Charles Hunter, III, 30, said he’s just a guy passionate about food, creativity and people
After working years in the culinary industry, he found a way to combine his passions into an entrepreneurial endeavor of in-home personal catering.
Chef and owner of The Salted Table, Charles is taking his love of food to the tables and homes of Nashville and surrounding communities.
ABOUT the CHEF
The middle child of three and born in a middle-class family in Oak Ridge, Tenn., Charles’ mother worked in home health care and his father was a carpenter and a man of many trades.
He said his story of cooking is the cliché story of being the kitchen with Grandma. He said before his little brother came along him and his sister were partially raised by her because his parents worked so much.
“It was a funny thing. She lived in a middle-class suburb, but she had a chicken coop in her backyard and a quarter acre farm with root veggies and whatever was in season. My sister and I would get off the bus and she would be on the screen porch skinning a deer, or a squirrel or dropping turtles in the boiling water.”
Charles said seeing his grandmother’s passion about food and seeing her want to feed people in her community inspired him over the years.
Graduated from high school in 2004, he went on to Rel Maples Institute in Sevierville, Tenn. where he major and graduated in culinary arts.
“It was fun, small, two-year program, but I was there closer to three years because I took a lot of extra courses. I really wanted to try and extract as much from the program as I could and learn from as many people as possible.”
INTO the CULINARY WORLD and in NASHVILLE
After school, Charles worked as a kitchen manager for Copper Cellar Corporation in East Tennessee.
“I met my wife during that time, and we moved to Knoxville because I transferred with that company,” he said. “When my wife got cancer we were in between Knoxville and Nashville, coming to get treatment at Vanderbilt. Once she got done with her bone marrow transplant treatment, we decided we would move to Nashville.”
Charles continued to work for Copper Cellar Corporation in Nashville when the two moved in 2009.
“We saw that there was a place for creatives,” Charles said about the city. “We saw a place where people wanted to invest in what creatives wanted to do for a living. I think that’s what really sucked us in. I saw plenty of room here to grow as a chef and as someone who is passionate about food. My wife is music orientated so for her it was a no-brainer.”
He eventually left that company and started with Mangia, a nine to ten-course Italian restaurant with singing and dancing, in Franklin.
Last year he started getting calls for catering private birthday and anniversary dinners.
“I’m always looking for ways to be creative without having the perimeters put on you of cooking another chef’s food or having to cook only certain things,” he said.
THE SALTED TABLE
Charles left Mangia a little over a year ago to pursue his in-home catering business now called The Salted Table.
“I don’t cook food in the mysterious location where you don’t know where the ingredients came from, or how I prepared it,” he said.
Charles wants his in-home personal catering to be an experience for his clients and an open invitation for them to ask questions about the food. He said he wants to spark people’s interest and educate them about what they’re eating, but also make them aware of their resources when it comes to preparing a meal.
“Everyone is different,” he said. “I want to cook food that is comfortable to people and try to challenge them just a little bit.”
About five months ago, Charles said the in-home catering became more consistent so he decided to give it a shot at being a full-time career.
“I’m a creative all day. I’m a bit whimsical at heart. I’m a storyteller. I love details and the mundane things that many people don’t pay any attention to and those are things I try to portray when I’m cooking for people.”
For Charles, food evokes emotions from him. Through his work in the kitchen, he tries to pick out the nuances and relay that in a story format through the building of flavors and the complexities in food.
He said he wants his clients to get that sense of attention to detail through how he plates the food or how he chooses to decorate the table.
“I’m always trying to relate how I see the world. I try to find ways to do that through food, food styling and every aspect of the business.”
Over this last year, Charles said often recruits help from creative individuals as well as people who are passionate about food. He said it’s important to have those kinds of people because without that passion it’s impossible to execute consistently.
“Community is having relationships with people who are like-minded and challenge you to see things from a different perspective. I feel as though community helps you grow and are the people who are supportive of you and your endeavors.”
Charles said it’s interesting that people are so generous and do want to see each other succeed because there is so much competition.
“I’m sure there are 30,000 people who do what I do, but I’ve found a way into that market because I have people who are willing to spread the word, which is such an awesome thing,” he said.
When Neat Nashville asked Charles about the recent boom in the city and all the changes going on, he said he sees change as a good thing but also sees the negative aspects of it.
“There’s such an influx of restaurants, businesses, creatives and entrepreneurs moving in that some of those older establishments are losing their faces, which is a sad thing, but you need growth in order to sustain an economy,” he said.
“[Change] brings in a new demographic and allows you to see your city from a whole different perspective,” he said. “You learn to discover other ways to appreciate what your city offers.”
Charles’ wife of six years, Jenna, teaches in-home voice, piano and guitar lessons.
He joked and said what’s important to him is not losing his sanity while trying to become busier.
“Find that balance of living a healthy life but continuing growing my business and also being able to fulfill my personal relationship my wife is difficult,” he said. “It’s hard as an entrepreneur because if something comes along you want to jump on it. You don’t want to miss any chances to gain a new client or continually develop what you’ve been putting so much into.”
Thanks for reading Nashville!
Every Thursday at noon Neat Nashville embraces the community by highlighting an individual in a feature article that tells their story and voices their concerns about the city moving forward. It is our hope to inspire good change locally, to be a force of unity, and support the people we all call neighbors.
It starts with community. It starts where you are.