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There's plenty of inspiration at Nat Russell's Tennessee Truffle

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"The way I stay relevant is by cooking food that means something to me," says chef Nat Russell of Sanford's Tennessee Truffle. Given his experience with French, Italian, Japanese and Southern cuisine, there's a lot that inspires him, and it's what makes his restaurant one of the best in the Bokey.

"If you put love into it, no matter the dish, and use quality ingredients and the proper technique, it'll have potential," Russell says.

Potential is precisely what Russell has exhibited since working his first restaurant gig at Japanese-fusion joint Sekisui in his hometown of Memphis. After attending the vaunted Culinary Institute of America, Russell honed his chops at Winter Park's Luma and the now-shuttered Boathouse before settling in as Café de France's executive chef. Along the way, he says he's collected many mentors, one of whom showed him the importance of showing respect with a handshake and a simple "Good afternoon, chef!" Establishing a respectful workplace became a priority. "Harassment and inequality for women, or any person, is unacceptable and, frankly, abhorrent. I'm making a conscious effort not to assume my employees or patrons always feel safe and respected, but rather to stay acutely aware."

But he sees his adopted community of Sanford as especially conducive to the success of a new business.

"Whether it's patrons or other local business owners, I'm blessed to continually feel the support of patrons and other local business owners, learn from their experiences, and collaborate on ways that contribute to our collective success," Russell says. "I [want] to nurture an environment where guests and employees feel at home and can experience a human connection while eating great food."

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