“Food of Love”, Chef Anne Kearney’s motto, says it all, keeping the chef and her staff ever mindful of their mission to create culinary excellence in every dish that is placed before a guest.
For Kearney, the words are close to her heart. Her passion for culinary perfection and the “sense of place” she feels in the kitchen, will always be the cornerstones of her dedication to her chosen career.
After graduating from Alter, Kearney followed her dream, entering the Greater Cincinnati Culinary Art Academy. After finishing her studies in 1988, Kearney went to New Orleans to work under the late chef John Neal at the acclaimed Bistro at the Maison de Ville Hotel. When Neal left to open Peristyle in late 1991, he took Kearney along as his Sous chef. Kearney credits Neal for her tutelage in classic French cooking techniques, as well as perfecting her own palate and prompting her discovery of new tastes and the depths of flavor.
“His passion for his work was so real, it was almost tangible,” says Kearney. “I will always hold with me the image of John hovering over a tiny pot that held what would become a perfect pink pea risotto. He would stir and taste, stir and taste, until it was absolutely perfect.”
In 1992, Kearney took leave of Peristyle for a three-year tenure with superstar chef Emeril Lagasse. Kearney spent most of the first two years sweating it out on the Emeril’s restaurant kitchen, working at the frenetic pace only an institution of that caliber could command. Then she moved behind the scenes to advance her restaurant knowledge, researching and formulating recipes for Lagasse’s television program Essence of Emeril, in addition to developing and testing recipes for his second cookbook Louisiana: Real and Rustic. However, her passion for hands-on food preparation remained, and she sought an opportunity to return to work in the kitchen.
“My favorite station was the food bar,” Kearney recalls. “There I understood who I was cooking for: I stood directly in front of the guests while preparing their meals. It really put me in touch with customer orientation and the human aspect of the business.”
Kearney is also mindful of the “front of the house” lessons she gleaned from Lagasse. “Chef Emeril is a consummate businessman who not only offered me challenging opportunities as a cook, but also introduced me to a whole new perspective of the restaurant industry beyond cooking.”
Kearney purchased Peristyle shortly after the April 1995 death of Chef John Neal. Though she made the menu her own immediately upon taking over the helm, she was ever mindful to incorporate Chef Neal’s legacies whenever possible: from cuisine (“Respect for the food and proper preparation from start to finish was expected. Nothing marginal was accepted.”) to the dining experience itself (“We seated 62 people by design. It was our intent to create an intimate dining experience. This is important to the staff and even more important to our guests. I was able to experiment with and develop new recipes, work with the cooks on the line, and visit the guests.”).
Kearney is one of five chefs honored in 1999, 2000, 2001, and 2002 with a James Beard Foundation “Southeast Regional Best Chef” nomination. Chef Kearney was awarded the title of “Best Chef Southeast” in 2002.
Kearney discovered her interest in food through her family while growing up in Dayton. Kearney remarks, “As a child, my father encouraged me to follow my heart when it came to choosing a career. It was wise counsel.” Kearney’s mother always had a garden, and cooked what it provided. Her grandfather owned a lodge, and would entertain a different cabin each night with one of his special meals—while Anne watched, helped where she could, and absorbed it all.
In June, 2004, Anne sold Peristyle, and returned to her home town of Dayton, Ohio to be near family and take a break from day-to-day operations. Moving “down the food chain” a bit, she established Two Small Tomatoes, an all-natural garden on the Kearney family farm. Here she explored the whole cycle of “seed to harvest”. Beginning with tomatoes, the plan was to provide the freshest produce available for her next restaurant.
The new restaurant she envisioned was born as Rue Dumaine in 2007, located in the South Dayton suburb of Washington Township, Ohio. Rue Dumaine offered an unforgettable experience in casual fine dining. The ambiance included subtle southern accents brought up from New Orleans, such as wrought iron railings and ceiling fans over the patio. After eight successful years, Anne developed a local “following”, and instituted special events for her most loyal diners.
Years of studies, cooking on the line, assisting stellar chefs, and her private trials and errors, matured Chef Anne’s cuisine into an Americanized version of classically-styled French Provençal fare. In 2018 Anne came together with John & Trudy Cooper, Chris Arreola, and Andy Ganger to bring a new concept, Oak & Ola, to Tampa, FL. The restaurant is built around “Classics Revisiting”, and ultimately, the cuisine which reflects her motto wherever she is cooking: “Food of Love”.