November Chef of the Month: Stuart Reb Donald of Bella Sera Gardens

Name: Stuart Reb Donald

Name of Restaurant: Bella Sera Gardens

Restaurant Phone Number: (251) 327-7571


Where were you born and raised?

Born in Mobile, AL and raised in the tiny suburb of Semmes.

What inspired you to become a chef?

Hunger! I actually started out as professional musician in Nashville, but I cooked to pay the bills. It didn’t take long to realize that I enjoyed cooking for money more than playing for money.

Where did you train to become a chef?

The school of hard-knocks. It would be inaccurate to say that I’m self-taught because I’ve worked for a lot of talented chefs who were kind enough to share their knowledge with me.

What others jobs, if any, have you worked within the food industry?

Everything from busboy up to executive chef, including server, dish monkey, and bar manager.

What does your typical workday involve?

Seeing as we’re a wedding venue, my work day is much less chaotic than my old restaurant days. It’s mostly just menu consultations with brides and the odd cooking contest. It’s so hot here on the Gulf Coast that our wedding season is actually in the fall.

Who is the most notable person you’ve ever cooked for?

I spent most of the 90s cooking in Music City, so I’ve really lost count, but Vince Gill, Amy Grant, LeAnn Rimes, and Tanya Tucker come to mind. Personally, I’m most proud of having cooked for Chef John Folse.

If you won the lottery, how would you spend your winnings?

Charity first, then building my restaurants, but mostly traveling. I’d like to open a number of critically acclaimed restaurants in my little home town of Semmes, Alabama.

If you weren’t a chef, what line of work would you pursue?

Musician is the easy answer, since I’ve actually paid the bills with it. But I would really love to be a food and travel writer.

What’s your favorite seafood dish to serve up for yourself and your family?

Probably my Gumbo Balls, kind of a redneck riff on arancini with rice cooked in seafood stock with trinity and shrimp that is then rolled into a ball, coated in breadcrumbs and deep fried.

What makes Alabama Gulf Seafood special?

It’s a tie between flavor and purity. I guess it tastes the best because the Gulf of Mexico is such a remarkable ecosystem.