Firsthand Foods’ ties to Isaiah Allen, Executive Chef of The Eddy Pub go way back. His wife, Whitney Allen, was Firsthand Foods’ first ever Operations Assistant before she left to start Rocky Run Farm in Mebane. We sat down with Isaiah to learn more about his personal history and what inspires him as a chef.
How did you become a chef?
I started out washing dishes when I was 15 years old. I distinctly remember the first time I observed bread being made from scratch and I was just fascinated with the wholesome process and the incredible smell. That’s the moment when I turned my attention toward becoming a chef. It’s a great fit for me because of the way I like to learn and my strong work ethic. If I hadn’t become a chef, I would have become a builder. I love thinking through a process, putting all the pieces together, and helping form it from scratch.
My first kitchen job as a teenager was at Squids in Chapel Hill where I stayed for six years. I remember I had to apply for a permit to use a knife because I was a minor. I worked every single station there until it was time to advance and try something new.
My next stop was Il Palio in Chapel Hill where my boss and mentor, Adam Rose, helped me learn how to source locally and gave me opportunities to learn all sorts of new skills, including making pasta, baking breads, and breaking down whole hogs. I am indebted to Adam for supporting me. Around that time I began having date-night with my wife, Whitney, at The Eddy Pub. We’d sit at table four and I’d tell her, “This is the kind of restaurant I’d like to manage some day.” So, of course, when the owners approached me, I jumped at the opportunity.
What inspires your cooking style and philosophy?
Whitney and I have our own farm and that’s taught me so much about what farmers need from chefs in terms of support to make local sourcing viable. I do a lot of advance planning with area farmers and try to always pitch in and help when they have overage or run into problems that I can help fix. I’m proud to say that we make everything – and I mean EVERYTHING – from scratch using local ingredients, including the buns with local Lindley Mills flour, the eggs and milk for aioli, the mustard, the ketchup, the lettuce, tomato and, of course, the burger and bacon. And that’s just the beginning. Don’t get me started on all the delicious dishes I can make with pig heads!
Why do you use Firsthand Foods meats?
I’ve relied on Firsthand Foods since the beginning. Because I have access to meats raised right here in Saxapahaw from Braeburn Farms and Cane Creek Farm, I use Firsthand Foods as my back-up supply when my uber-local sources run out, and for hard-to-come by primal cuts like NY Strip, and for larger quantities of lesser-known cuts like beef and pig heart. Firsthand Foods makes it easy for chefs to source locally and I just love what ya’ll are doing.