FACES of Nashville: Deb Paquette

Arguably, Deb Paquette has influenced the culinary landscape of Nashville more than anyone else. When she owned Zola’s restaurant, her reputation for creativity and originality was unparalleled. For more than 13 years, Deb rocked our world with the likes of her Beet and Heat Salad and Mediterranean Paella, only to earn Gourmet magazine’s nod as one of the top 60 restaurants in the country. She has the distinction of being the first woman in Tennessee to qualify as a Certified Executive Chef, while still being a mentor to scores of young chefs.

Deb Paquette, with her fiery red hair piled atop her head, is a force to be reckoned with as she makes her kitchen come alive. Spices melding, broths bubblin’, aromas wafting, Deb Paquette continues to create a menu so alluring it makes grown men cry, or better yet, makes them come back for more. Like the Goddess Edesia, she has cast her spell on foodies from all over the country.

Currently, you can find Deb at the helm of Miel, a StyleBlueprint favorite. But stay tuned. We may have some exciting news about a new venture.

Where did you grow up?

First 25 years – Ft. Lauderdale – After 25 –  Nashville  (and still growing up!)

When and why did you move to Nashville?

Very long story and great to tell over bottles of wine. One of my longest known friends, Tom Allen, got me a job in a hotel in Knoxville during the ‘82 World’s Fair. Due to low Fair attendance, the job fell through. Gratefully, Nashville was calling and I secured a job with Hyatt Hotels. Three months later, my husband-to-be walked into the kitchen, having followed me from Lauderdale, and the rest – i.e. two kids and an incredible life together – is history!

What is the greatest piece of advice you have been given?

I have three. “The best remedy for anger is delay.” (Advice from the best fortune cookie I ever opened, and for luck I ate the whole yucky thing!) Also, a wise man (a.k.a. J.R. Rayburn) once told me, “When your job is no longer fun, move on.” And the most important, from the Big Guy, “Do unto others as you want them to do unto you.”

Greatest piece of advice you can give about your profession as a chef.

Cook and live from your heart. You must have passion and an incredible work ethic. There is a plethora of advice, and a lot of warnings that come with it. I’ve told some kids all the negatives and they were still excited, in fact, even more excited. Those are the ones I hired!!!!!

One other thing, and this is something I’d like to ask all the parents of young peeps today to give this advice to their children: SHAKE HANDS, and LOOK PEOPLE IN THE EYES! I have had a 6’3” guy walk in, offer me the fish shake and tell me he likes my shoes! And he wants a job? Extend that paw and be confident, and maybe I’ll throw you a bone!

Do you have irrational fears?

Yes, when my husband runs out of dark chocolate sauce for his cereal! And, what happens if we run out of toilet paper?

What books can be found on your bedside table?

It’s a Bible for chefs by Harold McGee, The Folklore and Science of Food. He is a genius!   Three others: Why We Make Mistakes, Vegan Freak: Being Vegan in a Non-Vegan World, and Wild Fermentation: Effects of Live Cultures.

When you’re not in the kitchen cooking, what is your favorite thing to do to relax?

Mow the lawn – no phone, no interruptions except the occasional rock, and it is a fabulous work-out (I mow uphill!). Also, the instant gratification is worth a 32-ounce grapefruit and vodka!

To be honest, relaxation is really not in my DNA. My favorite part of the day is returning home late at night and finding my husband waiting up for me and spending an hour sitting on the couch as close as I can to him, sipping a vodka and water, talking about anything, maybe watching a really good CSI and placing bets on who can predict how it ends!

Event most looking forward to attending in June/July:

Any event where I can wear a specially designed black chef coat!

If you can give our readers one kitchen “must have,” what would it be? And where can you find it?

The first thing you do when you arrive on the job is to get your tools for the day. In my case I grab the most important…the wooden spoon. I love a big, fat 12-inch woody! I think most of you know where to get one!

Where is your favorite dive place to eat in Middle Tennessee?

I do not do dive very well. When I am away from the job, Ernie grabs a Sav Blanc and we meet the kids at Korea House for a great meal. (We’re regulars and we love the owners and Jennifer, our waitress, who hands us her wine glass and says, “Gimmesum.”)

Favorite vacation spot?

Anywhere there is a beach. I love Appalapachola, & St. George Island, Florida, San Sabastian, Spain and the Florida Keyes.

Do you have a playlist for a dinner party or a great workout that you can share with our readers?

For dinner, Marvin Gaye’s (greatest hits), India Aire, Annie  Lennox (Bare), Elton John(Friends), Seal (Soul),

Any Frank Sinatra, Michael McDonald(Motown), Sade (lover’s rock) Morcheeba

Workout music:  C&C dance factory, Gwen Stephanie, Michael Jackson, Blackeyed Peas

Can you give our readers a great wine suggestion paired with what simple appetizer?

A white burgundy (sex in a bottle), with my special man!  As far as far as a food appetizer, I love roasted cauliflower with truffled smoked pea pesto with a Spanish Cava .

Name three things you can’t live without (excluding friends, family and God).

Dogs, zinnias, cotton underwear, flip-flops, tank tops, shorts, ruby red grapefruit, shredded wheat, dancing,

big salads, vodka, fake toenails, sex, red wine, water, Neosporin. Oops…that’s just a few more than three!