Cooking it up with Kali Group's Chef Rashad
Chef Rashad Edwards has three big passions: food, his family, and Baltimore. At just 35, Edwards is one of Charm City's top chefs, creating innovative menus as the executive chef for Kali Restaurant Group -- Kali's Court, Mezze, Meli, and Adela -- for four years.
"I started out as a sous chef. Went up to chef de cuisine and had a little more duties on my plate and then wound up taking over as head chef at Kali's Court. From there I came up to Meli."
At Meli, Edwards says he was able to break ground with a menu that was centered around one ingredient -- honey.
"I built the menu from nothing. Everything is mine, all the recipes and creations. I did a lot of research on honey, and how to pair certain proteins and vegetables with honey. From there we opened up Adela, which took me to Spanish cuisine, and I was studying once again, pairing flavors as I tried to figure out why certain spices and items are used in Spanish cuisine, what makes them work and gives them a unique flavor."
Edwards wasn't always able to let his creativity lead the way, however. Before joining Kali's Court, he was a corporate chef for Whole Foods, a position he quickly grew tired of after just 18 months. He found himself longing for the white tablecloths, the Saturday nights, and New Year's Eves spent amidst the hurly burly of a restaurant kitchen.
"I missed being in the kitchen, creating menus and dealing with seasonal products. I missed being in a restaurant setting, being able to walk out to tables and watch people eating my food," he says.
100 percent local ingredients
Born and raised in Baltimore, Edwards knew he wanted to be a chef from a young age. He attended Baltimore International College and was so anxious to complete the culinary school's two-year Professional Cooking and Baking program that he refused to take a break, attending classes all year round.
"I finished a half year earlier because I was real serious about cooking and starting my culinary career. And, here I am today," he says.
Edwards hadn't planned to stay in Baltimore. He'd dreamed of attending the Culinary Institute of America in New York, but after the birth of his daughter 11 years ago he knew that the demands of the school's rigorous four-year cooking program would prevent him from returning to Baltimore for frequent visits.
"I knew I wouldn't come back until I was done, which meant I'd only see my daughter on holidays. I was that serious about going to culinary school and trying to see how much talent I could pull from myself to become a chef one day," he recalls.
Following his graduation, Edwards was determined not to wind up in the kitchen of some chain restaurant where there is little creativity and opportunity to continue learning.
"I was lucky that I got a job at the Polo Grill during a job fair. It was a confidence booster for me to keep on doing this."
Rising to the top
Staying in Baltimore has obviously worked out, Edwards admits. "Being able to stay and make a name for myself now in Baltimore has been the best thing for me. Looking at my success over the years, how I went from a salad cook to a line cook to a sous chef and a then a regular chef. And now, I'm the chef of the whole group, being in Baltimore the opportunities have been limitless. I'm in my mid-30s now and still have time to express myself through my food. And, my customers can see me grow. Chefs who move to big cities, don't really get that kind of experience."
Baltimore's increasingly more sophisticated and innovative culinary scene keeps Edwards on his toes and excited to see what other chefs around the city are creating.
"When I was in school, many of the best chefs were in D.C. Now, the old guard is gone and I feel like I'm part of the new guard with Bill Crouse, Ted at Jack's Bistro, Jason at Salt. You have a lot of young guys as execs in our 20s and 30s doing great food that people can relate to."
Another good thing about Baltimore, Edwards says, is that each of the city's best chefs has their own style. "You can create a style and then adapt it. And you'll always know when someone is trying to copy your style," he says with a broad smile and a chuckle.
The city's foodies have embraced the fresh talent. "They're not settling for burgers and fries or comfort food. A lot of people are willing to go out on a ledge and that lets us try things like braised pork cheeks and other things that you might not normally eat."
For chefs, creating dishes in Baltimore "is about taking salmon, lamb or another protein and being able to create a different world on a plate. That will keep customers coming back and excited about the food. There are so many different walks of life in Baltimore. You can get whatever you want. That's one of the great things about the city," Edwards continues.
Kali's Group is taking advantage of the city's cultural and culinary diversity to create restaurants that offer diners a variety of experiences.
"You can go to Kali's Court and get the white table cloth, fresh seafood and whole fish. Or go to Mezze and get Mediterranean tapas. And then come to Meli and get American bistro style food. Or go to Adela for Spanish tapas. If you love our food you can dine out four nights a week at one of our restaurants and have something different each time."
Despite his success, Edwards says he's still a work in progress.
"My focus here is creating good food and expanding on my knowledge to make the group even better, so people will want to keep coming back to try new things. I don't know where my future will take me. I know I'm well-known, but I'm still trying to build my name and my presence in Baltimore. I want people to come to Baltimore to see how I'm expressing myself."
His expression begins from the moment diners lay their eyes on the plate. "I like for you to eat with your eyes and then start tasting the different items on the plate. I did a surf and turf recently. A lot of time peas are served with lobster, but instead of having peas rolling around on the plate, I made a truffled English pea emulsion and deconstructed lobster ravioli. A sheet of pasta with lobster on top, parmigiano reggiano cheese and lobster cream sauce."
"I'm very particular about how and where food is placed on the plate. I'm big on height and garnishes. My garnishes are always edible."
The perfect meal
Everyone has a favorite food or two that they'd love to see on a plate, and Edwards is no exception.
"My favorite meal is if someone char-grilled a bone-in veal chop, stuff it with sweet breads with some sort of oxtail demiglace, because I love making demiglace out of oxtails. That is my dish. I would pay if someone would do that," he says grinning broadly.
His favorite protien to work with right now is pork, and more specifically pork cheeks and pork belly.
Edwards says the Kali Group has just begun renovations on the former site of the Admiral's Cup also on Thames Street. Though the restaurant's theme is top secret, he says the emphasis will be on the bar and that it will be something Baltimore has never seen before.
"There are things rolling around in my head for that. A lot of good things."
Walaika Haskins is managing editor of Bmore Media.
Got a comment? Let us know what you think of this story, or suggest a story you'd like to see on the site. Hit us on Twitter, Facebook, or send us an email.