LADY FROMAGE, THE QUEEN OF CHEESE
An Interview with Executive Chef and Columbia’s very own “Cheeseprenuer,” Rosalind Graverson.
by Catherine Hunsinger
Let’s start with the hard-hitting questions…what cheese are you, and why?
Well I did a Buzzfeed test which said I’m Mozzarella, but I’m not convinced that’s right. I would definitely be something with a hard rind, but super creamy once you break through, maybe salty too. My first instinct is Roaring 40’s Blue, one of the only blue cheeses with a wax rind, but oh my god does it melt in your mouth! It’s sometimes sweet, nutty and rich. Well, I’m not rich, but maybe one day!
A little nutty and salty at times...that’s painfully relatable! You were recently promoted to Executive Chef at Lula Drake. When you first stepped into a professional kitchen, did you ever see yourself moving into an Executive Chef role?
Not exactly. I definitely felt comfortable early on. I immediately sought additional positions at multiple restaurants, just so I could learn and soak in everything. I knew that I wouldn’t move up without learning basics of many different cuisines.
Where does your love for all things fromage stem from?
I can’t remember not liking cheese ever, but working at The Gourmet Shop opened up a whole new world of cheeses. I started just making a different cheeseboard every week so that I could try all of them out with different combinations. I won’t lie, I used to make cheeseboards in my bed. But bringing them to hangouts with my friends was always awesome. Spread the cheese love to everyone!
What would you say your primary influences have been so far?
My mother has always been a big influence in the kitchen. She started collecting kitchen gadgets for me while I was in college. When I moved to South Carolina after graduating, I had a fully stocked kitchen! Now that I’ve been working in a kitchen professionally, she constantly sends me ideas or what she’s been cooking at home, asking for input, or giving me some of her tips.
Who else inspires you?
Honestly, MasterChef Junior is probably the most inspiring thing I’ve seen in the past few years. Watching kids who have a huge passion for something while being so young, and then having the skills to back it up is amazing. I wish I had known at such an early age that this was my destiny.
A lot of our generation seems to be coming into their own right now, maybe later than we expected. Does this bring you a little peace, knowing that you’re not alone in your journey?
Yes! After college, I had a steady job, kind of ‘in my field,’ for over five years, but I definitely wasn’t happy in the position. When I left that job I just had no clue what I wanted to do. I worked in sales, banking, marketing, non-profit work, and even embroidery, and nothing ever made me as happy as being in the kitchen. I’ve seen a lot of friends go through the same struggle, looking for that same ‘stability,’ but it turns out, stability is not what we’ve needed to search for. We’ve needed to put ourselves out on our own limbs, take some chances, and hope it pays off. Recently, for me, it has.
Did you/Do you experience “imposter syndrome” in the kitchen?
100% yes. “Fake it ‘til you make it.” It’s only been recently that I’ve started thinking “Okay Ros, you know what you’re doing now.” I have to reassure myself all of the time.
In the restaurant industry, what roles do women traditionally fill?
Before taking on the head chef position at Lula Drake, I had only worked with one woman before. We were both Prep Chefs, so we were basically there to fill volume. I’ve been pretty lucky to see a lot of women in leadership roles in kitchens recently. In the past year, many amazing women have gotten much deserved recognition for their kitchens and restaurants. It gives me a lot to aspire to. Katie Button of Cúrate (Asheville), Mashama Bailey of The Grey (Savannah), and Ashley Christensen of Poole’s Diner (Raleigh) were all nominated for James Beard Awards, and the latter two won their categories. I’ve been lucky enough to eat at all three of their restaurants and it definitely gives me motivation to keep moving forward in this field.
You’ve done some impressive tasting across the Southeast! What dishes stand out the most from your travels?
Lately, Savannah has been my go-to city for all things food. The Country Paté from The Grey is amazing. I’m not really that fond of the texture of paté usually, but theirs was so silky and buttery. It’s probably one of the best things I’ve had this year. Oh, and the Confit Duck Leg from Husk makes my mouth water just thinking about it---and then there were the Stuffed Fried Green Tomatoes at a little hotel bistro and those were practically a sexual experience. I’ve started enjoying food on another level since then.
Many artists look to their dreams as inspiration. Have you ever found food in a dream?
I definitely dream about work almost on a daily basis. Sometimes they’re stress dreams where something ridiculously terrible happens, sometimes I’ll find amazing recipes hidden in those. Occasionally, I’ll go to sleep looking for a recipe or some kind of inspiration, and then there it is! Actually, one of my favorite grilled cheeses was born that way. It was tomato soup soaked bread, prepared french toast style. I didn’t know if it would work and it took a bit of finagling, but it turned out delicious.
Oh yes, I ate that one. It was a grilled cheese dream, for sure. So, if you could only eat three cheeses for eternity, which would they be?
Well that is not a fair question, I love cheese too much, but I’ll do my best. The first would definitely be Délice de Bourgogne, a triple creme Brie from France. It’s the creamiest cheese I’ve ever had and it can be super tangy too. The other two would probably be Black Label Cambozola, a combination of Camembert and Gorgonzola (yum), and Cypress Grove’s Midnight Moon, a goat milk Gouda.
Fortunately, for Chef Ros, it seems she’ll be working with some of the world’s best cheeses for some time. Be sure to check out her newly launched menu, along with wine to pair, at Lula Drake Wine Parlour | 1635 Main St.