Using her 25 years of globetrotting as inspiration, Chef Deborah VanTrece serves up internationally informed soul food each and every day at her Atlanta restaurant, Twisted Soul Cookhouse & Pours.
Prior to opening Twisted Soul in 2014, VanTrece owned a small restaurant and catering operation in East Atlanta and was a cook for several foreign dignitaries and international executives during the 1996 Olympic Games. Here, she earned regional acclaim for her mastery of international techniques and flavors.
Since VanTrece’s opening of Twisted Soul, the restaurant has been featured on Cooking Channel’s “Late Nite Eats” and Genius Kitchen’s “Carnivorous.” VanTrece has also been recognized as one of Zagat’s most “badass female chefs.” As you can tell, Chef Deborah is one busy woman, so we were thrilled she took the time to chat with us about her soulful approach to seafood.
Tell us about yourself and your background as a chef.
My culinary career spans 20-plus years. I was a culinary student at the Art Institute of Atlanta, where I graduated with honors and also was the valedictorian of my class. As a former international flight attendant, I have been blessed with opportunities to experience food all over the world. My cuisine of choice is soul food – the soul food of different cultures, as I experienced them. In my opinion, every culture has a soul and I seek to learn and reinterpret the soulful cuisines of the world we live in.
What is your favorite way to cook seafood, and what is your favorite seafood dish to make (either at work or in your spare time)?
My favorite way to cook seafood is smoking it. Coming from Kansas City, I have an affinity to anything in the barbecue realm, so it’s just natural that I am drawn to the combination of seafood and smoke. My favorite seafood dish would be smoked salmon croquettes. I have great memories of waking up to a breakfast of salmon croquettes and grits. My grandmother’s recipe called for pink canned salmon, but my updated version – with fresh salmon that is smoked – has pleased many a crowd.
Many aspiring seafood chefs are intimidated by the thought of cooking seafood at home. What is your advice to them? Can you share any tips for seafood prep?
For aspiring seafood chefs, I say don’t be afraid to experiment. There is so much seafood to choose from. Between the different textures and different flavor profiles, there is something to please any palate. I suggest going to your local fresh markets and buying small amounts of different seafood and just having fun. Try different spices, different herbs, different sauces. Different seafood preparations are found all over the world. There is no wrong or right way. Just be sure to start with fresh product that does not smell fishy and don’t be afraid to ask your seafood purveyor questions: Where did the fish come from? What are the suggested cooking techniques? What does it pair well with?
In your opinion, what is the biggest misconception about seafood?
I think there’s a common misconception that the more-inexpensive fish is not good for you. That’s simply not true. There are many fresh and frozen options that come from sustainable sources and are quite good in quality. Seafood is a great source of healthy protein. Do your research when making choices, but know that seafood is one of the healthiest options available.
What’s your favorite thing to eat at your restaurant Twisted Soul Cookhouse?
Of course, my favorite thing to eat at my restaurant constantly changes, but it is always going to be some type of seafood. I am older, so having a balanced diet with healthy options is important to me. I find I can enjoy decadent seafood dishes without the guilt. Presently, my favorite dish is the candied salmon belly bacon, with creamed corn risotto and crispy Brussels sprouts. It’s made with one of the least-used and most-inexpensive parts of the salmon. It’s versatile and, more important, it’s yummy!