By Helen Mitternight
(Editors Note: Charleston is such a foodie town that food and beverage superstars are hiding in plain sight, out of the James Beard limelight, but still very much creating and serving amazing food and drinks. This series profiles Charleston’s “hidden F&Bs.”)
Madison Lea Tessener has wanted to cook since she was about eight years old, but her parents convinced her that a college degree would be more practical. She has a hospitality and tourism degree from the College of Charleston under her belt, but her career training comes from butchering at Husk; acting as line cook at Charleston Grill and Glass Onion; becoming sous chef at McCrady’s Tavern; and even, for a while, cooking at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Gothenburg, Sweden with a name too complicated to spell.
“It has those double-dots and isn’t pronounced how it’s spelled,” she says.
Now at Chez Nous, Tessener’s got her eye on starting her own place, probably in Raleigh. For now, though, she loves being one of five chefs at the tiny Chez Nous.
“It’s really intimate and secure,” she says. “It’s an environment without the need for all the hierarchy and testosterone and military setup.”
Favorite Kitchen Tool or Gadget: I don’t have one. I like new toys, so if anything is a new fad kitchen tool, I want to play with it and see how it works. I like to tinker, to see if there is a more efficient way to do something.
In My Refrigerator (3 Things): Butter, eggs, chocolate milk.
In My Pantry (3 Things): Kosher salt, extra virgin olive oil, sugars of all kinds – white, brown, raw.
Favorite After-work Hangout: The Rec Room (Recovery Room Tavern).
Favorite Charleston Restaurant Other Than Yours: Bowen’s Island Restaurant. I love the fried seafood, the bucket of beer, the beautiful view of the water.
Comfort Food: Pizza. Takeout all the way, Domino’s or whatever, any kind of pan pizza. I love junk food.
Favorite Smell: Fire. I love a campfire, the smoke.
Favorite Drink: Bubbles. Sparkling wine. It’s for celebrating and I love to celebrate.
Number of Hours You Work a Week: About 50.
Customer Pet Peeve: I don’t have one. It’s a service industry. Our job is to make people have a good time and we wouldn’t have a job if we didn’t have customers.
Most Under-rated Ingredient: Salt. If you can season correctly, then your food is probably going to be okay.
Favorite Meal to Cook at Home: I don’t have any one meal. Week to week, I have a new obsession, a new technique or cuisine I’m trying to perfect.
Best Advice a Mentor Gave You: It was Travis Grimes (Husk). He said, “We’re all here because we’re not all there.”
Chez Nous is at 6 Payne Street, Charleston. Hours are Tuesday – Sunday, 11:30 am – 3 pm and 5:30 pm – 10:30 pm.
***Photos are all by Ferris Kaplan***