His momma …
“My earliest memory is of Momma chopping green onions in eggs and scrambling ’em. Then she’d get out a big iron skillet and fry cornbread.”
Meet Anthony Soles, whose vocation and avocation for life over a hot stove dates back to that small apartment and Claudia Sole’s kitchen.
“That’s where it started. I’m not sure how old I was, but I remember Momma saying you may grow up and marry somebody who can’t cook so I’m going to teach you how.
A wide smile turns into a soft laugh with …
“Thing is, Momma was right. I married a woman who couldn’t cook a lick. Still can’t. I do all the cooking at home. You can ask her.”
That’s when he’s not hanging over a six-burner gas stove and a flat grill at Chef T’s restaurant on U. S. 431 near Anniston Memorial Gardens.
He is, as mentioned, Anthony Soles, but he is also “Chef T,” who, along with two partners, owns what is more of a “country café” than it is a restaurant.
(And don’t ask me the difference; I just know what I know.)
There is a memory …
His mother not only cooked for her three kids, but for the customers at Walmine Cafeteria in downtown Bessemer. Soles went to work there when he was 12.
“I had to help Momma out. Back then you took odd jobs where you could. I went to work as a busboy. I washed dishes, cleaned tables, kept the building clean. Best I remember, I made $8 for a full day on Saturday and Sunday and got like $3 for afternoons during the week.
“That was good pay back then (1970).
“Momma was the cook there and she worked long hours and she believed in discipline. We were very disciplined. She always made sure we were on time and did the job we were supposed to do. And in those days, you just didn’t embarrass the family. She didn’t tell you to do something twice, either.”
Best of all, Claudia Soles had introduced her son to his life.
There is a memory …
For that, go back to his high school years at old Jess Lanier in Bessemer.
“I was in FHA — Future Homemakers of America — and the only boy in it. I took home economics. I could sew, cook, clean, wash and iron clothes, do anything the girls could do.”
There is another laugh and ...
“Yeah, I took a lot of kidding for that, but thing is I was smarter than them. I was where the girls were and there were no other boys.”
There was high school graduation in 1977 and a stop at Jacksonville State, but it wasn’t too long before he was at the stove again. His first job as a cook was as a “line”cook at the Holiday Inn research kitchen in Huntsville.
“Been out of the business only once since I started. For a time I was manager of a brick plant, Ragland Clay products in Ragland. That’s where my wife’s from.”
It is also where he went into business for himself, turning a 19-seat café into a 45-seater, the first Chef T’s. Ragland is still home, he still operates part of his catering business there.
Along the way, other than the brick business, Soles has cooked in Alaska, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Ohio, Mississippi, California, and South Carolina.
There have been highs and lows along the way.
“No doubt about that one. It was in 1995 when one of my customers at Chef T’s in Ragland invited me to come to Alaska and cook for him. It was at the state fair. He had rented a booth there, flew me up first class, and I cooked for him nine days. That was the best.”
The low point came during his time as head chef at the old Holiday Inn in Oxford.
“It was a wedding. A lady came from out of state to do the wedding cake. It was a monster, four or five tiers, did it the day before. We had an automatic air conditioning cutoff at midnight and the next morning there was icing everywhere, had to make a basic cake.
“Yeah, the bride was very unhappy and I caught the flak because I was the chef. I had to eat a little cheese that day.”
He’s met a lot of people along the way, cooked for the high, the middle, and the lower. It’s a tough business and the hours are long, very long.
“Yeah, I do put in long hours, 12 and 14 hour days are not uncommon and I have met a lot of nice people, a lot of well-known people, but I’ve also met some I never want to see again.”
“I’m a project kid and there’s something in just looking back to where you come from and where you are today. It’s been a great ride and I’ll be in it ’til my last breath, be peeping around the corner in some kitchen to see what they’re doing.
“Thing is, I love what I do and I have no regrets, none.”
And if he needs a bit of guiding every now and then with his cooking, “Momma” is still alive and well back in the projects, where Soles’ memories are not only of green onions and scrambled eggs and fried cornbread, but of a close love.
“Momma was a single parent and she still lives there, 46 years. And she’s not leaving. You mention it and she says ‘This was good enough to raise you.’”
Oh, by the way, don’t bet those green onions in scrambled eggs with fried cornbread doesn’t show up on the menu one of these days. He’s thinking about it.
Have a nice day and thanks for visiting …
George Smith can be reached at 256-239-5286 or e-mail: email@example.com