Day in the Life: Parkside's Executive Chef

By Megan Giller  |  November 14, 2013

For some time now we’ve been walking you through days in the lives of Austin's craft beer brewers, goat farmersramen mavens and more. But this time we want to show you, too. We spent some time with Parkside’s executive chef, Jeffrey Rhodes, who let us shadow him and snap some shots of what his day looks like. 

Before moving to Austin, the Nashville native cooked in kitchens ranging from ethnic eats in Portland to Chez TJ, Mountain View, California's fine-dining destination. Rhodes feels most at home making Southern American food, though, and he’s quickly risen up the chain at chef Shawn Cirkiel’s restaurant, where a stage turned into a job as chef de cuisine and now executive chef. His day starts with Topo Chico, ends with a nightcap at Firehouse Lounge and sandwiches pizza in between, all of which sounds pretty tasty to us. Check out this illustrated version of a day in his life.

  • 1-2 AM It’s hard to tell whether this is the start of my day or the end of yesterday. After I’ve finished dinner service at Parkside, it’s time for a nightcap, which usually includes a game of cornhole and a Long Hair Don’t Care at Handlebar, just across the street. Then I head home for a few hours of sleep before the next day starts.

  • 10-11 AM Working in a restaurant kitchen means long hours and late nights, but being able to wake up a little later is definitely one of the perks. I’m greeted first thing by Jackson and Sea Biscuit, my cats. I get up and go straight for my laptop and a Topo Chico. I check Instagram, review what’s going on in the national and local dining scene and have the NFL Network on.

  • 11 AM-12 PM I love this time of day because it gives me a chance to research and test new recipe ideas for Parkside at home. I flip through cookbooks for inspiration; it’s great to stay on the cutting edge of culinary trends, but it’s also great to bring back a few classics. Today I’m working on a couple ideas for canning. We’ll be introducing charred okra and jam garnishes on a few dishes in the coming weeks.

  • 12-1 PM I arrive at Parkside. First I check in with my prep cooks, then I make sure the building is not on fire. So far, so good.

  • 1-2 PM I head over to the Backspace next door to check in with the guys. Lunch service is in full swing, and I make sure everything is going smoothly. We update the menu seasonally, especially the antipasti, so it’s really important that I make sure the guys have everything they need and get all of their questions answered. While I’m there, I sneak in a quick lunch of fennel-sausage pizza (it’s all about quality control).

  • 2-3 PM I head back over to Parkside to have a look at our walk-ins and review inventory. Today I’m a little short on fish. You know how you call up your neighbor when you’re out of milk? I call up Justin Rupp at Olive & June which is part of the same restaurant group, and he can help me out today. I also call John Lash from Farm To Table. John is the liaison between the farmers and restaurants, and he fills me in on what the farmers have available this week, to allow us to cook as locally as possible. I love taking a unique, seasonal ingredient straight from the farm and creating a dish around it.

  • 3-4 PM I sit down for a meeting with chef and owner Shawn Cirkiel and sous chef Nathan Lemley to collaborate on new recipe ideas. We brainstorm what might be a good seasonal fit for the menus and bounce ideas off one another. We recently developed a new roasted chicken with Swiss chard gratin at one of these meetings; they’re the best sounding board an executive chef could ask for. I also talk to executive pastry chef Steven Cak about new techniques we want to try, like how to get the perfect consistency on butternut squash juice.

  • 4:30-4:45 PM Everyone’s favorite part of the day: family meal, when the staff eats dinner together before the restaurant opens for service. We’ve divided the kitchen up into two teams; Team Grill and Team Sauté. Tonight it’s Team Sauté’s turn to create the menu. I like to think of it as Iron Chef: Battle Walk-in. The chefs can use anything from one shelf on the walk-in to whip up that night’s meal. This is a great time for cooks to explore flavors that we don’t use every day. Tonight’s family meal menu includes fish tacos with all the fixings and Spanish rice. Nice work, Team Sauté.

  • 4:45-5 PM Pre-shift meeting. I give a quick rundown of the specials and what’s on hand for the night ahead. I tie up any loose ends and walk through the line to be sure that everyone has everything they’ll need to be successful. When everything looks perfect, I take a second to chill and eat family meal.

  • 5-7 PM The restaurant opens for business, and nightly happy hour is always hopping.

  • 7-9 PM Dinner service is in full swing.

  • 9-10 PM I venture to the floor and stop by a few tables. It’s important to me that every guest is happy, from the food to the service. I stop by to say hi to a few regulars, mostly neighbors from the Sixth Street District, and then head back into the kitchen. It’s part of my job to keep everyone pumped up, which is important when you’re working 12-hour days.

  • 10-11:30 PM The night starts winding down a bit - everywhere except the kitchen. We see a lot of late diners, so we’re still as busy as ever in the back of the house.

  • 11:30 PM-12 AM I talk to my team about how the night went and anything that we need to improve for tomorrow. I chat with chef Nathan to make sure we are being smart about what we are ordering and that the week’s game plan is in place.

  • 12-12:30 AM The day is wrapping up, and it’s time to unwind. I’m thinking that Firehouse Lounge is the perfect spot for tonight’s post-work nightcap. And so begins another day.