Meet the Chef: Allyson Smith sidesteps poli-sci career to preside over the kitchen at Scottie’s on the River

Alison Smith, executive chef at Scotty on the River, did not attend culinary school. In fact, she majored in political science at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and at one time was the president of the university’s political science club. But she loved cooking and found herself drawn to studying the political and economic effects of food rather than politics and government.

“I was a bartender at the time and begged my superiors to let me start serving a seasonal local menu,” she says. “I always wanted to be a chef, even though I was studying to be a lawyer and eventually a Secretary of State or a Supreme Court justice.”

She’s been at Scotty’s since it opened in summer 2018, and although she previously aspired to the Supreme Court, she says she is still “shocked” at her CEO position. Here, she talks about her family’s influence on her love of cooking and the best part about being a chef.

Q: Are you from a family of chefs?

a: Both my parents and both sets of grandparents were great chefs. Everyone in my family loves the food, good cocktails and a great dining experience. My parents encouraged me to cook, but most importantly they also taught me how to enjoy food.

Q: What is the best part of your job?

a: I think any chef would agree that he makes the food. But I also enjoy the happy faces of people eating my food in the restaurant and the cold beer after a crazy Saturday in which the line and I were killed.

Q: You work in a male-dominated field, how do you encourage young women who want to pursue a career in cooking?

a: I enjoy teaching a little of my knowledge and creativity to my younger streak’s chefs, especially young women who show an interest in the kitchen. Even if they aren’t necessarily interested in cooking on a hot streak in the summer or learning how to properly hold a knife, I do my best to inspire a little confidence and determination one needs in the industry.

if you go

if you go

Venue: Scotty on the River, 491 Riverfront Parkway

– Hours of Operation: 11 AM – 9 PM from Sunday to Thursday, 11 AM to 10 PM from Friday to Saturday

– Entree price range: $14 – $54

– Tel: 423-269-7487

Online: ScottiesOnTheRiver.net

Q: Do you see more women pursuing careers in cooking?

a: I am so proud to see more and more women become chefs. Overall, I am optimistic about the future of our industry and look forward to these new sets of challenges that we face.

Q: How has the pandemic affected your career?

a: Life is a little different since the pandemic. There are good days and bad days, but I’m excited to see the long-term effects of the pandemic on the restaurant business – good and bad. It will be interesting to see how the industry will maintain higher wages as restaurants need to compete for staff.

Q: What food trend do you think is interesting right now?

a: Food trends are great to read about and watch on TV, but I think I always fall behind with a year. I always enjoy simple and fresh foods that are led by chefs.

Q: Who are the people who will sit at the table for your dream dinner?

a: Former Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, musician Danny Carey and political activist Stacey Abrams.

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Staff photo by Troy Stolt/Alison Smith, Executive Chef at Scotty on the River.

Q: What is your favorite food city outside of Chattanooga?

a: Chicago. It has a great atmosphere. But I enjoyed dinner all over the world. Chattanooga, though, has an inspiring lineup of chefs and there are few, if any, places I wouldn’t recommend.

Q: Describe the list in Scotty.

a: Elevated American cuisine in a casual atmosphere. Scotty serves mostly steak and seafood. I would recommend the New Bedford sea scallops – nothing fancy, just giant sea scallops seared and glazed with Sriracha honey.

Q: What is your favorite dish to prepare?

a: My all time favorite recipe is linguine with clam sauce. It’s been a work in progress since I was 15 and upping the carbs at swim meet. I think I’ve almost mastered it, and I make that special sometimes in my Scotty.

Linguine with clam sauce

3 cups shallots, diced

3 cups yellow onion, cut into cubes

1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 cup minced garlic

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1/2 cup chopped garlic

12 anchovies, chopped

16 ounces Pinot Grigio

12 ounces clam juice (bottled or from canned clams, below)

1 tablespoon dried thyme

Salt and pepper to taste

4 cans chopped oysters, drained

1 pound linguine, cooked in very salted water (reserve 1/2 cup pasta water)

1/4 pound cold, unsalted butter, cut into cubes

2 cups freshly chopped Italian parsley

grated parmesan cheese

Over medium-high heat, cook chopped onions and yellow onions in olive oil. Add minced garlic, reduce to medium heat and caramelize vegetables until amber. Add crushed red pepper, chopped garlic and anchovies. Stir until the anchovies melt. Add the wine and reduce until it evaporates. Add clam juice and reduce by half. Add thyme, salt and pepper. Add oysters and cook until completely heated up. Add the cooked linguine, ½ cup pasta water, and cold butter. Stir over low heat until the sauce thickens and covers the pasta. Add fresh parsley. Garnish with as much Parmesan cheese as you like, and serve with pretty dry rosehip, if desired.

Contact Anne Braly at abraly@timesfreepress.com or at annebraly.com.

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