Right in historic downtown Sanford, there are culinary creations blooming at The Tennessee Truffle, a restaurant featuring a southern-infused menu with fantastically light and fluffy buttery biscuits. Dedicated to using fresh ingredients and supporting small farmers, Memphis-born Owner and Chef Nat Russell sees every dish as an opportunity to share his love of good, honest food. They take pride in curing their own bacon, pickling everything, and making those very best biscuits in house.
Their breakfast and lunch menu features 12-day aged Duroc pork belly bacon, over-easy Lake Meadow Naturals farm eggs, and Olde Hearth Bread Company bread in addition to their signature house made biscuits. Dinner specials change nightly – on a recent night, they had Kentucky ham croquettes, Harissa aioli, with tomato jam.
As a Culinary Institute of America graduate and the former executive chef of Winter Park’s Café de France, opening The Tennessee Truffle was a natural evolution. We got to speak with Chef Nat recently about the restaurant, his background, and upcoming plans at The Tennessee Truffle
The Journey to Sanford
Chef Nat Russell of The Tennessee Truffle: I started my culinary career in 2000 at a small Japanese Restaurant in Memphis, Tennessee. After working there for a little over two years, my wife and I packed up and started doing seasonal work.
“We lived in Yellowstone national park and the Ocean Reef club in Key Largo. I cooked and Elizabeth bar tended. In 2004, my wife ended up writing my essay for culinary school. Elizabeth has always pushed me I was what you might call a procrastinator. We ended up in Hyde Park, NY where I attended the Culinary Institute of America.
After graduating in 2006, my wife wanted to be close to her family. So we ended up here in Sanford. Since my arrival, I have worked at Luma on Park, I was a Sous chef at The Boathouse in Winter Park ( hich was in the space that the Ravenous Pig is now in) and executive chef for 5 years at Cafe de France on Park Avenue. I have also made menus for three restaurants two of which have been in Central Florida.
In May of 2016, I thought it was time to venture out and open a restaurant.
The reason for opening The Tennessee Truffle was to have more time with my daughter. At that time in 2016 Ella my daughter was six years old. I knew that I had already missed out on way to much of her life already. So I thought what about doing a breakfast and lunch spot. I had never cooked southern food but in my head I pictured myself with a Southern-style high end diner.
What’s in a Name? The origin of the namesake The Tennessee Truffle.
Weeks before we started thinking about names for the restaurant I was paging through an old southern cookbook for ideas/recipes and there it appears – Tennessee Truffle – which was a name given for Ramps. Story goes that in the Appalachian mountains the Ramp (in the onion family) is the first plant to rise from the ground in the spring with one of the shortest life spans. The ramp has broad leaves and the stock is more like a scallion. The taste is a mix of mild onion and garlic.
Weeks later my wife, daughter, and myself were sitting in my daughters room with a large piece of paper. We had a lot of good names that seemed strong but this one always stood out to me.
Challenges in the Kitchen?
Some challenges for me starting out have been nerves in the kitchen and dyslexia. Which has made it hard in the kitchen and in day to day life.
Restaurant Life in Sanford
Sanford has been amazing since day one. Everyone from the business owners to my friends the Sanford residents! Everyone has shown me why this has always been the place for me and my family. Sanford is so much different in the fact that the community really comes together. Which this is my first restaurant you can tell how cutthroat other areas can be.
What’s the Secret to the Perfect Grits?
I think the secret to good grits is using the best possible ingredients from the grits to the cream to your own stock. We use Anson Mills antebellum white grits – famous white Carolina mill corn known for its high mineral and floral characteristics and its creamy mouthfeel. We bring 2 parts home made vegetable stock, 1 part while milk, and 1 part cream to a simmer with a bay leaf and fresh thyme. Once we are at a simmer we slowly pour in the grits and are sure to continue stirring so the grits do not stick and burn. We check and taste these constantly and seasoning as we go. We finish these with sourgum, scallion, radish, and candied pecans.
Tell Us about the Popcorn Trifecta Dessert
Our popcorn trifecta comes from my love of popcorn and things I’ve learned and picked up along the years in my career and not knowing where to stop in a dish. I feel less is more in food and then there’s this dis. With the popcorn trifecta I think staggering the same flavors in different techniques, textures, and temperatures makes this childish dish work.
Upcoming Plans at The Tennessee Truffle?
I think we have some fun new dishes worth checking out! Such as our take on a southern classic – Chicken and Dumplings. This is chicken thighs that have been cooked in chicken fat, a glazed brunoise of mire poix( carrot, celery, onion) a beautiful chicken jus, celery leaves, burnt lemon, and hot sauce. For the dumplings we make a light gnocchi that we pan sear with beach wood mushrooms. We also have a new Berkshire pork belly that we braise in pork stock and Coca Cola and serve with Maque Choux ( a Southern Louisiana dish). Peanuts and candied jalapeños. I’m not sure what the future has in store for us. I do know it will be tasty!
The Tennessee Truffle
125 W 1st Street
Sanford, FL 32771