Annabelle Forrestal, exec chef of Vine Street, Mountain Sun Pub and Southern Sun, on food critics, the French Laundry and hot sauce
Six words to describe your food: Classic, fresh, thoughtful, comforting, local and unique.
Ten words to describe you: Perceptive, observant, optimistic, independent, stubborn, playful, caring, happy, passionate and determined.
Best recent food find: The homemade pasta at Patsy's Inn is unlike any pasta I've ever had. Now I know what authentic Italian pasta tastes like -- and it's a gem.
Favorite ingredient: The beet. You can roast it, poach it, pickle it, purée it, and eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Every time I peel back the skin, I'm so amazed by its beauty that I end up photographing it. The color is so intense, and the flavor is so natural.
Favorite local ingredient and where you get it: Growing Gardens arugula. Freshly harvested arugula, straight from the field, is so spicy and robust, so zesty and delicious, and drastically different from all the rest.
Most overrated ingredient: Hot sauce. It has such an overwhelming flavor, and it overpowers every other aspect of a dish, not to mention most people are addicted to it. Before they even take the first nibble of their food, they douse their meal in it. I'm all for adding extra heat, but maybe try the dish without it first.
Most underrated ingredient: Honey. Adding honey to soups, dressings and sauces can add a whole other dimension of depth and flavor. Flavors of honey can vary greatly depending on the source: Buckwheat honey is earthy; orange blossom honey is delicate and citrusy; and alfalfa honey is spicy and floral. No matter which kind you use, it adds a complementary sweetness to dishes.
Favorite spice: I know that most everyone says this, but salt is my favorite spice, and it's the most important ingredient I have in my kitchen; it's the key to bringing out all the flavors in my dishes. It's essential and necessary and a powerful tool for improving the flavor of food. A favorite customer of mine recently gifted me a book called Salted, and it's awesome.
One food you detest: I've never liked watermelon. The watery, semi-crunchy texture always leaves me wanting something more, and it's never satisfied any fruit craving of mine. It's just an empty food to me.
One food you can't live without: Good, freshly baked bread is unbeatable. It's a perfect complement to just about any dish. My family and I used to bake bread at our cabin in the winter in order to keep warm. I remember letting the dough rise next to the huge rock fireplace and keeping the 1940s Magic Chef stove lit to keep the kitchen toasty.