Justin Balmes Gears Up for Afternoon in the Country at Serenbe

Photo by Joseph Bronzino

This Sunday, the 11th Annual Afternoon in the Country will take place at Serenbe. Presented by Les Dames d’Escoffier International, this worldwide philanthropic organization conducts fundraising projects and awards scholarships to women in culinary, beverage and hospitality industries.

This event is a delightful showcase of wine tastings, live music by DriveTrain, children’s activities, and tastings and demonstrations from local Atlanta chefs, including former Food Network Star, Justin Balmes. Justin took a few moments to talk to Best Self about his passions and what he loves about food!

You are participating in Afternoon in the Country at Serenbe, can you tell us a bit about what you’ll be presenting there?
I am representing American ROLAND Foods, which is pretty awesome considering half of my pantry is already stocked with many of their products! For my dish I am trying to showcase several of their products. That said, it will be a maple glazed crispy pork belly, butternut squash quinoa, raw collard, butternut and apple slaw/fall vinaigrette (pumpkin seed oil, cider vinegar, cider, shallot, EVOO and warming spices). I am really looking forward to preparing and presenting, it is truly an honor to participate in this event and I fully support the cause.

What are you most passionate about when it comes to food and cooking?
Start with quality ingredients and prepare them with respect and as simply as possible.

What was your first job in the culinary field and how did it shape your attitude towards cooking?
Prep cook/dish washer. Always begin at the bottom and master every task/job as you advance. By starting at the ground level you not only gain a tremendous amount of knowledge, but you also build/develop your core and foundational work ethic.

How would you describe your experience on Food Network Star?
It was the most amazing and the most terrible experience all at the same time! I met some truly remarkable people and built strong friendships (Jeff & Justin D. much love!) and I cooked some good food along the way.  However, I also met some terrible people. Living with some of them in a crazy house was awful, not to mention trying to share a kitchen with them was the absolute worst. Overall, I had a phenomenal, life changing experience and wouldn’t change a thing! By the way, in case it’s a mystery, I am not a fan of the static camera in a dead silent room while under a microscope. Not to mention, the silly bubble gum story telling is ridiculous at best. I firmly believe that anyone who has any respect for food deserves better. Period.

Photo by Joseph Bronzino

Who have been your biggest culinary influences?
Jason Dauble, Shaun Doty and Thomas Keller.

What chef would you like to meet and work with?
Michael Symon. I spent a little time with him while on the show but would love to share a kitchen with him sometime.

Favorite restaurant in Atlanta?
Lately it has been YEAH! Burger. I was working on an event at the Goat Farm (near the restaurant) and must have eaten there 900 times in the course of a week! Beyond that, I love Greenwoods in Historic Roswell as well as Rice Thai Cuisine.  I have also been very pleased with Local Three and Muss & Turner’s lately.

Favorite dish to cook?
Right now grass fed (White Oak Pastures) bone-in ribeye cooked in a cast iron skillet with spicy kale and a sweet potato hash.

Last book you read?
Truthfully, I haven’t “chewed” on a good book in a while but I dive into Bicycling Magazine, BIKE, MTB Action, VELO News, Cyclocross Magazine etc. on a daily/nightly basis.

Best piece of advice you’ve received?
“Properly salt food and take $hit from no one” - Jason Dauble, 1998, Inscription in my very first Food Lovers Companion

What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a chef?
Do the research, put in the time and keep the fire under your ass stoked, always. Also, remember, you are only as good as what you subject yourself to.

What’s the most daring thing you’ve done?
Going on national television and being viewed by millions, for sure.

If you weren’t in the culinary field, what would you be doing?
I would, without a doubt, be a pro cyclist.

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