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On a blustery Friday morning, Kevin Korman starts the day sipping a black coffee in a comfy armchair near a fireplace in The Workshop. He arrives at the coffee shop about 8 a.m. to check in with the staff, catch up on emails and create the day’s to-do list.
“I usually start out over here,” he says. “The coffee is better down here.”
The Workshop is a short walk from The Ozark Mill Restaurant, where Korman spends the majority of his working days. At the Finley Farms property, a Johnny Morris development with a goal of celebrating the agricultural traditions of the Ozarks, Korman serves as executive chef.
About 9 a.m., Korman walks down the hill from the coffee shop to the farm. It’s early spring, so most of the excitement is beneath the soil.
Farm managers Brendan Sinclair and Liesel McCleary review their plans for the season: Strawberries, carrots, potatoes, herbs and edible flowers, eggplant, okra, melons, persimmons, elderberries, corn, garlic and celery are on the list.
Walking through the beds, Korman dreams up creative uses: “I can incorporate those flowers into a salad for Easter,” he says in a greenhouse full of flowering kale plants. “Maybe throw some of those into the dehydrator and see how it works.”
“We were just talking about building a drying rack,” McCleary replies.
Just 650 steps from The Ozark Mill, Korman says in peak season the farm supplies roughly 20% of the restaurant’s ingredients. But the chef doesn’t dictate crops.
“I’d rather them grow what they are excited about and go from there,” he says.
The hour-long tour highlights the respect the farmers and the chef have for each other’s roles, and the budding relationship is becoming more in sync with each season.
“The beets. Can we …,” Korman starts to say, as Sinclair chimes in, “Make them bigger?”
That’s exactly what he wanted to hear. “Yes,” Korman says. “They look beautiful, but they are just so labor intensive.”
By 10:15 a.m. he’s in The Ozark Mill kitchen, which is buzzing with preparations for lunch service starting in just over an hour.
Korman’s work is rooted in conceptualizing, planning and overseeing the kitchen and staff. He starts in the kitchen with quality control, going down the line of prepped sauces, soups and starches – tasting each one. A couple errors are quickly fixed by the cooks: The rice is a bit undercooked, and the soup is not hot enough.
“We want it consistent every time,” he says.
Ever planning, Korman turns his attention from the day’s menu to Easter brunch. He jots down notes on the menu items he’s about to prep, including apple fritter bread, herb and parmesan frittata, and eggs Benedict pizza. He heads to the walk-in cooler for the bread and frittata, baked the day before by staff and ready to be tested. He sees a tweak needed for the bread right away as it’s sunken in the center.
“I knew that was going to be a challenge with that pan because it’s so big,” he says.
But the taste is spot on, almost underbaked, super moist with notes of cardamom and cinnamon.
Korman tastes each element as he goes, but his face doesn’t give away his thoughts. He’s mentally taking notes.
He’s asked his team to make a few elements of the dishes, including a spinach fondue which is tasked to Lead Cook Shawna Service. She comes back with her first pass. They both aren’t happy with the color.
“Throw it back in the blender with handfuls of fresh spinach and let’s see what happens,” he says. Service returns a few minutes later with a blender full of a vibrant green sauce.
About 11 a.m., Marketing Manager Dayle Duggins arrives to photograph the finished dishes for promotional materials. The dining room fronting the Finley River is a picturesque backdrop.
Korman also is creating a few items from the restaurant’s market menu. It changes with the season and highlights what’s fresh from the farm.
Nearing lunch time, Korman starts on his final test dish: the Benedict pizza. He quickly works with the dough on a floured surface and adds a healthy layer of shredded mozzarella and smoked ham. The pie cooks in just 110 seconds in the rotating pizza oven.
Korman says Morris bought the mill property in the 1990s and knew from the start he wanted the restaurant to feature pizza. As lunch begins, that station is a flurry of activity. Morris certainly knows his audience, and Korman’s attention to detail keeps them coming back.
“You can get pizza anywhere,” he says. “I had to make 100 before landing on one I really liked.”
That finesse carries to every part of his work. The staple menu at Ozark Mill went through 23 variations.
Back to the pizza. He pulls it from the oven and adds a few sous vide eggs to the center. That wraps his prep for the day as the kitchen staff move around him and the narrow hallways in sync, like a choreographed dance.
At noon, the tempo shifts from a waltz to a foxtrot, as a flurry of tickets start printing.
Korman assumes the expo role, reading incoming orders, checking the status of plates in progress and putting the finishing touches on dishes heading out of the kitchen. Words are few and intentional.
He keeps the orders and dishes running smoothly through 1:45 p.m. Amid the action, the chef has not himself sat down for a meal, opting for several cups of black coffee and tastes of ingredients here and there.
“I had read an article years ago about a chef that they followed him around and watched everything he consumes in a day, and it was way more than any person should. That kind of stuck with me,” he says with a laugh.
At 2 p.m., Korman heads downstairs for a meeting with his sous chefs. They sit in a lounge area of The Garrison, a soon-to-open small plates restaurant developed in homage to Ozarks’ Riverside Inn.
The status meeting ranges in topics from evaluating new hires to planning for an upcoming inventory check and security protocols to the most ordered menu items.
There’s also an update on The Garrison timeline. “I think we’re 99% there on the menu,” Korman says. “I’m hopeful for June.”
Back upstairs, more staff start filling the kitchen around 3 p.m. in preparation for dinner service, and at 3:30 p.m. they gather for a team meeting led by Sous Chef Carl Manteceon. Korman closes the meeting with advice for the staff.
“I’m a huge advocate of you pushing each other,” he says. “There is nothing wrong with saying I think you can do better. … And don’t forget, every day taste your food.”
As afternoon turns into evening, Korman catches up on administrative work and personnel support. He’s put in a 12-hour day when he leaves at 8 p.m. with a pizza in hand for a late-night family snack and a piece of salmon for himself.
Running the less than year-old restaurant is demanding in many ways, and each day presents a new challenge to solve. An executive chef for 15 years, Korman says the higher you go, the further you get away from actually cooking.
“I have a big team, 30-plus back of the house people,” he says. “But when I get to work with the food, everything else melts away. That’s the Zen moment.”
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