[Photo: Rémy Thurston]
By 9:30 a.m. on a recent weekday, head chef Ashleigh Page of Page's Okra Grill in Mount Pleasant had already baked 15 cakes, 600 biscuits and tested a few of her recipes to ensure the restaurant's Southern sides still met her standards. She's also in charge of much of the production--from baking to smoking meat to creating specials--at the Page family restaurant. Established in 2006, she works alongside her sister Courtney (the general manager), her brother Chase, their father, Tony, and her aunt Linda. Here, Ashleigh walks Eater through a typical Wednesday morning at the restaurant.
5:00 a.m. Ashleigh arrives at Page's between 5:00 a.m. and 5:30 on each of the six days a week she works. First task: see what the night crew has left for her. "I put my eyes on everything, to see what we've sold, what we haven't sold, what's leftover, what I have to use."
5:30 a.m. On weekdays, the four line cooks arrive with an hour to prep for breakfast. On weekends, the crew swells to eight or nine, and 1,000 guests will drop in for breakfast.
"I have their backs," she says. "I make sure they're getting all their stuff ready to go. If they're not ready, the whole restaruant will go down."
6:00 a.m. It's biscuit time. Making the 600 biscuits a day is one of the first cooking tasks Ashleigh bangs out. Why her buttermilk treats are so beloved? "They're always fluffy."
Forty-five minutes later, and the speedy chef is done baking off the biscuits. Then, it's on to writing down and cooking the specials for the day. "We have our menu, but I like to do three specials every day for lunch and/or dinner. So, depending on what it is we're having for a special, I either start on that first, or I just start cooking our sides and things."
7:30 a.m. It's the moment to light up the grill. People love Page's smoked chicken, so Ashleigh likes to run it, along with pork butt and beef brisket, as a special. "Some days we're smoking a lot of meats outside, so I rub down the meats and get the grill started."
8:00 a.m. The nine-to-fivers of the world haven't stepped in their offices yet, but in Ashleigh's kitchen at this hour, "it's non-stop back there." Sometimes, she has help with production, but other days she's on her own, making massive amounts of Southern sides (think: 20 pans of macaroni and cheese, 10 gallons of butter beans).
On the days when there's another set of hands, she's baking away in the morning. The to-make list is an assortment of cakes, like chocolate, hummingbird, carrot and "tons of coconut cake." There are also pies, bread pudding, cobblers and pudding in the rotation. She says she likes the freedom her job gives her, and how it affords her a chance to be creative.
9:00 a.m. Lunch starts at 11:00 sharp, so at this point Ashleigh's checking on the food to make sure all the sides are "hot and ready to go."
"I like to have everything baked and out of the ovens by 2:00 p.m." Today she's made more than a dozen Oreo cakes, which all need to be frosted. That's a project that will take about two and a half hours to finish.
11:30 a.m. "We're prepping all day." Page's has 15 Southern sides on the menu, plus specials, so the production of beans, mac and cheese, collards and much more is nearly constant. Right now, they're also testing recipes and saving them digitally, so everything will remain uniform, even if Ashleigh is off. Currently, she works six days a week, no fail.
2:00 p.m. The day is almost wrapping up, but not quite. The night crew shows up now, and Ashleigh explains the specials to them. Then, it's off to do the ordering for the next day's delivery. That takes about an hour, and she usually does inventory right after.
3:00 p.m. Ashleigh tries to head out by 3:00 or 4:00 p.m. She says she and the rest of her family work really hard (they outgrew their original space and are constantly trying to improve the restaurant). "I feel blessed to be able to work here with my family."
· Page's Okra Grill [Official Site]