Big Daddy’s Restaurant and Oyster Bar
An old school fish camp delivering much more than average fried seafood
Laney Jahkel-Parrish recounts her rise as top pastry chef, and making the decision to leave the industry
by Laney Jahkel-Parrish
If you haven’t seen the Oscar darling of 2023, Everything Everywhere All At Once, you should. It’s a weird, touching, action-packed, roller coaster ride of a movie. The title felt super appropriate to sum up my life since late-Spring of last year, when things just started going sideways . But let’s back it up a bit…
In 2015, I decided to leave a desk job in higher education to pursue a baking and pastry degree from Johnson & Wales. Since I already had a BA from Queens University of Charlotte, I completed my coursework in about a year. I went home every day with my head spinning with information, and my body weary from the intense physicality of being in the kitchen. I was not a youth of 18 like most of my cohorts. I was thrilled to get a coveted internship with Ashley Boyd, working at both 300 East and Heritage Food and Drink. She asked me to stay on as a pastry assistant that led to pastry sous chef and then to pastry chef in 2018. I went head-first into my work, relishing in the pace of a restaurant kitchen and doing as many events with Ashley as I could. That meant early mornings, late nights, and not being able to see my family much since they are all a 10-12 hour drive away. We celebrated birthdays and holidays when I could get away, or more often, when they could come to Charlotte.
But in the two years between being promoted to pastry chef and the pandemic beginning, I was on a roll! I felt like I had hit a stride with my production. My weekly specials and ice cream flavors were inspired by what was in season at that moment combined with my love of nostalgia and storytelling, and I had so much fun with them. I participated in collaboration dinners, and got to work with many of the amazing chefs in our city. So when we started hearing murmurs of a shutdown, I felt like the wind was knocked out of me.
I was furloughed from my position as pastry chef at 300 East, like so many restaurant workers. I returned after about six weeks to a very different workplace. I remember going upstairs to grab a few things from storage and the entire dining area was organized with our vast array of takeout containers. It broke my heart to see all of our dishes wrapped and stacked behind all of the clamshells and paper bags. But I settled into what rhythm I could considering the takeout only/outdoor only/some indoor/full occupancy was an ever-evolving situation.
A major challenge was trying to anticipate how much food to prepare each shift. Ashley Boyd, my amazing boss lady, and I would try to experiment to see what would get snapped up, how we could package things up effectively, and still use as much local produce as we could get our hands on. Thanks to a delivery snafu, we came into possession of a huge box of disposable divided trays with snap on lids like for tv dinners. They were a hit! I had fun making my versions of time-tested favorites of peach cobbler and chocolate mayo cake (Duke’s Mayo, of course).
The reduced number of staff in the kitchen helped us feel a little safer, but we also had a good time chatting and prepping. As the months went on and things kept changing and more staff came back, and then it was basically “business as usual.” Amidst all that, I got a call from my Dad about some health issues, and my husband Ben and I started making frequent emergency trips to Florida to check on him and eventually bringing him back to Charlotte to live with us. I still had a reduced schedule, which worked out well so Ben and I could take turns taking care of Dad. We moved to Monroe in October of 2021 when we found a house that was better suited to Dad’s mobility and some land to suit Murphy, my Dad’s 85-pound pupper. Then, in the spring of last year, Dad started having some additional health problems that seemed to snowball, and he passed away on May 10, 2022.
I went back to work two weeks later and my heart just was not in it. As before, though, the rhythm and familiar pace of making all the things I love was a comfort — even if I made them with less gusto than before.
Here’s where the movie title comes into play. I was moving the sweet rolls around in the oven — and those things are heavy, with each one baked up in its own cast iron skillet, arranged eight to a pan. Things on the pan shifted and I had to adjust suddenly and tweaked my shoulder. My shoulder continued to worsen with my daily routine of lifting heavy things, and my orthopedic doctor gave me the “you need to rest and rehab or it will never improve” spiel. Around the time that all this was going on, I was also elected as a board member, and then vice-chair, of Piedmont Culinary Guild. The Guild is re-building after two-plus years of being dormant, and there are many challenges our members face in this post-ish pandemic environment.
With all this going on, the pain in my heart from losing my Daddy and the pain in my shoulder, I met with Ashley and let her know I needed to step away from the kitchen. I did not feel like I was doing my best work despite my best efforts, my creativity was dormant, and my emotions were, frankly, out of control. I felt overwhelmed, distraught, and panicky. Everything was happening all at once and I felt like I had zero control, which is not ideal for a control freak like myself. I knew I could not be away from a kitchen for too long, or maybe ever, so I started looking at ways that I could be in the world of food in a different way. There are some great Sustainable Food Systems graduate programs out there and I found one that is all online. I am hoping to start this fall.
I was devastated to leave 300 East, my home away from home. I needed to take a break, get some perspective, and spend some time with my family. Ben and I took an amazing vacation last fall and we got to spend the holidays with family for the first time in years. I still bake, mostly for friends and neighbors, and it’s a totally different experience at home. I still mise and I am still methodical, because you can take the pastry chef out of the kitchen, but can’t take the kitchen out of the pastry chef. Baking is therapeutic, cathartic, a balm to my soul. Dad used to sit in the kitchen with me when I cooked and baked, like I did with him when I was younger. It feels like our time together, still.
People ask me what I am doing or going to do. I don’t have any concrete answers. I do know that I want to make sure we have farmers, farm land, and access to healthy food for generations to come, so it will be something to do with that. I have learned this past year that when everything seems to happen all at once, the walls feel like they are closing in, and the gut that you always trusted is not trustworthy, it is ok to stop and take a breath. You do not have to keep moving and going through the motions. Sometimes the solution is in stillness.
Now, it’s time to get moving.