Rob McDaniel has been the executive chef at SpringHouse on Lake Martin since it opened in 2009, but he still enjoys watching the restaurant inhale and exhale with every service.
McDaniel is often the first person in the restaurant. He flips the lights, fires up the cooking area and watches it wake up. The staff arrives, the plan is developed, the tables are set and the first customers start to arrive.
The momentum and the adrenaline builds with each order, more customers arrive, service reaches a peak and then the pace gradually slows.
McDaniel knows how to keep breathing in this environment. His respiration and perspiration have led him to a fifth straight year of being nominated as a semifinalist for “Best Chef: South” by the James Beard Foundation Awards. He is one of four Alabama chefs in the mix, along with Bill Briand of Fisher’s Upstairs in Orange Beach, David Bancroft of Auburn’s Acre and Timothy Hontzas of Johnny’s Restaurant in Homewood.
“It’s the fifth year I’ve been chosen and every year it’s just as big of an honor,” McDaniel said. “Just to be recognized for what we do. It will always be that – an honor and something we hold very near and dear to our heart.”
McDaniel thought he would become a chiropractor, like his grandfather. His grandfather cautioned him, telling him it’s a lot of hard work and long hours so he should only do it if he loved it.
Instead, McDaniel found his own passion and breathes it in every day. But he doesn’t do it alone.
“I’m only one person and this James Beard Award is not on me, it’s on the staff that we have here, because I can’t do it without them,” he said. “I can’t feed 250-300 people on a Friday and Saturday night in the middle of summer by myself.”
McDaniel developed his culinary chops as sous chef for Chris Hastings of Birmingham’s Hot and Hot Fish Club. He was at Hastings’ side in their defeat of Bobby Flay on the Food Network’s “Iron Chef America” competition.
He’s tasted victory before. He will find out soon enough whether he will be able to do so again.
Just don’t forget to exhale.