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Categories: FEB/MAR 2023, FOOD & DRINK, Uncategorized

From classroom to kitchen

By Kristen Soles

Photography by Jessica Whitley

Helms College — a private, independent, postsecondary career school sponsored by Goodwill Industries of Middle Georgia — attracts and retains palatable talent

Macon is home to a unique educational opportunity for anyone willing to work hard to become a culinary artist. Since 2011, graduates of Helms College — founded by Goodwill Industries of Middle Georgia and the CSRA — have been moving into the community to secure well-paying careers in the culinary and hospitality industry.

We spoke with three Helms alumni who have chosen to remain close to home, right here in Central Georgia.

Lane Richardson is head chef of Dovetail at 543 Cherry St. in Downtown Macon. A native of Perry, he currently resides in Macon with his wife and children.

Charlotte Ethridge is the owner of Harp and Bowl La Bistro at 520 Mulberry St. A cancer survivor, she is among the warmest personalities you’ll ever meet. Charlotte is passionate about helping patrons learn about food as medicine.

Scottie Johnson is a private chef operating Blessed and Highly Flavored Cuisine. He’s the author of two books, See a Route and Run It and Devotions of a Chef, with a cookbook to be released later this year. A native of North Carolina, he currently resides in Warner Robins. 

Lane Richardson — Head Chef, Dovetail

How did you get started in the culinary field? 

Cooking with my grandmothers. With my grandma, we used to grow our own produce, so we did a lot of canning and preserving. We did this for a few weeks at the end of every summer; then we’d have shelves of vegetables all winter. I did this for as far back as I can remember. Then, when I was in high school, my mom was single and worked a lot, and I had a little brother and sister; I didn’t want to eat just chicken nuggets, so I started learning to cook.

What were you doing before you went to Helms College? 

I worked off and on in restaurants — line cooking, waiting tables, this and that. I had thought for a while about becoming a chef, but didn’t really know it was possible until I came to Helms.

Tell me about your experience at Helms College. 

I think you get out of a school like this what you put into it. People may have the misconception that you just come here and they talk at you and then you’re a chef. If you want to learn, you have to work hard and ask questions and show your instructors that you’re worth teaching. Being a chef is a really hard job, especially the higher you rise, and you have to be prepared to work hard. You have to go the extra mile.

Why did you choose Helms College over other culinary schools? 

I talked to friends who had moved to go to other schools and spent exorbitant amounts of money, and the consensus was to stay here and do this program. If I wanted to learn, I’d learn. They had the tools I needed.

What’s one cooking tip you learned at Helms College that readers would find helpful?

Learning the concept of mise en place, which means “everything in its place.” Before you start cooking, get everything that you’re going to need for the whole recipe ready in one place and in order. The less you have to move or think while cooking, the better your dish is going to come out. If you can master mise en place, you can do an afternoon’s worth of cooking in 40 minutes.

Who or what inspires you to create your dishes? 

I draw on a lot of things I saw my grandmothers do. I like everything I eat, so I draw inspiration from a variety of areas, including a lot of international cuisine. I read a lot of cookbooks. 

What is a favorite dish of your grandmother’s to prepare? 

These sugar cookies of my MeMaw’s. I also love her scratch biscuits. She’s still with us, so I still get to have her cooking from time to time.

What is your go-to comfort food? 

I have a really big sweet tooth! I love candy. 

Where is your favorite place to dine in Macon?  

I love La Bella Morelia. They have great tacos! I like Piedmont Brewery. I like Fresh Air Barbeque. I love barbecue in general. I think a barbecue sandwich is just about the perfect food. Bombay Curry — it’s an Indian restaurant in Bloomfield Village.

Why stay in Macon to work? 

After learning about the history of Macon, the river and ecosystem, the small farms here, the music history — there’s absolutely no reason for me to go anywhere else! People here are more and more looking for an interesting dining experience and to try things that they haven’t tried before. And Dovetail is absolutely the best place I’ve ever worked!

Charlotte Ethridge — Owner/Chef, Harp and Bowl La Bistro

How did you get started in the culinary field? 

I had cancer. I was changing my diet and looking for things that would build my immune system and make a healthier diet, and that’s kind of what led me to wanting to open up a restaurant. Most restaurants weren’t healthy, so I wanted to do a restaurant that would put more nutrition in the body.

That’s why you chose culinary as a career? 

It is. There were so many people with cancer and AIDS and sickness, and they weren’t able to make those foods for themselves. You know, when you have chemo, you’re so weak, you can’t make a gallon of juice yourself, or you have mouth sores and can’t eat a five-pound bag of carrots, but you can drink that.

What were you doing before you went to Helms College? 

I was studying and training with Donna Gates — that owns Body Ecology — on how you could incorporate foods with healing the body.

