Alison Settle has made quite a name for herself in the restaurant industry. After working under eight-time James Beard nominee Ouita Michel and interning with Anthony Lamas, a semifinalist for the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef: Southeast. she landed her first full-time industry gig at Louisville’s Holy Grale, a concept founded inside an old Unitarian chapel house. She now runs the kitchen at Barn8 Restaurant, housed in a former barn at the bucolic Hermitage Farm. Welcome our newest FACE of Louisville — Executive Chef Alison Settle of Barn8 Restaurant!
How did you get into the restaurant industry?
It happened in a strange way. I worked in a preschool for about seven years, and I spent one year as an au pair in Munich, Germany. I cooked for the family a lot, and that was the first time I realized that people like to eat my food. I started to get more and more interested in cooking, and over time it just became an intense hobby. Initially, I didn’t want it to become my career because I was afraid that would take the fun out of it. But eventually, I realized that was all I was ever thinking about and wanting to do. I thought to myself, why am I wasting time in another occupation when this is what I care about? So, I made the decision to go to culinary school.
Where did you attend school?
I went to Sullivan University in Lexington, splitting my time between going to classes and working at the preschool. Within six months, my first job was with Ouita Michel at Holly Hill Inn and Woodford Reserve, where she’s the chef in residence. Then I moved to Louisville, finished my degree at the Louisville campus, and interned with Anthony Lamas at Seviche. My first job in Louisville was at Holy Grale. I was there for three years, hopped around for a little bit, then landed this position, opening Barn8 in November 2019.
What’s the best part about being the executive chef at Barn8?
This place is like Disneyland for a cook! I’ve spent so many years in conventional kitchens where I’d be in a tiny little prep kitchen with no windows, just grinding every day. Here, we’re on a farm, and there’s something really special about that. If we ever get overwhelmed or need some fresh air, there are acres of land just outside. There’s also the horticulture staff; we get to collaborate about what produce we’d like to grow during the year. Being here allows us to really focus on our relationships with local farmers as well as our horticulture team. It’s great to truly see where we get food from, from the ground up.
What’s your favorite thing about working in the restaurant industry in general?
There’s something really fulfilling about promoting local agriculture and supporting the farmers pouring their heart and soul into what they do. I pour my heart and soul into the food, and that symbiotic relationship is like our art. I wish that I could paint or do something like that, but food is my art, and I like the idea of collaborating with our farmers. I think that’s just really special, and it’s something that the pandemic put right at the forefront of everything. When the supply chain was crashing, you couldn’t get pork in the grocery store — but I could still get pork from my local farmers. There’s no middleman; many of our supplies are within 30 miles of the restaurant. That’s a philosophy that is really important to us.
What other things are you and Barn8 doing to promote local agriculture and support local farmers?
We are going to have a bison dinner in June. Our owners, Steve Wilson and Laura Brown, live about five miles down the road from Hermitage Farm and have a bison operation on their property. Our bison farmer will round up the bison and rotate them onto a pasture close to where we’re going to have the multi-course outdoor dinner — so the pasture will be right next to where people will be consuming the bison. I think it’s important that people understand where their food is coming from, see how it’s being raised, and understand the work that goes into it. We do a lot of things like that. We also have other events where we invite various chefs to enjoy our space and utilize our local products. We like bringing in new people and new flavors because we get to learn from those experiences.
What is the best advice you’ve ever given or received?
Back when I was a line cook, I had a really hard time and felt very stressed out. A chef said to me, “Alison, if you’re going to continue down this road, it never gets easier — it only gets harder. You might get more accolades, more responsibility, or a pay raise, but this never gets easier. It only gets harder.” I’m really thankful that he said that because it has stuck with me. As my career has progressed, I’ve never thought that once I reach a certain goal, things will suddenly become easy. I know that if I’m going to stay on this path, I need to keep giving it my all, and my all has to be more and more all the time. That was a really important piece of wisdom I received.
Aside from faith, family, and friends, what are three things you can’t live without?
Travel, food, and new experiences. Food is kind of the only thing I think about. I really do care about travel and new experiences and just being outdoors as much as possible, but food is always at the forefront. For example, I love to go on hikes. I take my dog and my son, and it’s a lot of fun to be outside. But the whole time, I’m looking for ramps or mushrooms — we’re always foraging. Then when I travel, it’s all about which restaurants I can go to. I’m always immersing myself in all aspects of food.
Time to reserve your table at Barn8, Louisville!
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