Anyone who knows music industry mogul Marcie Allen Van Mol, the founder of MAC Presents, is well aware that she became one of the most successful figures in music and a perpetual name on music power players lists by scoffing at the rules.
So when she and husband Derek Van Mol were looking for a chef for their Nashville hot spot, Anzie Blue, of course they went looking outside the box. And having an eye for talent, the couple found their, no pun intended, Star — Star Maye.
Maye is charismatic, creative, inventive and in possession of a back story, from Alabama to the military and Alaska, worthy of a TV movie. But being a Black, queer, female chef, she was never given the chance to be an executive chef.
As Allen Van Mol explains, that is sadly not surprising. « There’s such a disparity between the number of female executive chefs and male, and then when you actually talk about the percentage, compared to people of color and then also queer executive chefs, the number is crazy, » she says.
Indeed, the numbers are downright depressing. Of 135, 236 Executive Chefs in the U.S. in 2022 according to Zippia, only 12.5 of those are women, 10.4 are Black and only eight percent are LGBTQ. So being a Black, female, queer executive chef, Maye is essentially a unicorn.
Thankfully, after 20 years of looking for the right home, Maye has found her perfect creative partner in the Van Mols. To celebrate her one-year anniversary at Anzie Blue, Maye was a made a part owner. She also has an upcoming cook book — A Star Among Us: A Chef’s Story — out June 23, hopes to expand Anzie Blue in a post-COVID world and Maye is a rising star in the food space.
Steve Baltin: Star, how long have you been at Anzie Blue? How did you connect anyway?
Star Maye: Through a mutual friend. Another chef friend of mine kind of brought me on to help at Anzie Blue in the beginning, maybe last March.
Baltin: Do you feel like being at a CBD space, you’re allowed to maybe be more creative, whether it’s cannabis-infused or not?
Maye: Lucky for me, Marcie kind of gives me the room to be as creative as I can be. I tell people probably the most interesting thing that I’ve created was the Deviled Egg Flight. I don’t know where that came from. I just knew that devilled eggs is a very southern thing. But I ain’t a one-trick pony, so I wanted to have multiple flavors on a flight. So I just went through and tasted all this weird stuff until, [laughter] until something tasted good. So that’s kind of how like that came about. So it does allow me to be able to push the envelope a little bit because I already know that if people are coming here, they’re already pretty open-minded about things, so they may be a little bit more adventurous with their food.
Baltin: What are some of the most interesting flavors you found in devilled eggs?
Maye: Right now we have five on the menu. You get five devilled eggs in a flight. And so we have the southern traditional because we’re in the south, and then I got cheddar and bacon, tomato, and mozzarella, pesto and tomato, and capers, cream cheese and red onion. You just gotta come and see. But I love that smoked salmon cream cheese. I love that lox bagel feel. So that is where that came from. But I think that I missed it by not putting the salmon on there, but I might be putting it on there. We’ll have to see what happens.
Baltin: I talk to so many musicians who love to cook because it’s a creative release for them and different from what they’re used to doing. Do you find that working there, you found sort of this natural correlation between music and cooking?
Maye: Yeah, I’m a music girl myself. I’m not a professional in any way, but I’ve been playing hand drums probably for about 15 to 18 years. So when I’m not cooking, music is my release. So those two things definitely go hand-in-hand. I think that creative-minded people is a thing. Artists, actors, all of us have that creative side and we sometimes can dabble into each other’s world because the creativity is still there. I do community theater too. I’m a theater kid. I like different types of creativity. So it doesn’t just leave it there. Cooking is where I found my home because that’s what I’m used to from growing up and being around my family. So it was just natural for me. But I paint, I build furniture. I am a very creative person outside of just cooking just in general.
Baltin: What’s your favorite music to cook to when you’re just messing around, if you’re at home and you’re experimenting for fun, cooking for friends?
Maye: Soul funk [laughter]. Put me some Bootsy Collins on and we gonna dance through the kitchen and get the job done, maybe some Earth, Wind & Fire. I like a good « Boogie Land, » some « September. »
Baltin: What would you make for Earth, Wind & Fire if they come into Anzie Blue?
Maye: People come there for the side, Steve. I’m not gonna lie about it. The mac and cheese, the candies, sweet potatoes, the collard greens, the brussel sprouts, they are there for all of that.
Baltin: So you’re having a dinner party. You’re having Marcie, Bootsy Collins, three, four other people over, what do you make?
