Via The 11th Hour : There are some people who are born knowing what it is they want to do in life, and they push forward, powered by that knowledge and certainty, to fulfill what they’ve always known as their destiny. There are people who don’t ever seem to be able to pick a path to follow; those people usually end up aimless and confused, unsure of how to get their proverbial ship back on course. And then there are people who dive into life and have as many experiences as they can, never sure which one will turn into something more meaningful, just sure of the fact that we’re all offered a wild array of opportunities and missing out on any of them would be silly. Usually these types end up landing somewhere they’re perfectly, purposefully suited for and creating a lucky, happy life for themselves – Katie Collinsworth Wurstner is one of those people.
Katie was born and raised in Macon, and credits the city for giving her a solid background in what it means to be part of a diverse community. “Taking advantage of the public school system helped push me out of my bubble of comfort,” she says. “Learning about people who didn’t have the same childhood, economic, and family experiences is something I treasure.” As a kid, she dreamed of being a doctor when she grew up. In high school, she wanted to be a professional clarinetist and artist; she followed that dream into college, where she nearly finished an art degree. She took time to hike the Appalachian Trail. She held an eclectic string of jobs: lighting designer, server, bookseller, retail manager. She sang with some local bands; she worked in insurance for awhile, and moved on to work with local news, where the spark that ignited her current career was found.
“It was during my time with local news that I discovered I could make cakes look like anything I wanted them to,” Katie says. She teamed up with a close friend who was also an excellent baker, and they enjoyed some success until the friend’s husband was transferred out of town and the team was forced to disband. Katie had enjoyed the work, though, and decided it was time for her to learn everything she could about cooking and baking – she applied and was accepted to Le Cordon Bleu’s Atlanta campus, where she earned a degree (with honors) in Baking & Pastry Arts. As an added bonus, she met her now-husband Sam in culinary school; they were married seven months after graduation.
In December 2013, Katie and Sam wandered into a new gourmet kitchen store downtown – Robinson Home – during their soft opening. “I took one step in the door, looked at Sam, and said ‘We’re home,’” Katie says. “I fell in love with everything about the store right then.” After meeting Will and Carrie Robinson, the store’s owners, Sam and Katie began teaching occasional cooking classes there; realizing the asset he’d found in Katie’s retail experience, culinary degree, and charming demeanor, Will Robinson asked her to be a permanent part of the team. She began as Social Media Manager, shifted to General Manager, and now is both GM and Executive Chef of Fork & Key, Robinson Home’s newly opened small-plate restaurant and wine bar.
Fork & Key hasn’t been open long, but it’s already generating exuberant reviews, and a quick click-through on social media shows quite a few photos people have taken of the beautiful plates they’ve been served there. The dishes Katie’s been whipping up are both aesthetically appealing and droolworthy. There are small plates available for snacking with an afternoon glass of wine – the charcuterie plate is amazing, and, according to Katie, the edamame hummus with house-made crackers has become a customer favorite. They’ve just started serving lunch, too – they open at 11 am Monday through Friday – and their panini featuring Nduja (a spicy prosciutto spread) is a huge hit. Fork & Key plans to have a menu that changes with the availability of local produce; innovation and freshness are important to Katie as a chef, and patrons reap the benefits of this with unique, creative dishes made from hyper-local ingredients whenever possible.
“It may be cliché to say this, but Julia Child is my biggest inspiration,” says Katie. “Not because she was an amazing cook, but because she worked so incredibly hard at becoming the best she could be. She was tireless when it came to culinary techniques, and that is a trait I’ve attempted to emulate.” Katie embodies Julia Child’s appealing, straightforward spirit, and her hard work and dedication, like Julia’s, has carried her forward into a career that suits her beautifully. Now she has the chance to impart her wisdom to what could be a future generation of chefs: “I tell all of my staff that I’ve made so many more mistakes in a kitchen than they have. Don’t worry about the mistakes – worry about learning how to fix the mistakes.”
When she’s not busy in the kitchen at Fork & Key, Katie likes to spend her down time hanging out with her husband Sam. “Sleeping, drinking wine, reading, writing, talking, and watching shows about food come in second,” she says. When asked where she’d take an out-of-town guest for a quintessentially Macon experience, her answer is detailed, thoughtful, and, like any good foodie’s should, contains all three meals plus a late night snack: “First is breakfast/brunch at H&H – it’s just so delicious. Then a quick hike through the Ocmulgee Indian Mounds helps work off the heavy breakfast and gets some fresh air circulating. Next, lunch at NuWay Weiners or the Houston Avenue Fincher’s Barbecue simply because they are Macon. An afternoon of wandering to the slides at Coleman Hill shows off some gorgeous sites and gives you some great videos and stories to share over dinner, then on to Dovetail downtown for some delicious fare. I’d also toss in a Rock Candy walking tour or a visit to the Big House and/or the Otis Redding Museum for good measure. For evening relaxation, it’s drinks on the patio at Fork & Key with a plate of macarons. That’s my Macon.”
11 Random Facts About Katie:
1. I am 137 months older than my husband
2. My home fridge is organized per ServSafe guidelines
3. I make wishes when I cross railroad tracks in a car, lose an eyelash, or see a clock reading 11:11
4. I have a fear of being eaten by an alligator/crocodile or a shark
5. I can make my blood pressure drop just by thinking about it. I once got it to 81/60
6. I push dispensers 3 or 7 times when I use them
7. I was a great speller until I had a free-standing curtain rod fall on my head. Thank heavens for spellcheck
8. I love original ChapStick
9. I can conduct in two different time signatures simultaneously
10. I am a comic nerd with a soft spot for
Steve Rogers storylines
11. I’ve dabbled in the world of cosplay