Skip to content

Pack Your Knives

I thought it would take a presidential order, or the involvement of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, before a restaurant let me work in their kitchen.  And with good reason:  Why would they hire someone who didn’t go to culinary school, doesn’t speak Spanish, and has biceps the size of saltwater taffies?  Why would they hire someone whose culinary resume has one–and only one–bullet point on it?

  • I have no known nut allergies

But last week I found it: the one restaurant too kind (or busy) to care about my lack of pedigree.  It’s a wine bar that serves appetizers, flatbreads, and cheese plates.  They have a tiny pipsqueak of a kitchen–just big enough for me and the dish washer to scoot around in.  On one wall there’s a refrigerator stocked with things like pears, chorizo, and brie.  On another, there’s a shelf loaded with clean white plates and bowls.

I work at a long counter with years’ worth of knife marks in it.  Slightly above eye-level, there’s a ticket rail where the customers’ orders come in.

The first time the rail filled up with little slips of paper, I panicked right down to the pit of my stomach.  Every dish, even a simple one, had several steps to it, and every ticket had several dishes on it.  When I did the math in my mind, I kind of wanted to impale myself on a steak knife.

But bloodying the equipment is frowned upon at this establishment.  So, despite Padma Lakshmi’s voice in my head saying, “Please pack your knives and go,” I managed to get through the rush.  Strangely, I wanted to do it again as soon as it was over.

When I got home that night, I sat on the kitchen counter with some left-over barbecued chicken.  I ate it cold, out of a Tupperware container, while I gushed about the evening.  Scott had some too, on a roll, with melted Swiss cheese.

bbq chickenThe chicken was so good–and the sauce such a nice balance of vinegary tang and not-too-sweet stickiness–that I declared the whole night a success.

I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but I may even add a bullet point for barbecued chicken down the line.

salad ingredientsSo whip up some of this sauce, my friends.  It’s much better than the gloopy, sugary stuff they sell at the store.  Once you have a jar of it in your fridge (it will last for months), you can get a meal on the table in under 30 minutes.  You’ve got a lot of options: You could serve the chicken breasts whole, with cornbread and vegetables.  Or you could chop them up and throw them into a southwestern-style salad.  You could also layer a tortilla with chicken and cheddar for a killer barbecue quesadilla.  Or you could add the chicken to nachos.

The world is your oyster, as they say.bbq chicken salad

But thank God I don’t have to shuck oysters at the restaurant, right?!?

Baked BBQ Chicken {Download & Print Recipe}
From a Virginia Willis recipe appearing in her book, Basic to Brilliant, Y’all, and on her website.  I made no changes to the ingredients for the sauce, but I halved her recipe because it yields a lot.  I added the chicken and a method for cooking it, and told the bbq sauce directions in my own words.

Ingredients: (Makes 4 chicken breasts with about 1 c. of sauce left-over)

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1/2 c. (1 stick) salted or unsalted butter

1/2 yellow or Vidalia onion, very finely chopped

1 1/4 c. ketchup

1 c. apple cider vinegar (but you can  substitute white vinegar or white wine vinegar)

1/4 c. Worcestershire sauce

1/8 c. Dijon mustard

1 Tbsp. packed brown sugar (or more, to taste)

juice from 1 lemon


Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Add the onion and simmer until the onion is very soft, about 8-10 minutes.  Stir occasionally and be careful not to brown them.

Add the remaining ingredients and whisk the sauce together.  Increase the heat so that the sauce comes to a boil, then decrease it to a low simmer.   Let the sauce cook for at least 15 minutes (or as much as 30) so that the flavors meld.

Heat the oven to 375 degrees.  Clean the chicken breasts and lay them in a Pyrex or other baking dish.  Spoon bbq sauce generously on top and under each chicken breast, being careful not to touch the spoon to the chicken and then put it back in the pot of sauce (just for food safety reasons).

Bake the chicken until it’s no longer pink in the middle and has reached an internal temperature of 165 degrees, about 25 minutes.


thunder sleepingPack your knives and nap, as Thunder would have it.

50 Comments Post a comment
  1. oooh very cool – congrats – I may have to try this chicken

    October 2, 2013
  2. Nice! Congratulations on your new job!

