Meet Chef AJ, Our New Executive Chef!

If you’ve been to the restaurant in the last couple of weeks, you may have noticed that we have a new Executive Chef on our team! Last month, we were pleased to welcome Chef AJ to Rootstock and Vine!

Chef AJ brings over 17 years in the industry to our wine and tapas bar, with previous history at Ray’s on the River, The Sundial, Reynold’s Plantation and SOHO.

After our initial meeting with AJ regarding the needs in the kitchen and our future plans for Rootstock & Vine, we knew she was an amazing fit. We immediately connected and felt at ease that she was cut out for this position!! She brings exciting culinary talent, a complete understanding of our vision and a cool, calm, collective demeanor that are welcomed attributes and vital to the success of our business.

Learn more about AJ and why we’re thrilled to have her culinary skill join the Rootstock and Vine team!

What’s Your Background?

I’ve always had an interest in cooking. I started working at Chick-Fil-A, and while there, I started in the kitchen squeezing lemons and worked my way up to manager. I went to culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu here in Atlanta, and had a great group of people that helped push me to reach my goals. It was an encouraging but competitive environment. After graduating, I spent a year in Arizona learning about Native American and Southwestern cuisine. I was working for a resort out there, and I also learned techniques for baking and pastries working with an executive pastry chef.

I came back to Georgia and worked for Reynold’s Plantation, doing everything from baking, creating pastries, working banquets, weddings, wine dinners, and working in the restaurants. After Reynold’s Plantation, I worked for the SunDial and was promoted to Sous Chef while there. I helped completely revamp the restaurant, rewriting the menus with the Executive Chef at the time. Then, I was offered a Sous Chef position at Ray’s on the River, and I was there for four years. By the time I left, I was Head Chef.

What brought you to Rootstock and Vine? Why do you love being part of the team?

Rootstock’s Sous Chef, Jake and I worked together previously, and he reached out to me to let me know that they had an open position. After working at Ray’s, I was taking some time off and was doing some catering on the side, and he encouraged me to come and meet Sean and Anna.

When I did, I fell in love with the atmosphere, Anna and Sean and their vision. We’re in sync in terms of what their vision is and what I want to create. I’ve really enjoyed my first few weeks here.

I’d love to strike a balance between tapas and fuller entrees. Having dishes that people identify with–for me, food should have a visceral response. Food can remind you of something positive in your life. I don’t want people focusing on the portion, rather, I want them to say, “Wow, this reminds me of my Mom’s bread pudding,” or “remember that time we went to the beach and had that delicious snapper?” Food should be reminiscent of people, places and memories.

What dishes do you love to create?

I tell people I’m French-trained, Southern-at-heart and Native-American inspired.

What are you most looking forward to creating at Rootstock?

I’d love to create more entrees so that our guests can have more options for lunch and dinner. Also, more desserts! And using local companies and ingredients for both whenever possible.

Anything you want to try that you haven’t created yet?

I’m always experimenting. I never have any one thing in mind. I very much cook from emotion; from a feeling. Some days it’s like, “I really want to work with halibut,” or I focus on what’s in season, or what’s presented to me. I always want to work with what’s local and what’s freshest and being able to put a new twist on it, and not having anything to go waste.

I depend on conversations with my vendors a lot about what’s fresh, what’s in season, what’s coming up, and I kind of play with ingredients from there. The kitchen crew at Rootstock are young and hungry and have a desire to learn. I love that I have the opportunity to teach them new skills and techniques in the kitchen.

What’s Your Favorite Thing About Downtown Woodstock?

It seems like the people in this community are fun! Being able to interact with people right in the heart of Woodstock is great—the people seem laid-back, and I especially enjoyed seeing everyone during Friday Night Live’s May the Fourth Star Wars event!

We proudly welcome Chef AJ to our family at Rootstock & Vine!

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