Joe Truex is a Southern guy, true and through – and he’s managed to intermingle his rich Louisiana background with his French-trained professional career. A graduate of The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, Truex worked at Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Le Cirque New York under Forbes Travel Guide Tastemaker Daniel Boulud. Before he arrived at his current post at Watershed on Peachtree in Atlanta, he was the chef at Repast (now closed), and prior to that, he cooked at restaurants and hotels in Basel, Switzerland, Las Vegas and New York City.
The combination of Southern heritage and worldly experience has resulted in a menu that perfectly fits Watershed on Peachtree’s status as a see-and-be-seen restaurant. Much of what you’ll find at this restaurant (which is a new iteration of a longtime Decatur favorite, Watershed, that closed in August 2011 and reopened in Buckhead in May 2012), is happiness on a plate. But it’s not what you might expect for an eatery with a clear Dixie influence; not everything is deep-fried. And not everything is flavored with bacon. In fact, one of the best things on the menu is the veggie plate, which changes daily, and the pimento cheese cornbread is a must try. Here, you’ll dine on one of the finest Cobb salads around (with pulled ham hock to set it apart from other variations), and you’ll also find amazing items like the white truffle chicken salad sandwich, fried pimento cheese sandwich with tomato basil soup and bone-in pork chops.
The busy chef took a few minutes to chat with Forbes Travel Guide about his new venture.
What made you want to open your new restaurant in Buckhead?
An opportunity presented itself to me to partner with the owners, Ross Jones and Emily Saliers [who also is known for her work as a member of the folk-rock duo Indigo Girls] — they’d been friends and supporters of mine at a restaurant that I used to own called Repast. It seemed like a really natural thing. I’m a southern boy at heart. I grew up in the deep South, in Louisiana, and I had been exposed to a lot of different culinary training in my career. Watershed on Peachtree has these deep roots that are based in the South, and for me it was an opportunity as a chef to claim my Southernness and go in that direction.
The ingredients that you use are things we might find in any Southern grandmother’s kitchen, but with a gourmet chef twist.
That’s a great way to look at it! That’s my training. That’s who I am professionally, right? I went to culinary school and I’ve got this really classical training and that’s part of my identity as a professional chef. As a human being, I’m from this small town, and I see ingredients differently.
You’ve put your own spin on what is essentially a straightforward, Southern menu. Where did you start?
I had already established my name doing this kind of sophisticated food with a French/Japanese angle, but I knew where I wanted to go with it — I wanted to get back home, and this restaurant’s menu was the chance for me to do that. Watershed has always been a chef-driven restaurant [the restaurant’s previous chef, Scott Peacock, was at the menu’s helm for 11 years], so I needed to redefine myself as a chef and I did. I started writing a menu that’s close to me, that took me back … I started looking at purple hull peas in a way I never did.
I like to eat the grease and all the good stuff, too! I’m not one of these chefs who thinks bacon makes everything better. I think bacon makes everything taste like bacon. I love bacon, but I use it very sparingly, but when I use it, you know, you really get the bacon sense. So we created this new Watershed, where it’s got this kind of a culinary feel of Louisiana, but it’s still definitely going to always lean to French.
Photos Courtesy of Letter B Creative