    October 2, 2013
  3. Sarah Pearse #

    I love Virginia Willis. I have her Bon Appetit, Y’all and took cooking classes from her in ATL. That salad looks really delish. Love that you’re workin’ the line! Your Spanish will be banging in no time!

    October 2, 2013
    • I love her too. I have my eye on her buttermilk cornmeal pancakes. Can’t wait to try them.

      October 2, 2013
  4. Wow! Thanks so much for your shout-out. I am so glad you like my BBQ Sauce. I actually now make if often with canola oil instead of butter and it’s 99% as good! Best VA

    October 2, 2013
    • Virginia, you are so kind! Your recipes are amazing. And I have such a special place in my heart for you because you do so much to help bloggers grow and become better at what they do. I heard you speak at FoodBlogSouth last year and the year before, and am grateful that you take the time to pass on your wisdom to those starting out.


      October 2, 2013
  5. cheryllovesfood #

    Thunder melts my heart every time I see his picture. Congrats on the kitchen gig. I hope I’m as lucky as you when I get out of school. No bullet points here either, except I’m not allergic to nuts. Cold BBQ chicken is the best and your sauce sounds divine. Good luck and looking forward to reading more about your adventures in a professional kitchen!

    October 2, 2013
    • cheryllovesfood #

      Oops! Sorry, I didn’t realize Thunder was a girl!

      October 2, 2013
      • Yeah, she’s a girl–but lots of times people think she’s a boy. Thunder is such a boy’s name, and bulldogs tend to look pretty masculine, you know? But she’s a cuddly little girl at heart–she could sleep past noon just like I did as a teenager (and, ahem, many years after).

        Good luck with school!

        October 2, 2013
  6. that’s pretty awesome that you can give your cooking passion a chance in the real world! I hear is tough, but I’m sure you’ll love it 🙂 congratulations!

    October 2, 2013
    • Thanks, my friend! It should be interesting, at least. . .

      October 2, 2013
  7. Lucinda R #


    October 2, 2013
  8. Nicely done on your first pro kitchen experience! I left that world a while ago; I just didn’t have it in me to fight through a rack of tickets every night, although I still love hearing about other people doing the same 🙂

    October 2, 2013
    • Ruthy, what kind of place did you work in? Any advice?!

      October 2, 2013
  9. Lauren #

    That’s wonderful – congrats! You’re in Chicago now, yes? Any chance you might reveal where you’re cooking so your fans can support you and your new establishment? 🙂

    October 2, 2013
    • Hi, Lauren! Thanks so much! I *am* in Chicago, but not really. I’m in Clarendon Hills–35 minutes from Union Station on the METRA. The place is called All Wined Up. Sadly, they’re closing in December, so this is just a temporary thing. But I really like it so far. Maybe I’ll be able to find something else afterward.

      Do you live in Chicago? Any suggestions about where to eat?

      October 2, 2013
      • Lauren #

        I don’t live in Chicago, but have family there and my husband attends an international conference there every December and sometimes I tag along. One of our favorite restaurants is Wildfire Grill. There are a couple places that I’d highly recommend, but I can’t remember the names. :-/ I will let you know, because they are a “must eat there”!
        I absolutely love your blog and your sense of humor. I wish you continued success and joy in the kitchen and beyond!

        October 2, 2013
  10. meg #

    Haha! I laughed when I read this because I am in almost the same situation. I do have a bunch of restaurant experience, but no culinary school. I think that many people have what it takes, and just don’t realize it until immersed.

    October 2, 2013
    • Hi, Meg! Are you working in a restaurant now? Any advice for me, from your experience?

      October 2, 2013
      • meg #

        Yeah, I am. Mostly doing pastry, but also a little work on specials. I’d say just stay focused, you’ll see your memory improve quickly when you get a few weeks of busy tickets lined up. I also try to speak Spanish when possible (I don’t know much) because I think that the people I work with appreciate it when I try.

        October 2, 2013
  11. Thunder! She is adorable as ever. Chicago clearly suits he, and her ball-baring sibling. So pleased for you for the new job. You are braver than I!

    October 2, 2013
    • her!

      October 2, 2013
      • The other day I found Thunder sitting ON TOP of the wood pile in the back yard, chewing on a log. She seems to be happy here, and since I can see the back yard from the living room, they’re getting more time to goof off with each other back there than they did in Alabama. I do hope they like it!

