Chef Abby McAllister
Chef Abby McAllister- Account Executive at Stillwater Provisions
Abby McAllister is an account executive at Stillwater Provisions, a food brokerage company based out of Virginia. She provides connections between various brands and our local foodservice providers.
Your favorite ingredient: Zest, any variety really. I enjoy the freshness it brings to both sweet and savory dishes.
Favorite dish to cook at home: If I’m cooking for myself, I like a steak. Usually I’ll splurge on a nice big cut from a local farm, and cook it to medium-rare in my cast iron skillet. I prefer either crispy roasted brussel sprouts or fingerling potatoes on the side… and a glass of Irish whiskey, of course.
Most essential kitchen item: I love my cast iron collection. I was fortunate enough to work at Le Creuset for a short while. So, I stocked up while I had the discount! Aside from that, my chef’s knife and small offset spatula are essential!
Guilty pleasure snack or dish: On the rare occasion that I visit family in Chicago, the first stop I hit after getting off of the plane or out of the car is White Castle. Yes, they have burgers in the freezer aisle anywhere now, but they’re just not the same.
Meet Chef Abby McAllister
Explain your background and how you got into the culinary scene
My first job in food was when I was 16. A coffee house/café opened close to my house, where I was a barista and cook. A typical day consisted of baking pastries (unfortunately not from scratch) and preparing café sandwiches, soups, and salads. From there, I continued to work in cafés and eventually went to culinary school to study pastry arts.
A passion for food …
Who influenced your love for food?
My grandmother, first and foremost. I remember baking all sorts of holiday cookies with her. We would spend all day in the kitchen. In hindsight, I’m not sure where she thought those cookies were going— seriously you would have thought we were cooking for an army, and most of them were the size of your palm! Though she wouldn’t consider herself much of a cook, my mother certainly shares the responsibility of introducing me to cooking.
My favorite holiday to this day is St Patrick’s Day, not only because we are a very large Irish family, but because I can remember my mom cooking dinner for everyone. Almost like a second Thanksgiving, there’s no gifts, just family time and great food.
What do you love most about food?
I love that in cooking, when you want to create something originally from another culture, you are forced to learn about it. If I want to cook something that is outside of my customs, I need to pick up a book and learn about it. I need to understand the history of those ingredients, so that I may use the correct ingredients, and the history of how it was cooked so that I might cook it correctly. It’s all done that way so you can properly pay tribute to that culture and do the dish justice. To me that’s really something unique.
Working for a food brokerage company …
How has becoming a broker challenged you?
Certainly learning the brokerage business in general is a challenge in itself. Having worked in restaurants as a chef, and then in distribution, I was somewhat familiar with what brokers did, and this was a natural progression for my career. Since joining the business, I can see they do much more than meets the eye!
What is your favorite thing about working for a food brokerage company?
My favorite part is definitely getting to cook for others and sharing what’s trending in our industry. A lot of times, food trends take a while to get to the Blue Ridge, even DC! So, because I represent some national brands, I get to stay on top of the latest and greatest trendy dishes! I love when we are engaging face to face, especially when demonstrating at something like a food show. We’re a very passionate bunch, chefs, and it’s always great to have us all in one place talking about the things we love and brainstorming!
What is the local movement behind buying local …
How do you feel about locally sourced, home-grown ingredients and the movement behind buying local?
I’m sure it’s clear by now that I feel pretty good about it, haha!! In short, I would say that in this region we each have a responsibility to support the abundance of agriculture we have access to. Go to the grocery store and then research your local farms and tell me you couldn’t have purchased a better product for the same price!
Yes, it may take some time for all of that research and footwork at first. But, eventually you’ll shop at the farmers’ market like a pro and spend LESS money. Partner with your neighbors, buy a full cow together, and invest in a chest freezer. Maybe that cow share also includes milk every week!
Purchase a CSA share from your local produce farmer, and share any extra items with your neighbors and family. You just don’t know until you try to live that way. I think there’s a preconceived notion that buying local is always more expensive and only well-to-do people can afford it. It’s just not true. Your products last longer, and get eaten because they’re delicious! So in turn, you cut down on food (money!) wasted, and you’re doing what’s right for your local economy and farms.
How to move forward with buying local?
A step that may be more approachable at first; support restaurants that use local ingredients. Does every ingredient have to be local? No. But if they have even one item on their menu that’s local, order it! Show them that you support that direction.
It’s easy to point fingers at your elected officials to ask what they’re doing for our nation’s farmers… but what are we doing in our own backyards?