Executive chef of Dayton brewery is James Beard semifinalist: ‘It’s about cultivating community through food’

Credit: Sarah Blankemeyer

Credit: Sarah Blankemeyer

Executive Chef Becky Clark of Little Fish Brewing Co. strives to bring community and joy through food while reinventing the restaurant industry through mentorship.

Clark is among the James Beard Foundation’s 2023 Restaurant and Chef Awards Semifinalists for the Greater Lakes Region, announced Jan. 25. The region includes Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio.

“I was not expecting it at all,” said Clark, 35. “I felt confident my food was good enough, but I did kind of think I would never (be nominated) because I’m choosing to work at a brewery in a small town.”

Credit: Sarah Blankemeyer

Credit: Sarah Blankemeyer

She explained it’s an honor to have her work recognized in this way because the James Beard Awards, often referred to as the “Oscars of Food,” celebrate the best chefs, restaurants and food professionals in the United States.

“I’m looking forward to using it as an opportunity to expand my network of other chefs that are doing impressive work,” said Clark.

She told Dayton.com her family is from central West Virginia and they moved to the Athens area for high school. She graduated from Ohio University with a bachelor’s degree in geology and an environmental studies certificate. Afterward, she attended culinary school at the Art Institute of Portland.

Clark said she didn’t know she wanted to be a chef until she went to culinary school. She is grateful for an incredible foundation of cooking thanks to her mother and grandmother.

“I was just very rooted in agriculture and community around food,” Clark said.

After working in Pittsburgh, she moved back to Athens and started her own business called Pork & Pickles. Clark described it as a butcher shop without a storefront.

“I really missed putting food on plates, so I started doing a bunch of farm dinners, pop-up dinners, charity dinners and making a name for myself in the Athens area.”

When she decided to create a fine dining food truck, she met Jimmy Stockwell and Sean White, co-owners of Little Fish Brewing Co. Clark explained their mission of brewing world class beer while sustainably supporting local economies aligned with her values.

Little Fish Brewing Co.’s farm-to-table restaurant concept sources directly from area farmers.

Credit: Sarah Blankemeyer

Credit: Sarah Blankemeyer

“I think the foundation of it is you can’t start with a menu concept and then look for the ingredients,” Clark said. “You have to start with the ingredients and then create the menu concept out of it.”

Little Fish Brewing Co.’s Dayton location sources buns from DOUGH, a bakery by Ghostlight and bread from the Good Hands Bread Co, Clark said.

Guests at the Dayton brewery can expect a small, rotating menu of elevated foods. Clark described it as a scratch kitchen, containing items outside the realm of standard brewery food. For example, they offer french fries served with a garlic aioli and chimichurri sauce.

“I consider my kitchen a teaching kitchen,” Clark said. “It’s about cultivating community through food.”

She also noted she works side by side with her chefs to help them grow in their careers. With the help of Stockwell and White, she makes sure they are working in a safe environment that prioritizes making a good living and work/life balance.

“It’s those kinds of moves that I think makes us eligible for something like a James Beard,” Clark said.

If you haven’t had the chance to try Little Fish Brewing Co., the Dayton taproom is hosting a beer pairing dinner Tuesday, Jan. 31 at 8 p.m. Tickets are still available.

Little Fish Brewing Co. is located at 116 Webster St., Dayton.

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