Tell me about your experience at Helms College.  

It was fabulous! I learned so much, way beyond what I dreamed I would learn. To have them be so professional and push us so hard — that made us so successful. They really weren’t playing around. They had you in there to teach you how to run a company. 

Why did you choose Helms College over other culinary schools? 

They had the bistro that was run by the students, so I felt I would get more experience cooking for a restaurant and having hands on with that than somewhere else just doing book work. And when I visited Helms, I saw so much hands-on, like them doing huge catering jobs and working in the restaurant. Helms was just really over the top with the chefs they had training you.

What’s one cooking tip you learned at Helms College that readers would find helpful? 

Use your cutting boards. And work wisely. Don’t cut just one vegetable at a time when you can cut three, such as a carrot. It’s all about your cutting. Cut the correct way.

What inspires you to make some of the culinary delights found at Harp and Bowl La Bistro? 

We do a lot of healing protocols, and when I see people come in here with testimonials saying how they’ve gotten their strength back when they’ve been sick, and how they say there’s no other place around here that offers the food we do. Like, for instance, we do kefirs with ancient grains and fresh squeezed juices which are easily digested by the small intestine, so nutrients quickly enter the bloodstream, automatically giving you that natural energy.

You also do catering in addition to your restaurant. What is your favorite dish to prepare? 

My favorite dish is the acai bowl. They’re so delicious, and you can do a lot of creative things with it. A lot of young people like those dishes, and to see young people want to eat healthy blesses me.

What is your go-to comfort food? 

Avocado milkshakes! They’re made of avocados, maple syrup, fresh coconut water, fresh coconut meat, and you can put chocolate, peanut butter, or banana in them, or any kind of fresh fruits.

Where is your favorite place to dine in Macon?  

Besides here? I like Jeneane’s. Or I like to go to Jim Shaw’s. That’s probably my favorite restaurant.

Why choose Macon for your restaurant? 

I like … downtown with restaurants that have all different twists to them — kind of southern with a flair.

Scottie Johnson — Owner/Chef, Blessed and Highly Flavored Cuisine

How did you get started in the culinary field? 

The military offered the post-9/11 GI Bill, which pays for your college, so I decided to go to culinary school. In the military, I had supervised over 100 soldiers every day, so I wanted to do something totally different. I had always liked watching cooking shows, so I thought I’d try culinary. 

What were you doing before you went to Helms College?

I spent 27 years in the military before I retired. Never cooked in the military.

Tell me about your experience at Helms College. 

I fell in love with Helms. I really connected with the instructors. Many of them I remember to this day. The facilities were great. The management classes were helpful, and the food and cost class was probably the hardest with so much math, but owning a business, it’s really helpful. Baking and pastry were good for someone like me who owns a private business. They tied everything together well. A lot of the younger students thought it was about cooking, but it’s more about how to run a business and how to be a manager. Those classes were very important to me.

Why did you choose Helms College over other culinary schools? 

First of all, because of location. Being in Warner Robins, it was close by. They also had great facilities. The instructors, the staff, everything was just what I wanted. I’m all about structure, and that’s what they provided. They didn’t play around. And the cost — it was affordable.

What’s one cooking tip you learned at Helms College that readers would find helpful?

A great cooking tip I’ve learned is replacing water with milk, cream, or some sort of stock to give food lots of flavor and creaminess. For example, I use milk, cream, or stock to make my grits. The cream brings a creamy texture, and the stock gives them flavor. For rice or any other type of starch, I use stock (vegetable, beef, or chicken). The flavor profile changes. The true tip is: if it’s cooked with water, it will taste like water.

What inspires you to create your culinary masterpieces? 

People. The joy of seeing people enjoy what I’ve prepared, of what I’ve spent three, four, or five hours preparing what I’ve put on the table for them, and the passion and love I have for doing it is what inspires me. 

Your business specializes in Southern Cajun cuisine. What is your personal favorite dish to prepare? 

I’d have to say seafood. I’m the winner of the 2019 Atlanta, Georgia, Seafood Festival Competition. Any type of seafood, I love doing it.

What is your go-to comfort food? 

I’m a country boy at heart, so I’m a soul food guy. I like what my grandma cooks, like the fried chicken and mac and cheese, potato salad, cornbread, you know, all the good stuff! That’s my go-to comfort food.

Where is your favorite place to dine in Macon?  

My favorite thing to eat is a burger, so probably the Rookery. If I’m looking for a good steak, maybe The Back Burner. My wife and I have also been to Yollah two or three times, and we get something different every time. It’s great Latin American food!

Why choose Central Georgia for your business? 

I launched my business in Middle Georgia because I wanted to provide a service that doesn’t really exist at the level I provide [around here]. Food should be an experience, and that’s what I want to provide people in the comfort of their homes!