This is part one of my interview with Carrie Shores, chef of Table 6; part two of our conversation will run tomorrow.
Despite her wispy, petite frame, Carrie Shores, the executive chef of Table 6, is a woman of massive strength. The 35-year-old mother of two, whose childhood was anything but normal (her mother was a heroin addict), could have fallen into the dark abyss, but cooking saved her, she says.
Born on Long Island and raised by her grandparents until she was twelve, Shores remembers the kitchen as her refuge, a safe haven to escape the chaos. "My grandmother would hoist me up on a stool when I was a toddler, and I'd watch her tie up legs of lamb, and when I was all of four or five, she taught me how to swirl -- and scramble -- eggs, and that's where my love of cooking started," says Shores, who adds that her grandmother used to tell her she was "born a super-taster," referring to her keen sense of taste and smell.
"As early as six, I could cover my eyes and identify, either by smell or taste, whatever food I was eating or had under my nose," recalls Shores. But while she could have shamed a lot of those Top Chefs with her ability to pinpoint ingredients, she had other responsibilities that kept her from thumbing her nose in the air. "I was twelve and living in Denver at that point, but my mom was still a mess, so I was raising my sister, doing all the grocery shopping, cleaning and cooking. I had to learn how to cook out of sheer necessity," she says, remembering that she'd often call her grandmother for advice -- and care packages stocked with foodstuffs that she couldn't locate in Denver.
By the time she was sixteen, she'd landed her first job, as a cashier at the Mrs. Fields in the Cherry Creek mall -- it was a restaurant at the time, not just a milk-and-cookie kiosk -- and after two months, she was promoted to assistant manager. She eventually left to work in the bakery department at Wild Oats -- now Whole Foods -- and to finish high school at Emily Griffith Opportunity School. And once she graduated, she bought a one-way ticket to San Francisco to pursue a culinary path at the California Culinary Academy. "I started catering to generate income, then got married, had kids, bought a house, got divorced, sold the house and used the money from the sale to really pursue my dream," says Shores. "I felt like I was finally starting to take control of my life, and despite being a single mom, I had a super-positive attitude and wholeheartedly embraced my future."
And then she secured a stage at A16, one of San Francisco's top restaurants. The stage morphed into a six-month line-cook gig, and Shores says it was the most exhilarating six months she's ever experienced: "Absolutely everything about it was amazing, I loved the restaurant, I loved the food, I loved Nate Appleman, the chef at the time, and while it was the hardest job I've ever had, it was also one of the most eye-opening, intense experiences I've ever had; it was just balls to the walls."