Nashville’s chefs show us where they recharge at home

Story by Jim Myers
Photography by Pam Monaghan

Professional restaurant kitchens are epicenters of nightly battles. What looks like chaos is really a well-trained team executing the orders of a general, the executive chef. At least that’s how it’s supposed to work.

Sometimes the chaos is real, the scars from flames and blades are real, and the deep collective exhale of the cooks, chefs and dishwashers at the end of the evening are a signal of relief.

While the young and restless might take to the bars where other battle-weary comrades gather, the seasoned chefs go home. Home is everything it should be — respite, sanctuary, battery charger.

What is amazing is how many chefs actually like to cook at home. They carry a dominant gene for hospitality, and they find joy and purpose in cooking for friends.

They remind us that a professional cook can cook anywhere, from a small galley kitchen to a pile of coals in the backyard. While it’s nice to have the latest in gas-range hardware, there’s beauty in a simple stove with a deft hand in control.

We were fortunate to be invited into the homes of three notable Nashville chefs, to see the private spaces that they usually reserve for close friends and family. These are important spaces to them, where they get to do just what they want to do — at least until the next day’s gauntlet of service.

These are their welcome homes.

Jason Brumm

After opening radius10, one of the pioneering restaurants of the now-crowded and booming Gulch area, Jason Brumm took his talents westward, as in Denver and Park City, Utah. Coming back to Nashville, he wanted to end up close to his children’s school, and he chose a gated community off of West End Avenue.

“I like how I can get anywhere from there pretty easily, with immediate access to I-440,” says Brumm, spooning out some of the signature beer-cheese sauce that will accompany homemade pretzels and sausages at his latest venture, Von Elrod’s, adjacent to First Tennessee Field in Germantown and ground central for Oktoberfest.

His home kitchen has also been his epicenter for recipe development, though he admits he grinds and stuffs his sausages elsewhere.

“We love this house. We have a great bonus room upstairs that the kids love, and after a rough week, I crank the air down to 72 degrees, turn on the television and melt into my chair. I just want to nest and chill,” he says, laughing.

Another bonus is an office off the master bedroom where his wife, Sherri, runs her Caribbean property management company.

Brumm makes the kids a hot breakfast each morning, but his real home cooking comes when he and his wife entertain friends, sometimes three to four times a month. For that, everyone either crowds into the kitchen or heads outdoors where he keeps his garden of herbs, peppers and other essentials.

“Hanging with our friends makes me feel normal again,” says Brumm, whose new restaurant opens this fall.

Margot McCormack

Another restaurant pioneer, Margot McCormack practically anchored the renaissance of East Nashville when she opened her eponymous eatery in Five Points, and then her chic market, Marche, just down the hill.

It’s no surprise, then, that she and her wife, Heather Parsons McCormack, who manages the house fronts, chose a charming cottage in East Nashville close to their other “homes.”

“With just two nights off, we like to be home,” says Margot McCormack, seated at a large kitchen table strewn with books, notepads and a computer.

She enjoys cooking for her son and having friends over for small-scale dinners. While she admits Heather cooks, as well, she marvels at how many pots Heather might use for a single meal, shaking her head.

“When you think about it, running a restaurant is really entertaining every night. It’s something I enjoy, obviously, but at home, it’s more relaxing to entertain. We’re not super-fancy,” Margot McCormack says.

Much of the decor is dominated by her young son’s toys, but the artwork hints at a love for Cape Cod and the beach — fitting for the cottage feel of the home. “We go there every summer, so we try to keep a little of it here, too.”

Nick Hertel

With two “fluffy dogs” and a penchant for Scandinavian design, Nick Hertel is working to transform his “fixer-upper 1950s ranch” nestled in the bottoms near Shelby Park. He also likes that he can bike from home to his chef residence, Merchant’s, in downtown Nashville. Given traffic and parking, it’s an enviable and logical two-wheel commute.

Hertel grew up a Navy brat, traveling with his family to ports around the world and developing a serious and persistent travel bug. His walls speak of faraway places, like a collection Japanese masks, and of a design ethos rooted in Finland and Sweden. He’s also found inspiration in South America and other points of Southeast Asia.

When home, though, reading is his escape from the rush of a busy dinner service. He might curl in a comfortable chair or hide in the pop-up camper out back that he lives out of while road tripping.

His other escape comes on four wheels at skateboard parks, which, outside of an adrenaline-fueled night at the stoves and combi ovens, might be the perfect endorphin replacement for a chef who might just have only two speeds: rush or read.