        October 2, 2013
  12. Gail Hart #

    So cool! Enjoy your new “adventure”! and keep telling us about it.

    October 2, 2013
    • Thanks, Gail! It has been great so far. I just changed the chef’s special to a Thanksgiving flatbread: pizza dough topped with sausage stuffing, chicken, sharp cheese, and cranberry drizzle. I’m having so much fun!

      November 5, 2013
  13. This is SO COOL! And how exciting that the rush gave you a rush. Girl, you’ve come home. Do the kids miss you when you’re off creating? Do they even notice?

    October 3, 2013
    • Oh Sandy. They notice that I’m gone. THEY HAVE STARTED EATING THE BED AGAIN. They haven’t done that in ages–since Seymour was a little puppy. I was at work last week and Scott texted me a picture of a HOLE in the mattress that was missing a heck of a lot of stuffing. This is the NEW mattress we got because THE OLD mattress looked like swiss cheese by the time they were done with it. So now I have to close the door to the bedroom when I go to work, which I hate to do because Thunder loves to put herself to peacefully bed in there before I get back. Ah well. . .

      November 5, 2013
  14. i’m still waiting for my official update. i will hang out with this chicken in the meantime.

    October 3, 2013
  15. Congratulations! I am so happy and once again inspired by you! Its so hard to get a break to do what you are passionate about , thats its truly something to be grateful about, when you get that rare chance! Keep up the great cooking!

    October 3, 2013
    • Thanks, my friend! I agree that it IS amazing when an opportunity falls in your lap–it can be hard to get your foot in the door for so many things! I was lucky with this one.

      October 4, 2013
  16. fjkingsbury #

    This looks delicious. I don’t have an oven. Do you think it would destroy this dish terribly if I cooked the chicken on the stovetop with (or after) the sauce?

    October 3, 2013
    • I think it’d be great on the stovetop! I didn’t have an oven when I lived in NY, and I would routinely poach chicken in water (or white wine). You can google how to do that if you haven’t done it already–I’d be bad at explaining it, though it’s really easy. I think poached chicken is better than any other kind of chicken when it comes to salads. Here’s a link I just found about stove-top chicken ideas:

      October 3, 2013
  17. I’m so excited about this new adventure.

    Also, I’m adding “no known nut allergies” to my resumeé and portfolio.

    October 3, 2013
    • Maybe I should add “does not roll eyes at kale/quinoa/etc.”

      October 4, 2013
  18. So cool that you got a restaurant job! And a wine bar that serves flat breads and cheese plates sounds like the perfect place to get the beginner’s experience to add to your resume.

    Have you already been composing your second bullet point in your head? “Survivor of appetizer rush in a wine bar kitchen” has a nice ring to it…

    October 3, 2013
  19. Amy #

    i could never be a line cook- so stressful! It’s like how I feel when I’m trying to parallel park with a line of cars behind me waiting to get by. So cool about the job!! i can’t wait to hear more about it. Also, that salad you made looks seriously amazing. I love a good salad chock fully of goodies…especially when i don’t have to make it. Wish I could just pluck it off the screen 🙂

    October 3, 2013
    • Ha! Yeah, I guess it’s kind of like when you’re at the grocery store and the associate is scanning your items really fast and you can’t get them in the bag fast enough AND swipe your card at the same time. . . and then it gets worse because your card is buried in your wallet somewhere and the line of people behind you seem to be judging you for (a) the disorganization of your wallet, and (b) the insane number of items you purchased. But maybe that’s just me.

      October 4, 2013
  20. such exciting news about the kitchen gig! congratulations!

    October 4, 2013
    • Thanks, Laura! If you come to Chicago ever, come stay with us.

      October 4, 2013
  21. jenny_o #

    New job – good stuff! Judging from your posts, you are in the right business 🙂

    October 7, 2013
    • Thanks, Jenny! I have no idea what I’m doing, but everyone there is so so nice. It makes it easy to learn. Hope all is well with you!

      November 5, 2013
  22. Congraaaaaaaaats!! That is amazing and wonderful news.

    October 14, 2013

Leave a Reply to Eggton Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s