Usually the decisions we make are small, like choosing Daft Punk over deadmau5 (obviously the right choice), or agonizing between stuffed French toast and eggs Benedict at brunch.
Hannah Carr made a decision a couple of years ago that turned out to be pretty important. After toiling at a Tennessee university as a political science major, she decided to do something less conventional: she became a professional chef. Since then, she's spent a year crafting pastries at Fern: Flavors from the Garden (1323 Central Ave.), and she's done things with its dessert menu you wouldn't believe came from the mind of someone who used to spend her time writing 20-page papers about the Weimar Republic.
Creative Loafing: We happen to know you're a self-admitted carnivore. Does that influence what you're making at Fern, a vegetarian restaurant?
Hannah Carr: I would definitely say so. One of the first dishes I created was the whiskey sour pie, which was like a key lime pie custard but with lemon, a gingerbread crust and a bourbon salted caramel. I really like putting savory sweetness into things, because I do like dessert but ... I like that juxtaposition between salty and sweet and having a dessert that doesn't just feel like a sugar bomb. You want something that's flavorful and almost like a palette cleanser.
What made you go from studying political science to becoming a chef?
When I failed out of college the first time, I thought 'Shit, what am I gonna do?' So I thought about it and I was like, 'Why don't I try my hand at doing the thing I actually like doing?' I just kind of loved it immediately. I remember [my friend] James and I were talking about it right before I started and he had just gone with me to help me get my books and my knife kit for the first time. I was just so excited, unwrapping the knives ... and he said, 'Hannah, you have never been that excited about getting books.' (laughs)
Tell me about the new Fern sundae you recently premiered for your dessert menu.
Basically, I saw Thomas Keller's brownie recipe and was like, fuck yeah, brownies. I was thinking, 'Well OK, ice cream and warm brownie. Where do you go with that?' And then I remembered Alton Brown had posted a question [about Cherry Garcia ice cream]: 'How do I keep the cherry bits from freezing?' And he said, 'Soak them in bourbon.' So I said, alright, I'm going to do bourbon-soaked cherry vanilla ice cream, dark chocolate brownie, and then I figured out the bourbon caramel. I just added the cherry juice that was already going to be used. Then, because it was so close to a sundae, I went with fried banana chips. I wanted something a little crunchy, something a little different. The banana chips turned out to be the key to making it really special.