East Nashville rejoiced when Margot Cafe and Bar, simply known to most as “Margot” opened up over a decade ago. At that time, East Nashville was still fighting for an identity and suffered somewhat of an inferiority complex to the west side of town — and this is certainly not at all the case today. At the turn of this century, East Nashville had cool older homes, but fresh vegetables or a good cup of coffee were hard to find. Luring the rest of Nashville across the river to eat was a challenge for many trailblazing restauranteurs. Together, Margot McCormack and business partner Jay Frein embraced the spirit of this quirky neighborhood and set up shop. They believed in East Nashville and in return, East Nashville (and the rest of Nashville) embraced Margot as the neighborhood gathering spot.
Today, East Nashville holds the status as the coolest place in town to grab a meal and one of the pillar restaurants continues to be Margot along with sister cafe, Marche. We were so happy to catch up with Margot for this FACES of Nashville feature.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up here in Nashville, in West Meade.
As one of the premiere chefs in Nashville, how did you get your start?
I spent a lot of time as a little girl cooking with my mother, so when I needed a job to pay rent for an off-campus apartment in college at UT Knoxville, I applied for a kitchen position at a Bennigan’s restaurant. I started in the pantry and worked my way up. After graduation, I moved back to Nashville and got a job working for Jody Faison in the kitchen at Faison’s. It was just to earn money to save up to move away and start “my life.” I enjoyed the atmosphere at Faison’s and Jody encouraged me to pursue a culinary education. I enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America. From there I moved to NYC and worked for 10 years before returning to Nashville and F. Scott’s before opening Margot Cafe and Bar in 2001.
When it comes to cooking, what bit of wisdom can you share with our readers?
Oh there is so much…have fun! Don’t be afraid. Buy fresh, seasonal, local. Keep your knives sharp. Make it taste good.
In your kitchen at home, what ingredients do you always have?
Garlic, lemon, olive oil, bacon, cheese, peanut butter, arugula…
How do you do it all? You’re the mom of a young son and the chef/owner of two of Nashville’s most successful restaurants?
It takes a village. I have a wonderful partner in Heather who is the stay-at-home mom of our family. I have a great partner at both restaurants in Jay Frein. He has kids as well and understands the demands. He makes work fun and does a lot so I can focus on the food. Our staff is incredible and they are like my extended family. Work continues to be fun which makes it easier.
When you’re not behind the stove at Margot, where do you eat out in Nashville?
Cityhouse. Mas Tacos. Sonobana. Thai Phoo Ket. Kien Gaing. Baja Burrito.
Are there any new trends you see emerging, perhaps from restaurants outside of Nashville?
I love all the old school stuff like pharmacies with milk shakes, butcher shops, boutique bakeries and chocolate shops.
If you could create the perfect dinner party and invite anyone you wanted (dead or alive), who would be seated at the table?
Perfect for me would mean comfortable, and that means friends and family, as opposed to a crazy request like Jesus, or Alice Waters, who would just make me nervous and not enjoy myself. So I would say: my partner, Heather, and our son Jacob. My mother, who passed away 4 years ago. She was a great conversationalist and made friends with everyone. I miss the sound of her voice and her laugh. Our friend Kammy McClurg who was the GM at Marche for 5 years and now lives in Chicago. She would come early to help out and would stay late. And Destin Weishaar for his music, cigarettes and crazy random knowledge that comes in handy if we were to play a game like Trivial Pursuit. Friends Cindy Wall and Keith Miles, who would arrive with a big bottle of bubbly, sincere appreciation and healthy appetites. Sous chef Matt Davidson, who I almost always equate with the enjoyment of food. Ok, and Adele, because my son loves her. And aside from her amazing voice, she’s hysterical. Oh, and our best friends Sally Swan and Wendy Ferguson, just because they are our best friends.
Can you share with our readers a valuable piece of advice you’ve been given?
My mother always told me I could do whatever I wanted with the right amount of hard work and devotion.
What event are you looking forward to that’s coming up in Nashville?
Honestly, my 30th high school reunion (Hillwood ’82). It will be the first one I’ve been to. We’re going to whoop it up at the airport Marriott.
What are 3 of your favorite things (excluding God, family and friends)?
My dogs, my garden and my bicycle.
Thank you so much Margot and special thanks to Ashley for all her talents on display today as our photographer for Faces of Nashville. See more photos of Margot on Ashley’s blog: here.