Chef Patrick White says he doesn’t really remember having a passion for cooking when he was young. But he has always loved food. He specifically remembers family moments at Thanksgiving or barbecues, and he says he wasn’t afraid of new tastes, even at a young age.
“I was one of the few kids that wasn’t afraid of trying new things, whether it was like, southern fried quail or okra, or anything like that. I always had a passion for food,” he said.
A Statesboro native, White is the son of Patricia and Jimmie Mikell. His first culinary experiences, other than watching his mother and father, who he says are both great cooks, was in the culinary class at Southeast Bulloch High School. White was involved in FCCLA (Family, Career, Community Leaders of America), and competed in a cooking competition on the regional level, and his team placed second. This took him and the team to the state competition, where they also placed second.
After high school, White attended Ogeechee Technical College as part of the school’s two-year culinary program. He wasn’t able to complete his degree due to issues with his financial aid, he said, but he never let anything quench his thirst for the art of all things culinary.
White says the time he spent at Ogeechee Tech was huge for him, and he learned a great deal while there. He went on to learn from other chefs in various jobs he took, and he learned a lot on his own as well.
“I feel like I’ve taught myself more than most chefs take for granted, and I paid attention a lot,” he said. “I paid attention to the cooking aspect, how you carry yourself as a chef, how you deal with clients, just a little bit of everything that you really have to take serious, just as serious as you take the cooking part. The cooking part is the fun part, but the business and the clientele is probably the most important part. You have to take that serious.”
The journey begins
White began his journey working at the Waffle House, which he calls a true learning experience.
“I was one of those chefs that, I took it serious, so I learned what I could at Waffle House. It was a great starter job,” he said, adding that he doesn’t take any of his jobs or learning experiences for granted.
While at the Waffle House, White says his managers and coworkers valued and appreciated him, so he brought his best to work every day.
“I was working my butt off, doing all the right things. A lot of jobs will take that for granted. This was my first job where they were like, hey, we see you’re doing great, so we’re going to give you a raise,” he said.
White isn’t afraid of hard work, and at one point, he was working in three different restaurants during his time at the Waffle House. He says the pressure of working so much was a “growing thing” for him.
He went several times to Emma’s Restaurant and Lounge to try and apply, as the restaurant had been pointed out as the best in the Boro by people he respected at Ogeechee Tech. His persistence eventually paid off—after several trips there, he finally got to meet Emma’s chef, Jason Scarborough, who hired him as a dishwasher in 2011. He says he knew that Emma’s was the place for him, no matter the position.
“I knew it was the place I wanted to be. I wanted to be amongst the best and learn from the best,” he said.
While at Emma’s, White learned a lot from the staff and the chef. It was a great place to work, he said, because everyone took it serious and was on the same mission.
“It felt like everybody was in one accord. You could kind of see how it all worked together,” he said.
He also was introduced to the concept of farm to table while there, saying it “blew his mind.” The experience made a definite impression, and taught him the importance of taking fresh ingredients and turning them into a great dish.
White worked hard, and moved up the ranks. He recalls the day that Scarborough noticed he was working hard and doing a good job, and told him so.
Once Scarborough left, White was able to move into the saute spot, and then learned to be a sous chef. He found that his experience while at Waffle House really helped him in that role, as he had to work fast. He was able to work on developing specials during that time, and he poured his heart and soul into it. He eventually came up with his own dish.
“I stayed up multiple nights with note pad after note pad trying to come up with that special, with almost no sleep, trying to come up with it,” he said of his first one. It was cornmeal breaded fried catfish fillet, with a tobacco hollandaise sauce, with blackeyed pea succotash and purple potato crispy threads. The special sold out and everyone loved it.
“I was amazed. This is a beautiful expression, this is how I express myself,” he said.
Now, 12 years later, he says this is how he shows his appreciation. “Through my food,” he said.
Emma’s, White says, has been an important part of his journey. Even the negative was a valuable learning opportunity. He recalls when he wore the wrong jacket to work one day. His wife had bought him a chef’s coat that was embroidered with “Executive Chef” and his name, along with the name he’s chosen for his restaurant someday.
When he wore it to Emma’s Scarborough was angry, made him take it off, and demoted him to dishwasher for the day. White says it was a valuable teaching moment, and it influenced him on how to conduct himself, as well as how he teaches and interacts with the young chefs he comes across. It also reminded him of the hard work that it takes to get that title, and that it demands respect.
After Emma’s, White went on to work at the Westin in Savannah, and says he learned amazing things there. This was where he was introduced to mass catering and cooking for truly large groups of people. He also learned how to create a great brunch.
“And they had the best burger I’ve come across too,” he said, laughing.
