As the Executive Chef at Samantha’s Taproom, Trace Munday is aware of the dedication it take to make your passion your profession. Munday has been with Samantha’s since the day it opened on Main Street in 2015, starting as a line cook and working his way up with the guidance of restaurant owner, Chris Tanner.
Munday has been cooking for 21 years, making his way through Kansas City for culinary school and serving up dishes all along the East Coast before heading back to Arkansas to be closer to his family. “I ended up missing home, my inspiration for cooking has always come from watching my parents in the kitchen”. With a smile on his face, Munday adds, “My mom loves to make homestyle dishes, while my dad is more of an upscale foodie. This explains why my two favorite foods are tuna casserole and foie gras!”
It seems that his dad’s upscale food taste may have made a strong impact on Munday, because his forte at work is catering the bigger parties. “After working in the hotel business, parties of 2000+ are nothing to me. All the work helps me stay focused. I can channel any anxiety I feel into putting out quality food at a quick pace.”
Not just any food either. Munday works to stay innovative in the restaurant game, while also staying true to Arkansas staples. His favorite example of this right now at Samantha’s is their jalepeno-stuffed bacon wrapped quail with a black cherry demi-glaze.
With a job that often lends itself to 12 to 14 hour days, Munday says he has a love-hate relationship with being a chef. “I’m so excited about new foods and new flavor profiles, but after being on my feet all day my body doesn’t want to cooperate. Our 71 year old pastry chef, Mr. Marshall, gives me inspiration to keep going and continue to pursue my passion for cooking.”
Any normal person might find running a kitchen, overseeing staff, and continuing to create new dishes to be too much. But Munday is not normal. He is in a league of his own, working not only to average 12 minute ticket times to accommodate business patrons, but also to keep the staff on their toes by letting them experiment on their own. “I’ll ask them to make me a soup, and then instill trust in them that they can do it. I want to keep them creative, allow them to show their talents so they can see the strong points in each other. We call it aces in their places, meaning everyone is working their strengths at the line, and it makes everything run so much more smoothly.”
During slower days (unusual for Samantha’s as any restaurant goer can attest to), you might find Munday trying to sneak on the line to cook. “If I’m walking around and we’re having a smaller crowd than normal, I’ll start bussing tables and working on the dish pit. I’ll hop on the line to cook, I just want to be in the middle of it all.”
Chef Munday will attest though that he hasn’t always been such a team player. “I gave up the ego thing years ago. I was like a Gordon Ramsey type, and I learned throughout the years to be more patient and understanding. Going of the handle all of the time doesn’t lend itself to great responses. You get a better response with respect.”
Eventually in his career, Munday hopes to open his own restaurant, but for now, he feels challenged and excited by working as the Executive Chef at Samantha’s Taproom. “We want to stay on the cutting edge of food trends, blending a mix of low country coastal with southern traditional food. We have just the best produce in Arkansas, and then you mix it with fresh fish we fly in. It couldn’t be a better combination!”