Elliott Wilson’s senior project at Sequoyah High School in 2007 was an assignment that causes stress for many high school students. For Elliott, however, it was only the beginning of his distinguished culinary career.
Elliott, the executive chef at J. Michael’s Prime steakhouse in Canton, says he always enjoyed helping his parents prepare meals, and cooking brings back those memories of family. He recalls, “My earliest memories are of being in the kitchen with my family, watching my parents cook, and then enjoying meals together.”
Warm nostalgia and his love of cooking led Elliott to a job at Featherstone’s Grille at BridgeMill while he was still in high school. He learned basic culinary techniques and management skills from the team there. “I loved cooking and decided I wanted to go to culinary school. Most of my classmates were thinking about traditional schools, but I couldn’t imagine doing anything other than working in a restaurant.”
When Elliott’s teacher explained the requirements of a senior project—a verifiable venture that relied on the student’s interests and career goals—Elliott didn’t hesitate. He knew his endeavor would involve cooking. Working at Featherstone’s gave him the advantage of having a chef as a mentor and the resources to plan and execute a big dinner as his final project.
Elliott says he had to convince his teacher that he wasn’t cooking just a simple meal. He had to persuade her to accept that he could plan a large-scale meal for a party of twelve, work with sous chefs, and cook each high-end steak to order. While many students either forget their senior project or don’t hold fond memories of the process, Elliott’s time at Sequoyah shaped his future.
After Elliott earned a bachelor of culinary arts management degree from The Art Institutes of Atlanta, he began an impressive career climb. He worked as a sous chef at Lake Arrowhead Yacht and Country Club, BridgeMill Athletic Club, and then Indian Hills Country Club. He became the executive chef at BridgeMill Athletic Club before joining Shelly and Mike Farrar at J. Michael’s Prime in 2018.
Shelly Farrar, also the co-owner of Riverstone Corner Bistro, had always wanted to own a steak restaurant and found the right opportunity when the former owner of J. Michael’s Prime decided to sell. “It was Mike’s and my hope that the community would want to have a fine dining family restaurant close to home,” Shelly explains.
Elliott has known the Farrar family since he was eleven. Elliott and the Farrars’ son Michael went to school together and stayed in touch. Shelly says Elliott is like a son in her family. When it came time to name a chef for J. Michael’s Prime, Shelly knew Elliott would be the right choice. “He had worked for us in the past. We knew he had a great work ethic and was someone we could trust to carry out our vision.”
To Elliott working with the Farrars was a dream job. He had always wanted to work with them and wanted to be back in the Cherokee County community. Returning to his roots meant he got to see his favorite customers, meet new ones, and develop even more relationships in his home county.
Elliott has since learned a great deal about collaborating with a big team and running a business from the kitchen. “Everything falls back on the executive chef. Having a good sous chef is important, and the line has to work together. Communication is key.” He says that managing people is the most difficult part in that you must have the right people who work together as a team; the cooking is the easy part.
“One thing I’ve learned from Elliott is that hard work and passion will take you far, and also not to take your job too seriously. Work can be really enjoyable if you just have fun with it.” — Shannon Drennan, Bartender, J. Michael’s Prime
Some of Elliott’s favorite experiences, he says, are creating tasting menus and hosting monthly special dinner events at J. Michael’s Prime. The events give him a chance to prepare dishes not normally on the menu, create special wine pairings, and introduce new culinary experiences to the community. “My favorite dish to make would be the chef specials. I love getting to use different proteins and game, like elk, and adding a twist to all of these dishes to make them seasonal,” he elaborates.
Happy to create a life and career in Cherokee County, Elliott says, “I love interacting with customers. I don’t want to stay in the kitchen and never see anyone. One of the best parts of my job is seeing the regulars and being part of this community.” There is one downside, he admits. The most surprising thing he’s learned about being a chef is how much his back hurts.
In his off-time Elliott relaxes on the golf course, travels around the country when he gets a chance, and especially enjoys trying new dining experiences. His favorite restaurant has been Saison in San Francisco, and not just the food. “From a chef’s perspective, I appreciated the craft and being able to watch and understand what went into creating the dishes,” he explains.
Elliott’s favorite food might even surprise you: pizza with jalapeños and green onions.
Not many of us knew what we wanted to do when we were sixteen. Luckily for those of us in Cherokee County who love to dine at J. Michael’s Prime, Elliott followed his passion and turned his love of cooking into a successful and satisfying career.
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