Maye: Knowing Marcie, it’s gonna be some type of seafood, because she’s got a very strict diet. I know that she likes those seafood things, that she does not enjoy salmon. So we’ll probably have some really nice scallops and shrimp. I’ll take you back to my panhandle roots, growing up on the beach area, that’s where my comfort is, in that type of food. So I would probably bring that right on back, maybe make some shrimp creole. That sounds good. And I think everybody would be able to appreciate that because that’s one of those foods that is a memory. If you’ve ever been in New Orleans, which I’m sure those people have, and you taste that food, you’re gonna be like, « Oh, I remember when. »
Baltin: As we’re talking about this, I’m realizing there’s so many similarities between music and food and one of the big ones is, again, it takes you back. You hear a song that you heard when you’re six years old and it takes you back to being six years old and you think about the mac and cheese you ate, or grilled cheese or whatever. So what are your throwback foods?
Maye: I’ve got to tell you, it’s a very underrated food, I tell people this all the time, but it’s very versatile. You could do a lot of things with it, but it’s the underdog of foods, and it’s just grits. I’ve been cooking grits since I was five years old. So now at this tender age I’m at, not very many people are cooking them as good as me. So grits is one of those things that holds you and puts you to bed at night. You can eat it any time of the day. You can make it into a cake. You can fry it. Once it’s done, you can do whatever you want to with it.
Baltin: How old were you when you started cooking?
Maye: I’m gonna say probably about five. My grandmother always had us in the kitchen, but I think that that was the first time she ever asked me to do something in the kitchen. She was busy and she kicked my little stool to the stove and she was like, « Hey girl, get up there and stir them grits. » So I got up there on my little stool, I got the wooden spoon and I stirred those grits.
Baltin: So when you make them now, does it take you back to being five?
Maye: Yes, it does. She loved Mahalia Jackson, my grandmother. So hearing that Mahalia Jackson and stirring those grits, it’s very sentimental and it always makes me smile every time, they be like, « What are you smiling at? » I’m like, « Don’t worry about it, it was just a good memory. »
Baltin: Where’d you grow up by the way?
Maye: I grew up in a small town called Excel, Alabama, Repton, Alabama. So it’s a street and one side of the street is one town and one side of the street is another town. [laughter] So it’s hard to say. People ask where I’m from, « Okay, I went to Excel high school, but my address was Repton, Alabama. » It’s the middle of nowhere. It was a dirt road. It was a red clay dirt road that divided two counties, Conecuh County and Monroe County. One side is Repton and one side is Excel. So you gotta be stuck in the middle. My GPS goes crazy when I go home. It doesn’t know what to do.
Baltin: How’d you end up in Nashville?
Maye: By way of a whole bunch of stuff. I just did a whole bunch of stuff [laughter]. I kept throwing spaghetti noodles till one of them stood, and when I got to Nashville, it stood. So I’ve been here now for about, going on nine years. I was in the Navy, stationed in San Diego. I did that for a little while and I’ve worked on fish camps in Alaska and oil rigs and beaches, all kind of beaches. I’ve cooked all over the state of Florida, Alabama, Louisiana.
Baltin: I know this is your first gig as an executive chef. Talk about the importance of being in a place where you have a woman supporting you. Do you feel like that’s made a big difference for you?
Maye: Oh, definitely made a huge difference, just having a person believe in what you’re doing. I’ve never done it before. So for a person just to leap out and be like, « You can do this, » that was worth a million bucks. I have been displaying this for so many years and it has fallen on deaf ears and blind eyes. But for some reason, I walked in this door and this lady is like, « I believe in you, you could do this, » that definitely changes things. When you are a person like me with so many adversities all at once, they kind of discount me when I walk in the door. They was like, « She’ll be a prep person or whatever. » I tell people, it took me so long to get to a physical hotline. And then once I got to the hotline, then it was like, number one, nobody’s ever better than me on the hotline. It’s just the way it is because I made myself better on purpose. I didn’t really have a choice. So it doesn’t matter where you put me, it’s gonna be successful. It doesn’t matter. I’ve proven that hands down over and over again. I tell people that’s the difference between me and other chefs is that I haven’t had a choice but to work from a dishwasher all the way to the executive chef. So that makes my work ethic a little bit different than my counterparts. And being able to work with Marcie and have such a strong female staff is great ’cause everybody is just trying to excel at whatever we’re doing and I like that.
Baltin: At what point did you develop that positivity?
