One of Aaron Ward's most memorable experiences was working with "a chef who was from Amsterdam, a total loon" who had admirably "forgotten more than other chefs will ever know." The same could be said of Ward. Although his hometown of Salisbury is far from Amsterdam, his years working as everything from server to general manager in a smattering of high-end haunts (Upstream, Coco Osteria, and Ruth's Chris Steak House are just a few of them) have won him a distinction as a well-known player on Charlotte's foodie scene.
Creative Loafing: As a born and bred North Carolinian, has your upbringing influenced how you've experienced the culinary world?
Aaron Ward: I grew up in a large Southern family, and I had to do a fair amount of cooking for them. I love all the Southern classics; sweet potatoes, all the fried food, like country fried steak and whole fried catfish. It's because I love it that I don't do it much. I love to go to Charleston for the fried seafood, and locally, I think Mert's does a great job. I also love the culinary side of it, the technical side. Working for Italians for so many years, I'm a huge fan of Italian food because it reminds me of Southern cooking. It's simple, humble food, mostly peasant-based cuisine, although dressed up to a major degree now.
You've worked in so many facets of the food and beverage industry. Have any of the positions you've held posed unprecedented challenges?
Bartending is a blast, but it traditionally requires you to have a very gregarious personality. There's that old adage of a customer sitting down at the bar and having the bartender ask you how you're doing and basically getting you through your worries. I have a more analytical personality, so my bartending style is a little different. However, I can now make an awesome margarita and a very mean martini.
What are the reasons you recently went from being a manager [at Ruth's Chris in SouthPark and Mortimer's at the EpiCentre] to a server [at Ruth's Chris in Uptown]?
I was starting to feel burned out. I truly love the restaurant world, though. I'm a big fan of the eating local movement. It has such a massive reach from a green standpoint, supporting local farmers, maintaining tradition, teaching people how to respect the earth, and being appreciative for the pig that gave its life so I could have my bacon. If I could open my own place, casual's definitely the way I would go; fine dining is so difficult. For me, it would be Southern cuisine, simple food, roasting whole pigs out back, things like that. You don't see that anymore; everything is so processed and mechanized. It's good to see real quality food.