This is part one of my interview with Jonah Munson, exec chef of the Walnut Room. Part two of our conversation will run tomorrow.
"I started cooking when I was really young, and we had family dinners nearly every night -- that's what you do when there are six kids in the family," says Jonah Munson, who adds that being the youngest of six siblings didn't get him any preferential treatment, either. "We all ate, we all cooked, and we definitely all cleaned. It was understood that everyone did their part."
But despite hanging out in the family kitchen while growing up in Georgia, Munson had no desire to be a professional chef. "I messed around in the kitchen, but I was never a foodie," he admits, noting that he went to college with aspirations of becoming an airline mechanic.
A cake changed the career path for Munson, today the executive chef at the Walnut Room. "I was going to school in Florida and was completely broke, but I remember wanting a cake and deciding that it was probably more cost-effective to buy the ingredients and make it from scratch than to buy the box and everything else that you had to buy along with it," he says, pointing out that he made the frosting from scratch, too. "From what I remember, it was way better than a box cake, and good enough that I figured I'd make baking my hobby."
After nearly a decade in the construction business, Munson turned that pastime into a gig, taking a job at a bake shop and "learning how to make and stretch taffy, bake fudge and make pralines and bear claws," he says.
He did some traveling, too, including a six-week camping trip across America that included a stop in Colorado, a state he "absolutely loved" -- and would eventually call home. But first he'd open his own restaurant in Forsyth, Georgia, a small hamlet that was a restaurant wasteland, Munson recalls. "My wife and I had been talking about opening a restaurant, and I was still doing a lot of baking on the side, and there was nowhere to eat in this town, so we opened a brick-oven bistro and bakery," says Munson, who still owns that restaurant in partnership with other family members.