Sustaining a burgeoning food scene requires, among other things, a diverse talent pool. Thankfully Little Rock has a few fresh faces stepping up to the plate. This series aims to introduce up-and-coming chefs and find out what makes them tick.
Model, outdoor enthusiast, and determined young chef, Sammy Cyz doesn’t like to sit still. Whether she’s exploring her next culinary obsession or pushing the limits in the studio, she’s a serious force to be reckoned with.
Although a Chicago native, Cyz has called Central Arkansas home since she was a preteen, and was around food even before then. The oldest of four siblings, she took initiative in the kitchen – “I had young parents and they worked a lot, so it was up to me and my sister to make sure that food was laid out for the family at night.”
Meal prep aside, she didn’t really have one particular dream for her future. “I never knew what I wanted to be,” she says, “I’m just the kind of person that is open to anything and everything.”
That doesn’t mean she wasn’t exploring her options, though. Cyz has always been artistic, modeling from a young age and participating in various forms of expression, but it wasn’t until recently that she discovered her passion for another type of creative outlet – food.
“Culinary wasn’t a passion at first,” she laughs, “I think that’s the interesting thing about it. I fell in love with it and the work ethics behind it – making things from scratch, being artsy about it, and ultimately experimenting.”
She enrolled in the Culinary Arts & Hospitality Management Institute and began her journey, although she still wasn’t staring down a concrete roadmap for the future. “When you get into culinary it’s really intimidating. You have to follow your gut,” she says.
She relied on intuition when it came time to decide between baking and cooking early on in the program. Plus, she wanted to push the limits, as she says, “I found out a lot of women go through the baking program and it seems to be a little softer and not as cutthroat. I really like a challenge.”
With that she dove in headfirst. Her first culinary job was with Travis McConnell at Butcher and Public which opened a few doors for her. Namely, she discovered a love of working with meats, and met local chef Donnie Ferneau, who was heading up Good Food by Ferneau at the time.
Cyz worked a few other gigs, trying her hand at the brew scene at Lost 40 and working at Starbucks for a time.
Then things really took off.
Ferneau helped Cyz land a position as a personal chef, and then shortly after asked her to join the 1836 Club team as production chef. “That opportunity happened and everything has fallen into place since then. I’ve really let go of the reigns and let me working under Donnie guide me. It’s been very rewarding,” she says.
Since joining the team she’s really learned a ton, thanks not only to Ferneau but also to 1836 Sous Chef Amanda Ivy. “Having a sous like Amanda is a very motivating thing because it goes to show that women can get ahead in this realm. She’s always pushing me and motivating me and she wants to invest in her chefs.”
Having called Little Rock home for the past five years, Cyz is a fan of the local food scene, but wants to see it hit the next level. “I do love the farm to table movement here … [but] I’d like to see a little more creativity – stuff you wouldn’t see elsewhere.” She makes a point to explore the foodscape, as she and her boyfriend have been taking the time to visit a new restaurant each time they go out.
For now Cyz is enjoying her day-to-day, but who knows what the future could bring. “It might not happen, but a dream of mine is to one day open a craft charcuterie house/bar, I think it would be cool. I’m very into the study of charcuterie, studying meats, canning, and curing.” While the idea of owning a business is intimidating and slightly overwhelming, she’s currently curing her own duck prosciutto, and the future looks bright.
Her next goal? Figuring out how to take that little bit of Arkansas nature she loves so much and pair it with her creations.
“I want my cuisine to really resemble that – that Arkansas-outdoor foraging thing. I’m not really sure how that’s going to be just yet, but that’s where I’m headed.”
When not working at the club, Cyz splits her time between side projects and hanging out outside.“I think a perfect day for me is getting my sketchpad, getting my coffee, getting my hammock, and finding a secluded area and meditating,” she smiles.
Rock City has only skimmed the surface on what Cyz has to offer, but you can keep up with her latest food creations, outdoor adventures, and latest shoots on her Instagram.