Maye: Believe it or not, once I left Florida. I worked there for so long just trying to get my foot in the door and do what I needed to do until by the time I was leaving there, I was beaten. I felt beaten up. I didn’t even think I would cook when I came to Nashville to work at Amazon. I had kind of given up on it. I was like, « Well maybe that’s not my thing. Maybe I just need to try something different. » I’m like, « I’m not getting anywhere at this job and I don’t want to continue to put this much time into something if it’s not gonna have a end game other than me making salads for $9 an hour. I can’t live on that. » But when I got to Nashville, what I’ve noticed here is that it’s not a lot of experience. Most of the cooks here are very young. They might have five years of experience versus my 23. Now that changed the playing field for me. Now my 15 years or 16 years of experience looks really great on a resume here.
Baltin: What do you hope others take from your story and the fact that you found success in a place where you’re allowed to be yourself?
Maye: It took time. Even at my breaking point, when I thought that this wasn’t gonna be the thing for me, I pivot, and boom, there we go. Once I got to Tennessee, it still took me seven years to find Marie. So it takes that getting up every day. I might have gotten knocked down 18 times, but I got up 19. So as long as you persevere through whatever it is, and when life gets crazy and you’re ready to move, you don’t have to move because you’ve already put the time in. Just pivot, try it a different way. Try something you didn’t do. Because what I had never done was worked at a country club. I didn’t know. I’ve been working on a Panhandle, had a lot of work at fish camps in Alaska. I did all this crazy stuff, but I never worked in a country club. I learned so much, I pivot. I just went and did something totally different I’d never done before. Because number one, I’m a person who loves to learn. Cooking is evolving daily on a daily basis. People may say I’m inventive, but there’s somebody right next to me who’s just as inventive as I am. So it’s all perspective. And I think that is where you have to start to change, is changing the way you view it. At one point I got to where I didn’t take rejection as rejection, I started to take it as stepping stones to help me further myself.
Baltin: Are there people that you look at and you’ve admired whether it’s in business, arts, whatever, for the fact that they’re able to continually grow and reinvent themselves?
Maye: Yes. Yeah, in my music industry, I love Mary J. Blige. I’ve been listening to Mary J Blige since I was a small girl. She came out in the ’90s, I was in my teen years, so that was very pivotal for me. But ever since this lady has come out, every album, the growth that I feel, it feels like I have grown up with her. And when I saw her on the Super Bowl, I was just like, « Didn’t get married, and did it again. Godly Mary, you keep me on my toes. Girl, I love it. » Also, and I’m not trying to be any kind of way even though she my sister from another mister. I admire Marcie. To have a person like her on my team rooting for me always, wanting my opinions and showing me how important of a person I am to her, that is pivotal for me. And to see her go from a music mogul to starting her own business, to starting a restaurant with no restaurant experience. [laughter] And they were successful before they even moved in to the building and started food. They were great with charcuterie boards and coffee. And she just went and bought some George Foreman grills and some Keurigs and called it a spot. That takes guts. That is a person I want to know.
Baltin: Where do you see this going? Do you want to expand?
Maye: Yeah. With COVID and whatever, staffing has been a real issue for us at Anzie Blue. So that’s probably what has been the biggest deterrent for me wanting to expand into other markets or, just even opening another Anzie Blue. I would love to do that. I think that every town needs a Anzie blue because I tell people it’s not a restaurant. Yes, we sell food, we got coffee, we got pastries, we got all kind. We do charcuterie boards and catering, all kinds of that stuff. But at the end of the day, it’s a community spot. I love going out there seeing the college kids on their laptop, trying to study for their midterms and people coming in and decide to have their meetings there and hang out for hours and listen and enjoy the space. We’re building a community and I feel like all towns right now in this era that we’re in needs a community place. So I would love to bring my community along. I tell people that’s my home. Anzie Blue is my heart. So y’all are in my home when you come in. So I don’t have customers. I have guests. They are welcome anytime.
Baltin: Where would you like to see Anzie Blue go next?
Maye: Anywhere. I feel like Anzie Blue would be a great beach side place also. Nashville is a staple, but I feel like it’s got that kind of beachy vibe in the city, that’s like, it’s real chill when you walk in and Zen. So I do feel like a great beach location would be awesome. I’ve had several people try to get us to California and several people try to get us to Florida and different places. I also had someone ask about New Orleans. So I’m like all those places sound cool to me. I’m gonna travel soon to them. I was like I got to be in charge of the menu [laughter].