5 Questions with Smith Fork Ranch Chef Marcus Parrott
Smith Fork Ranch has nurtured a long tradition of culinary excellence. For the past several years, Chef Marcus Parrott has raised the bar even higher, consistently putting fresh spins on old classics and bringing new flavors to Smith Fork plates. Get to know our kitchen wizard.
When did you fall in love with food?
Like many chefs, I had a moment. It wasn’t a revelation, but it was a turning point. I grew up in the university town of Iowa City, and as a kid my family would often travel to Chicago for spring break. One year, at lunch, my parents ordered an appetizer of paesano bread with roasted garlic. It was just a small loaf of bread and a head of roasted garlic, and I was skeptical. But I scooped out a clove, spread it on the bread, took a bite and I thought . . . “Wow!” Who knew?
Where’d you get your start in the restaurant world?
I started at the bottom. It’s very easy to get a job washing dishes, and in my late teens the last thing I wanted to spend time doing was looking for a job … so I jumped into the dish pit! I worked hard and even developed a sort of pride from being able to get even the crustiest pot clean. Eventually this was noticed, and I started my ascent through the ranks.
What kept you in the kitchen?
Early on, I discovered Anthony Bourdain’s book Kitchen Confidential, the rush of line cooking, and the culture of misfits that inhabit kitchens everywhere, and I was hooked. For several years I traveled around the country, from Vermont and Iowa to Washington and Southern California, working with exceptional chefs and kitchens.
How has your approach developed over the years?
As I became more experienced, I started developing my own tastes and preferences. I became less interested in the rush of line cooking, and more intrigued with the processes and precision that goes into making beautiful food. Where the food comes from—ranch, garden, or sea— and how it’s produced became paramount. Collaboration with the producers, instead of just ordering from a distributor, provided new subtleties and contexts.
What makes working at Smith Fork Ranch so special?
There aren’t many places that can compare to the North Fork Valley’s diversity of offerings; from a variety of orchards — including cherry, apple, peach, apricot and pear — to the abundance of organic farms and ranches, a burgeoning wine scene, and not least our own SFR organic farmstead that provides the majority of our produce at its high point. Here at Smith Fork Ranch, there is a spirit of terroir that is all its own.