White says the Westin’s staff took a lot of pride in what they did, and it was not just a “scoop and go” operation. He was honored to be a part of it.
But eventually, he found a position in Bluffton at Sea Pines Resort, where he sampled some of the best food he’s ever eaten. He only worked there for a few months, as the drive became too much. He did move to Bluffton, and began working at Colleton River, a platinum, private golf club.
“Everything they do there is top notch,” he said, adding that the experience there was what he had been looking for, after all he’d learned and how much he’d grown.
“It was next level. That was the perfect spot, as in yes, I have a supervisory position, but at the same time, I’m learning under these great chefs who have 20 or 30 years in the business, so I couldn’t be more happy,” he said of the experience.
Even though White’s professional experiences have taken him from smaller places to the most grand, he says the places he “passed through” to get to the bigger places were just as important to him. They have all helped him to be a chef who can adapt to any situation, something he aspires to.
From public to private
These days, White works as a private chef, and all his guests have to do is “open the door and relax.” He has partnered with Food, Fire & Knives (foodfireknives.com), a company that allows clients to go online, pick a menu and choose a chef who will come to their home or venue, and cook and serve a fantastic meal for them and their guests.
White has menus online on his website, chefpatrickwhite.com, that allow people to choose what they would like for a private party. They can use his website or select him on FF&K’s website. Either way, he shops for all the ingredients, brings everything he needs, prepares the meal and then cleans up afterward.
“It’s one of the best decisions that I’ve made in my career,” he said, of becoming a private chef. “I think this is what was meant to happen, because if I had known about private cheffing before, I may have skipped over one of those restaurants and went straight to private cheffing. But that would have bit me in the butt, because I wouldn’t have the experience I have now. All of my experiences have led me to this.”
As a private chef, White works with corporate catering, event catering, bachelorette parties, and other private events. He can cook for two to 30 people. His new gig gives him something that is very important to him: time with his family.
In the past, working in restaurants, he worked nights and weekends, and holidays. He worked long hours, and missed many family events. Now, he can make his own schedule, and if he needs time off, he can take it, knowing his clientele will be taken care of.
White takes his talent as a chef into his personal life as well, by giving back to the community. He loves to cook for the Boys & Girls Club, and at the local farmers market, and frequently does cooking demos there. He loves being able to do the demos, as he often picks up produce and other items at the market and builds the dish he’ll demo around that, all to show people how they can do the same at home. White says he just loves working with local farmers.
“The farmers and the chefs, we’re on the same mission, especially if you care about quality ingredients. I will always thing that culinary and farmers should be hand in hand,” he said.
White also serves on the Board of Directors at the farmers market, and says he loves being able to help in that way. He adds there is no reason why chefs shouldn’t be out there volunteering their time.
Inspiration in the kitchen
White says his first inspiration was his parents, but he’s also learned from his siblings. He learned from his sisters, who specialize in certain dishes, and his brothers, who also specialize in several things. He’s also been inspired by the different cultures he has been exposed to in the culinary world.
Gordon Ramsay, who many know from the television show, “Hell’s Kitchen,” was inspirational to White as well. He says Ramsay was the first chef he say that “made you think about it.” He also points to the chefs he’s personally worked with, who taught him how to work hard and how to uphold the integrity and professionalism of the job, while maintaining the quality of the food.
He also learned a lot from BJ Dennis, a renowned Gulla Geechee chef.
“He makes the simple things look upscale and it is very inspiring,” White said.
When asked what his specialty is, White hesitates. He’s had such a wide variety of experience, and enjoys so many cultures and their foods, it was hard to choose. But eventually, he decides that Southern American is what he does best.
But he also smiles and says, “I’ve always tried to be a little bit of all around.”
White says that his goal in the coming years is to do pop-up dinners in the area, doing them regularly and themed. He would, he said, invite people to sit down and enjoy a nice meal, and maybe make donations to a cause. He is planning to increase his private chef career by bringing on other chefs and developing his own staff. He is also working on increasing his content on YouTube.
In addition, he is working on two cookbooks, which will be full of experiences, inspiration and recipes. He’s also developing his own line of sauces that he says will “be like nothing you’ve ever seen before.”
This is all in addition to continue working in support of The Teal House, the Boys & Girls Club, Safe Haven and more.
The most important new item in his life — and that of his wife and high school sweetheart Brittany — is the birth of their daughter, who made her entrance at the beginning of this year. The couple has named her M’aaliyah Gianna.
White says he’s never going to lose sight of his main goal: to refine and build his brand and become “THE chef of Statesboro.” But fatherhood, he says, is what it’s all about.
“It’s going to be interesting, trying to be the best dad and the best chef at the same time,” he said. “it’s a beautiful journey.”