Thursday, November 13, 2008

American Classics Spotlight: Chef Shannon Overmiller

I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to cook with Chef Shannon Overmiller on our American Classics episode. Not only is Shannon a fabulous chef, but she has a great attitude. Chef Shannon works at The Majestic, a restaurant specializing in Virginia-fare menu. She is young and part of a team of women running the fourth project in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, by Chef Cathal Armstrong and wife Meshelle of nationally acclaimed Restaurant Eve.

Overmiller’s childhood greatly influenced her culinary career and her Mid-Atlantic background continues to shine through her cuisine today. Growing up near the Patuxent River in Maryland, Overmiller gained a great deal of knowledge of food from her father and a group of women including her mother and grandmothers. Although her parents and grandparents passed early on in her life, they instilled a sense of love for life in her. Overmiller was taught an early love of cooking from the “beautiful, loving group of women,” that helped to raise her. It is this love that continues to drive Overmiller in the kitchen today.

Overmiller began her professional career as a bartender and waitress at Proximo Restaurant Group’s Austin Grill in Washington, DC. Realizing she craved more experience in the kitchen, she then made the shift to CafĂ© Atlantico, also part of Proximo, where she worked as a line cook while attending the esteemed L’Academie de Cuisine in Maryland. In 2002, she graduated and accepted a position at Ristorante Tosca under the direction of Chef/Owner Cesare Lafranconi. At Tosca, she quickly moved her way up from Line Cook to Pastry Chef to Sous Chef. With a desire to broaden her experience after spending three years at Tosca, Lanfranconi made a phone call to Chef/Owner Cathal Armstrong on Overmiller’s behalf, which brought her to Restaurant Eve in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia. Chef Armstrong’s leadership taught Overmiller about the importance of local vendors and sourcing from local farms, along with honing in on her technical culinary skills. Armstrong added French techniques to Overmiller’s Italian preparation, and soon she found a balance between both of her mentors’ skills.

As a 2004 Jean-Louis Palladin Foundation award recipient, Overmiller had the opportunity of a lifetime to travel to Italy and learn about ingredients and cooking techniques. She has proven herself in many kitchens and now, as the Executive Chef at the latest addition to the Armstrong’s projects, which opened in May 2007, Overmiller continues to use the skills she has developed throughout the years.

What are some of the challenges you face now?

Some exciting challenges I've encountered are learning to Manage a staff and keep a restaurant profitable and the product good. Overall Supervision of product, production, people, and daily maintennance in a constant battle (for the good of all food-kind) The cooking part is no longer the challenge, it is teaching it, getting others to respect the food truly.

Anything else that you'd like to convey to the readers?

Eat well and fresh, local, seasonal. Don't change food too much from what it is, keep it simple and clean!

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