Chef Conrad Phillips Is Carving a Niche at Caritas 

Phillips combines cooking and carpentry at Caritas.

Conrad Phillips began cooking at 4 years old. Then, he enjoyed watching PBS in the kitchen in his house in Cordova. "They did some sort of an episode on kid-friendly desserts," he says, "with Nutella and peanut butter. They layered it in a cupcake tin and threw it in the freezer. I [recreated] it, and that's when I knew I wanted to be a chef."

He got into carpentry when he began building fences for money at age 15.

Phillips, 25, now combines all his talents as chef de cuisine at Caritas Community Center & Cafe."I believe God's got a plan, and he's got a lot of moving parts in my life that are all slowly coming together," he says.

click to enlarge Conrad Phillips - MICHAEL DONAHUE
  • Michael Donahue
  • Conrad Phillips

Phillips' Season's End Wild Game Dinner & Fundraiser, a four-course dinner with hors d'oeuvres and wine and beer pairings, will be his first Caritas fundraiser. The date coincides with the end of duck hunting season so area hunters can attend. The menu will include elk bolognese, duck confit, and venison steak Diane. "I'll be doing a chocolate grand marnier crème brûlée using duck eggs," he says.

The dinner is only one of his plans for Caritas.

Phillips, who already built new shelving and menu boards, wants a "full transformation" of the center. That's "from the ground up, inside out. I want to redo the floors and paint everything so it doesn't look like a facility. And all these paneled lights need to go.

"The outside will be painted white or a whitewashed brick. All of the windows, we'll have planted boxes underneath them," Phillips continues. "We'll have a pergola, a seating area with big, farm-style family tables that will sit maybe 30 people. We'll have picnic tables inside a fenced-in area. Fenced for aesthetics, not for security."

He wants to grow edible plants for the community. "Instead of having a box where people can go grab a can of some crap processed stuff, I'm going to have a tree out there where they can go pick some superfoods."

Phillips also has plans for an "aquaponic system" so Caritas can raise its own fish. Cutting down costs will allow Caritas to "provide more for the community."

They've already applied for grants, he says, so more money will come from fundraisers and donations.

Phillips describes himself as "the straight-A student who was always in trouble" in school. "I was thinking about work or starting a company or doing this and that, and I'd finish my schoolwork a little too early and have nothing else to do."

He had his own lawn-cutting business when he was 14. The following year he went to work at KFC.

Phillips dropped out of high school. "I realized I could make more money if I wasn't in school. And I had already, in my adolescent opinion, learned what I needed to learn to make money and do okay."

He began his own catering company when he was 18. He now is a partner with 901 Thyme Catering Company. 

While at L'ecole Culinaire, Phillips acquired his "passion for agriculture and farm-to-table and sustainability." And, he says, "That blossomed [thanks] greatly in part to Spencer McMillin."

McMillin, a veteran chef and former Caritas chef de cuisine, introduced Phillips to Tim Ammonds at Oleo Acres Farm. "We would go every Saturday for a few hours and help out on the farm," Phillips says.

He worked at various restaurants, and he also made jams, jellies, pies, cakes, syrups, and cookies at Jones Orchard.

Phillips now owns his own construction business, Phillips Enterprises, where he makes fences, decks, and other outdoor structures.

He went to work for Caritas after he saw a Facebook post from McMillin, who was looking for cooks.

Phillips had been to some Caritas wine dinners and is a fan of the center — and its vision: "If you're hungry, I've got food."

Season's End Wild Game Dinner & Fundraiser, 6:30 p.m., January 25th, at Caritas Community Center & Cafe, 2509 Harvard. $75. 327-5246.

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