- Deacon Ovall
Deacon Ovall only ever wanted one thing — to be a chef. As a child, he'd watch old cooking shows like The Frugal Gourmet and The Cajun Cook, fascinated by life inside the kitchen. Now, as executive chef at Charlotte's new Tavolo Italian Restaurant, Ovall has accomplished his goal but along the way came to realized there's a lot more to being a chef than just making great food.
Life inside the restaurant industry can be extremely fast-paced and hectic. Time is always a factor and there's a strict hierarchy. Only the strong survive, and the only measurables of success are respect and results.
What's more, the pressures don't stop once you clock out. Underlying pitfalls like drugs and alcohol have been known to sidetrack the careers of many young chefs. But not Ovall. He's pushed passed the pressures to become one of the top chefs in the city and is now serving delicious Italian food at one of Uptown's newest gems.
We chopped it up with Ovall to find out what he thinks is the difference between a good cook and a great chef.
Creative Loafing: You've worked as a chef in several other restaurants before landing at Tavolo. What's different this time around?
Deacon: The difference is my maturity. I literally started cooking when I was in fifth grade, trained in food service in high school and then straight from high school started cooking professionally. In that time I learned a lot of technical skills and was making great food but I lacked a lot of maturity and confidence in what I was doing.
We all know the kind of asshole cook on the line, cussing out the servers. I hate to say it, but I was that guy. I was cooking but I wasn't satisfied. I knew I wanted to do something different so that's when I decided to go back to school and formally train in culinary arts.
School was pretty easy for me because I'd already been working professionally, so I had that advantage, but at the same time it gave me more skills and increased my knowledge and palette. From there my perception changed. My confidence grew, which made me a better leader. Before, I wasn't quite there yet. This time around I'm more mature and I'm more confident, which has made me a better leader and a better chef.
What can people expect when they visit Tavolo for the first time? Is it anything like Cosmos was?
Tavolo is a full-service, family-friendly, traditional Italian restaurant serving all your favorites like spagetti and meatballs and lasagna and other classics, as well as fresh, handmade craft beverages right in the heart of Uptown. As executive chef, I helped create our menu and we are really excited to offer the delicious traditional Italian food people grew up with in an area where it wasn't available before.
Our restaurant is a totally separate concept from our predecessors and gives Charlotteans a new choice for their next family meal, special occasion or event. We're looking forward to a great spring and summer and will be offering special seasonal dishes along with refreshing cocktails as the tempratures rise.
It's kind of a taboo topic but you've witnessed some of the pitfalls behind the scenes in the culinary world — like drug and alcohol abuse. What advice would you give to aspiring culinary pros on avoiding those things?
Unfortunately, some people do get caught up in that stuff. Every industry has its pros and cons but it goes back to maturity and setting goals for yourself. I had no idea I'd be an executive chef in Charlotte when I was a young kid in Ohio. I just knew I wanted to cook. I set a goal early and I accomplished it and grew in the process. My advice would be: Get your priorities right. Don't lose sight of your ending goals and don't get lost in the demons that lie underneath the restaurant industry.