Mimi Maumus is the acclaimed chef /owner of home.made catering in Athens, Georgia, that has inspired the palate of many
avid eaters with what she defines as an “elevated southern cuisine that is always fresh, always seasonal, always from scratch.” Maumus revisits her New Orleans roots and family memories to produce brilliant classic southern inspired creations with a contemporary twist. Maumus spoke to us about her food, inspirations, and thoughts on female leadership in kitchens.
What brought you to working with food? I have always loved cooking but I didn’t consider it an option professionally until I was in college. I worked in several restaurants while in undergraduate school and, once I graduated and began working in my field of study (psychology/sociology), I found that I really missed the kitchen. I decided to focus and get the best hands on experience that I could so I sought out Hugh Acheson at Five & Ten. I had eaten at Five & Ten several times and had read a lot about Hugh and his path to becoming a professional chef and his story resonated with me. I had become obsessed with James Beard’s cookbooks and stories and wanted to experience the difference of proper technique to just “winging it.” At the time I was also looking at culinary school but decided that experiential study under Hugh would be a better fit for my learning style.
What made you want to shift from working in restaurants to catering? Necessity has lots of babies! I really wanted a restaurant but didn’t have the money to open one so I decided to try to make some money as a personal chef on the side. I couldn’t drum up enough business as a personal chef but people kept asking me if I could cater. I started out Paula Deen style- out of my home kitchen. I converted my guest room into my storage and would transform my living room into a prep kitchen on the weekends. I did this for a year or so and then rented kitchen space, after hours, from local restaurants. There were plenty of 3:00am prep nights. I then rented a warehouse space that I converted into a prep kitchen. It was lovingly referred to as “tiny kitchen” by all of the workers – there was not enough space for people to even walk past one another while working. After a few years I really outgrew that space and set my sights on our current Baxter Street location. We started buildout 3 years ago and opened our doors in September 2012. Unable to juggle the demands of my position as Executive Sous at Five & Ten and managing a growing business, I took the plunge in February, 2013 to focus solely on home.made and, thankfully, business has been great.
What was it like working with Hugh Acheson? Some incredible talent—you included—has moved through his kitchens. I feel very fortunate to have worked with him before he became a celebrity chef. He was at the restaurant every day and was very accessible and informative. He is an incredibly hard worker who takes no shortcuts on ingredients or technique. He was an amazing mentor and pushed me to become a stronger chef – I didn’t always appreciate his tactics in the moment but I look back and view that growth period for me much like the Karate Kid – lots of “wax on, wax off” and “paint the fence.”
I was also surrounded by other great talent in that kitchen and have really enjoyed watching the different paths that those chefs have taken. Peter Dale, Chuck Ramsey, Brian Dunsmoor, Whitney Otawka… I could go on and on.
How do you balance the southern tradition and the contemporary on your recipes? I like to take Southern Classics and repackage them into something new. Our swanee bites have been a big hit: cheese straws sandwiched with pimento cheese, rolled in toasted pecans. I also have a huge love for pepper jelly and use it as a glaze for pork belly, a candy coating for pecans, and in a BBQ sauce that we brush on blackened chicken. I love pepper jelly on ritz crackers with cream cheese but it really is such a classic combination of sweet, savory and tangy that it deserves a larger audience – it’s like the sweet & sour sauce of the south.
It seems like one of the biggest challenges for a caterer is the volume of people served, the high amount of food that needs to be perfectly cooked, and the need to keep high standards and quality. How do you manage all of that while cooking from scratch? I have learned through lots of experience what works and what doesn’t. Budget is a common concern so we don’t always have the luxury of super elaborate and composed dishes – sometimes we don’t even have a proper kitchen on site! At the end of the day, what people want is good food for all of their guests to enjoy and we have gotten really good at hitting that target.
What role do you see caterers playing in the good food movement? People are getting more aware of what good food is and are making that a higher priority in their lives. I have found that, while some people just want to check the box of “food at wedding,” more and more people are getting more specific about what that food is and where it comes from.
How does your relationships with local farmers work? Some just stop in with what they have, a few text, but most of the larger farms send a weekly email and I place orders that way. I try to support them as best as I can because I value what they do and what they offer, certainly from a culinary perspective but from a community perspective as well.
What is one ingredient in your kitchen that you can’t live without? Pepper jelly.
What are your thoughts on female leadership roles in kitchens? Do you think women receive the same trust and recognition from the public as their male counterparts? I think that I have had to work a little bit harder to be recognized. I have earned some great respect from our local chef community but I think sometimes that I am a surprise for male chefs who maybe haven’t worked with a woman in the kitchen before. I have had to endure lots of unintentional chauvinistic comments in the kitchen but I just ignore them and work harder. I keep my head down and focus on my end game and that is to continue to learn and grow and be the best that I possibly can be.
On home.made’s website you mention that you have found your identity with home.made. Do you think a chef’s identity can change over time? What are your thoughts on that? I don’t think that my identity will change completely. My food style is who I am – my childhood in New Orleans, my college years living in small towns in Georgia, and my professional experience in a kitchen that focused on ingredients and technique. I think that it will grow and branch naturally from my current perspective but not change altogether.
If you had to choose one last meal, what would it be? Half shrimp, half roast beef po boy (dressed with extra pickles), a side of Andouille jambalaya, collard greens, and a slice of chocolate doberge cake.