Chef Leah Ewing: From Fry Maven to Fat Bottom Brewing
Nashville had just started trying on its “It City” name when Ben Bredesen opened Fat Bottom Brewing Company in 2012. The East Nashville brewery sat on the edge of Nashville’s hippest ZIP code, yet in a still up-and-coming pocket. Today, you can barely find a place to park there, let alone expand in the way Fat Bottom wanted. So, it moved. Tucked away on the west side of Music City in the Nations neighborhood, Fat Bottom now has all the leg room it could ever want. And its executive chef Leah Ewing had already slipped on her dancing shoes long before.
Nashville’s Exciting Culinary World
One of the many reasons Ewing was drawn to Fat Bottom was that they wanted to be “a little more cutting edge.” She says that the team was really stoked for her to introduce mature flavors with upscale menu items. A divine example is her newest spring addition, steam buns, which she recommends pairing with the Rooster Brew, a classic wheat beer.
“One of the things I love about Nashville is that the culinary world is very innovative. Nothing is off limits. Everybody is excited about everything in Nashville,” Ewing says.
Because there are so many Fat Bottom beer styles, she exercises ambidextrous freedoms.
“It gives me a really solid playing field as far as food that goes with the pairings,” she says.
As for beer-infused dishes on the menu, you can’t beat her beer cheese made with the brewery’s flagship Knock-Out IPA. “The super bitter beer cuts through the sharp cheddar cheese,” she explains.
(VISIT: Find a U.S. Brewery)
Chef Leah Ewing Loves ‘the Dance’
The 27-year-old chef began what she calls “the dance” when she was just 16 in the small western Tennessee town of Dyersburg.
“This is something I was really drawn to in this industry. Keeping your hands busy and how everything has a rhythm to it. All of life has a rhythm to it really. If you just find your groove, there’s nothing more satisfying than being on a line doing the dance, getting the moves right and walking out being successful at the end of a shift,” Ewing says.
Ewing cut her culinary teeth at the town’s McDonald’s where her favorite task was working the fry station. (Her secret to the perfect fry: salt ratio was two and a half shakes for those who have ever wondered why they taste so damn good.)
When she enrolled in L’Ecole Culinaire Culinary Arts School in Memphis, she began carving her niche as part of the new crop of millennial chefs from the South. It was her serving job at the local Houston’s where she met her friend Brad. He persuaded her to move to Nashville in 2015 for a job at one of Nashville’s first 5-Star experience –Capital Grille at The Hermitage Hotel.
The Hermitage Hotel is one of those hotbeds for young chefs who proliferate their region’s culinary landscape. In fact, you can’t as much as throw a biscuit in Nashville without hitting a chef who hasn’t a story of their days at The Hermitage.
When Fat Bottom decided to up their game, they hired Ewing on as banquet chef for their new special events space, the Reserve, in 2017.
Taking the Reins as Tastemaker
She holds her hands under her chin not unlike a glamor shot, her tattooed forearm bears the likeness of her very first utility knife, commemorating her formative years. On January 1, 2019, this bantam badass took the reins as executive chef at Fat Bottoms Brewing Company, marking her place in this world as a full-fledged tastemaker.
Ewing keeps very long hours. So when she gets home and opens that fridge, she laughs.
“I have way too much Fat Bottom. Each of us get a ‘payday’ case of our choice every two weeks,” she says.
Her favorite is W.A.C.– an American Pale Ale. She also dabbles in homebrewing. And when she’s sipping on the other side of the yard, she loves Southern Grist down the street.
Chef Leah Ewing’s Future
It’s a little too soon to tell where Ewing will end up.
“Every time I set a goal for myself the universe is just like, ‘Nope you’re going to go over here for a little bit.’ But, one thing is for sure it will definitely be in culinary,” she says. “If I were to go back to that fry station, I’d still be stressed out, yet excited all at the same time.
Nashville has become a whole new town. You can now count more breweries dotting the map in Music City than you can your fingers and toes. And it’s the new crop of young chefs like Ewing who are tappin’ their toes, ready to call out the next dance.