into the kinds of things you would like to see in our City?
I like it, because it’s getting kids and folks in the community involved. I think the main focus that it does, it gives encouragement, it really builds confidence in them, and it gives them the support they need to do whatever it is they want to do, whether it be food, or who knows, something else. Also, it gives them an outlet – you can never have too many of those kinds of programs, and you can never have too many people involved. It’s a part of what needs to happen here. I’m a huge supporter of Five Loaves. Honestly, I think that’s the only way, through programs like Five Loaves, that we can really bridge the gap between communities and between classes, especially as the City continues to grow.
One of the Five Loaves team members brought up that during prep the night before the event, they made a big mistake and dropped an entire dish of food. What is your experience when dealing with mistakes in the kitchen?
You’re going to make mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. I make mistakes. But what you do after, that is really what’s important. Patience really is a virtue in any situation – in business and personal. I told them before the event in the kitchen, if you treat everything like it’s hot, you’ll never get burned. I also said it’s okay if you burn something, but you should never burn things the same way. I think that’s a lesson that if you can recognize what you did wrong and then work not to do it again, you’ve learned. Patience isn’t always central in our industry, but you have to have a cool head in certain situations, and I think that’s also the characteristics that makes for good leadership: how you keep your demeanor in hard situations.
The Five Loaves team has been talking about how amazing the “Evening with John Hall” pop-up dinner was last week. What were things you wanted to do when working with the young Five Loaves team and what was your experience like?
Everyone wanted to be there and was really passionate. Learning the food techniques in three days isn’t really a lot of time, but it’s enough time to get to know who they are, make some good food, and have them be a part of what’s going on. For me, it was the team-building that I really enjoyed and getting to know who they are, rather than just doing the event and then everyone going home afterwards. I felt like at the end of the third day, I had a good sense of who they are as people – and that goes a long way. If someone is willing to learn, and has a good attitude and a good sense about them, you can teach them whatever you want regardless of their skill set. Taking the time to really get to know people, sets up the blueprint and I feel like I can really teach them or talk to them about anything – and they can learn whatever you want to teach them if they’re willing to learn and willing to work. And those guys [Five Loaves] definitely were and that was cool to see.
Can you talk a little about the connection with Five Loaves and having a similar heart for the work they are doing?
Having someone who cares and is willing to invest a certain amount of time and interest into the youth in our city is so critical to our success. If we don’t support each other or give the time or give the effort, I don’t see us progressing. We have to collectively get involved, especially with the community. At the end of the day, every business is one where you have to make money, I can understand that. But if you can relate to someone out there and help someone to relate to life in general, the better it’s going to be in the long run. The more we build stronger kids, the better our city is going to be. People say all the time, you have to invest in yourself and that’s the same way I look at it when it comes to the city – it’s investing back into us. If we really care as much as we say we do about the city and about what’s going, if we’re not out here investing back into the community, we’re not really setting ourselves up for the future. I really connect with Five Loaves, because I remember when I was growing up cooking sometimes there were people I could relate to and helped me along the way – big or small – and guided me along through different situations, not just in cooking, but life in general, and you really remember who those folks were as you get older.
What’s your favorite dish to make?
I’ve been asked that several times before and I never feel like I have a proper answer. I don’t know that I have a favorite dish, but I love to make pasta from scratch. I’ll tell you what, there is nothing that beats homemade pasta. Once you learn how to make it and you practice it, you’ve gotten it down and have a couple pastas you know how to make from scratch, it’s like night and day. It’s a bit of process – going back to patience. Especially in the day and age of everything being instant. But when you start with a mound of flour and some eggs and end up with pasta, it’s a gratifying feeling – saying “man, we made this.” You can see it start to finish and it is worth the time it takes to do it.