Taste Bud Profile
Chef Sara Bradley of freight house and Top Chef grew up in Paducah, Kentucky. Strong Jewish roots on her mother’s side and generational Appalachian roots on her father’s side made for a unique and delicious upbringing.
Sara Bradley: Every time I smell chicken stock I immediately remember my mother cooking chopped liver, onions, boiled egg, and shmaltz from roasted chicken.
We’d spread this combo on Ritz crackers. She only made it three or four times a year so it always felt like such a treat, and now every time stock is in the works, the smell immediately makes me think of it. I think the best part about it was knowing that it was “stage one” of good food to come—we got to eat the shmaltz with the liver on crackers, but the broth itself was also destined to be the base for matzo ball soup. There was a whole waterfall effect of delicious food coming our way, starting with roast chicken, then the chopped liver, onion, schmaltz combination, and then soup.
I grew up in a fusion of cultures. My parents came from extremely different backgrounds, and I loved how that manifested in the foods we ate.
Our holiday food was Jewish with Appalachian touches, like Hanukkah potato latkes with apple butter. It wasn’t “normal” to have classic Jewish food in KY, but I decided as a child that I’d embrace what it meant to be different from everybody else. I learned a really important lesson from that—you don’t have to be in a certain place to eat a certain kind of food.
My mother would leave a cookbook open to the page of the recipe she was going to cook that night. The understanding was that excluding any knife work, we should have as much prepped and ready for her to go as possible.
This taught me to search in the pantry for things other than snacks, and to feel involved in the process of making meals. I have really strong memories of being active in the kitchen, and I know they have shaped the way I run my business today. I remember learning how to pickle and can things with my grandmother in Eastern KY. She showed me every step—this coffee mug is the right amount of this ingredient, this is how much liquid you need to cover it, etc. My mother would take my hand and put it into the bowl of a pie crust dough in the works, so I could really learn the feeling of when it was right. Especially when it comes to regional specialties and old school recipes—a lot of things aren’t written down. If you don’t teach someone else how to make it, it’ll be lost forever. I always knew I wanted to have my own restaurant because I always wanted to share my knowledge with other people. It’s a priority at freight house for both staff and guests. I am so thankful someone took the time to teach me. I will always want to do that for others.