Wit & Wisdom line cook Derrick Reed talks craft and presentation

Derrick Reed, 23, has the kind of Instagram account (@derricksworldd) that holds the city’s foodie community in rapt attention.

Reed is a line cook at Wit & Wisdom Tavern in the Four Seasons Hotel in Harbor East. Some of the meals he’s prepared: fermented mushroom tarts, smoked gouda cauliflower grits, and sous vide rabbit. And, captured online, they all look amazing.

I was thrilled, then, that after Insta-stalking Reed for some time, I finally got to meet him. He told me that his earliest memories of Baltimore City are of riding his bicycle from Dundalk (where he moved with his mom and brother in 1999 from Honolulu, Hawaii) into the city and taking photos of the scenery.

“I went to an art school, Patapsco High School and Center School for the Arts, and a lot of my classes were photography. I was always that kid in the group that documented everything, recording videos and taking pictures,” he says.

“Later, I got away from photography a little bit but when I started my career in cooking, it brought that part of me back to life. One day I just took a photo of my food and posted it online and from there it just exploded, I found a new love for it.”

Reed found his love for photography early on, but his interest in cooking wouldn’t come until later.

“I didn’t cook at all as a kid; it was the furthest thing from my mind,” he recalls. “I have stories of me trying to cook ramen noodles in the microwave and how that all went wrong.”

After high school, Reed enrolled in the Community College of Baltimore County and started working in the restaurant industry. His first job was working at Chili’s as a prep cook. He went on to work at other chains like the seafood-themed Bonefish Grill and Tex-Mex eatery On The Border. It was working at these restaurants that peaked his interest in cooking.

“I would see the older guys on the line cooking and slinging the food around on the big open flames and they were using these big knives and I thought, that looks really cool, I think I can do that maybe,” Reed says.

Later he transferred to Stratford University and graduated with his associates degree in culinary arts. While in school, Reed started his first job in fine dining at Roy’s Hawaiian Fusion, a gig he thinks is serendipitous considering the first Roy’s restaurant opened in his hometown of Honolulu. At Roy’s, he learned bits and pieces of Japanese, Chinese, and Philippine cuisine and developed a “Hawaiian flare” in his own cooking style.

Cooking isn’t the only thing he learned at Roy’s. When he was just starting out, he once set fire to a fryer he was asked to clean, unaware that he needed to turn it off before dousing it with oil.

“Naturally, I freaked out and my sous chef ran over and dumped a ton of salt on it,” he says. “In that moment, it was very scary and I thought I was going to get fired because I was only working there for two weeks, but I didn’t get fired. It’s a story I look back at and laugh now.”

Before graduating, Reed landed an externship at Wit & Wisdom Tavern where he still works as a line cook. He’s been at Wit & Wisdom for two years and credits the constant learning environment and great mentorship for his tenure.

“Because it’s a hotel restaurant, we cater to a wide variety of people with different allergies and food preferences, so it’s challenging in a good way. I’m constantly learning to adjust my cooking,” he says. “And I run a lot of my recipe ideas by our sous chef, James Menges. He has taught me how to cook for the season and has given me great advice on my ideas.”

Reed’s ideas start with a pencil and paper. He says food styling is an art form. When he cooks at home, he strategically plans his meals and plating.

“I’ll draw my dishes before I plate them; I do multiple sketches and I try to transform it into something more than just your average dinner. Art has been a huge part of my life, so I like to incorporate that into my food. I don’t want it to just be food, I want it to be something you look at and admire before you eat it because you always eat with your eyes first.”

Reed has also freelanced as a private chef. His clients appreciate seeing a drawing of the meal before it’s prepared, and Reed customizes the menu to their liking.

“I give them the experience of opening their own restaurant but I bring it to them, in their own home,” Reed says.

In addition to his day job, freelancing, and cooking for himself at home, Reed also finds time to enjoy the local food scene.

“I love the Baltimore food scene and I see it growing so much. I see all these other chefs coming into town to open up shop,” he says. “With D.C. being so close to us, it’s only natural for it to happen. I really feel like we’re going to be the next city to really pop on the culinary scene.”

His favorite spots include Alma Cocina Latina and Gnocco, which he praises for its use of simple ingredients and preparation.

“They are not using the flashy ingredients or techniques,” he says. “It’s just Cooking 101 and they do it really well.”

He’s trying to soak up as much of the food scene as he can before he moves to Los Angeles in March. Reed is transferring to Culina, the Italian restaurant in the Four Seasons Beverly Hills.

“It’s more of a chance to hone my skills and meet a lot of people and learn a lot, soak up a ton of information and work my way back to Baltimore as a better chef, just in time for the revolution,” he says, “because I really feel like something special is going to come out of this city and I want to be a part of that.”

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