Ruth Lawson has been in the kitchen since she was probably eight years old. A self-ascribed “picky eater,” Ruth began learning to cook in order to appease her tastebuds.
Ruth Lawson has been in the kitchen since she was probably eight years old.
A self-ascribed “picky eater,” Ruth began learning to cook in order to appease her tastebuds. “I was picky about my flavors,” she recalled.
She began by making homemade candy and breakfasts for her large family.
It’s also in the family, too, as her dad, AJ Lawon was a “grill master of this town” and who owned several restaurants in the Shelbyville area.
“I can just remember being there. It’s almost like I can smell the environment,” she said.
AJ Lawson passed away when Ruth was 14. But from then on, Ruth kept cooking.
“I just really played around with different seasonings, figuring out what went with what...just making it my own thing,” she said.
As a teenager, Ruth cooked whole Thanksgiving meals for her family— including her aunt, two brothers, and a sister.
“They ate what I fixed,” she said. “It was just a great feeling. Everybody loved it.”
Several years later, Ruth continued cooking for her large family—eventually her five kids. Always one to make sure they had full course meals, Ruth kept at it in the kitchen. “Especially at night, I made sure they had a variety of things.”
But it wasn’t until she was in her 30s that she developed her own flare of flavor. She studied at the International Culinary School at the Art Institute. She didn’t need to finish; she already knew everything she needed, she said.
So, how does she describe her style?
Well... “A little of this, a little of that. A pinch of this and a pinch of that,” Ruth said with a laugh.
Growing in confidence and ability, Ruth began to cater about 10 years ago. She even makes birthday cakes and other desserts.
“That’s a self-taught... Having, you know, six boys in the house, I just learned how to make cakes.”
No stranger to the restaurant business, having grown up in it with her father and having worked in it since the age of 14, Ruth opened up in mid-August what is now Ruth’s Kitchen and Bake Shop, located at the 1600 block of Madison St. across from Duck River Electric.
“A lot of people knew my food before I even got opened,” she said. “They ask, ‘Why didn’t you do this 20 years ago?’...I just don’t think the good Lord was ready for me to do it 20 years ago.”
It was a lot of hard work, something Ruth isn’t afraid of... “It’s been a crazy ride. But a good ride. I’ll be honest, somedays it’s overwhelming,” Ruth said. “Some days we never stop cooking. And some days we do just right. But it’s constant work.”
To describe Ruth’s restaurant, one can only say it’s family-oriented—it’s what helps to carry on that day-in and day-out hard work.
It’s one of the benefits of eating locally: getting to know who’s making you food and how much they enjoy making it.
You can taste it in her recipes. Her chicken-and-dumplings are one of her most popular items and one of her most favorites to make. That, and meringue pies.
And how she doesn’t get her meringue to crack?
“I don’t know. I’ve just done it for so many years. It just always comes out right...Knock on wood,” she said.
“It’s so funny because whenever I make pecan pies and the girls are trying to make them, they ask, ‘Well, how do you measure this?’ I say, ‘Well, I don’t know’...When I’m adding syrup to pecan pie, I’m just like count to five, and it’ll come out right,” she said.
But surprisingly the hardest thing to make— even though her breakfasts are “to die for”—is grits and eggs.
From her father, who even taught Ruth’s breakfast grill cook to cook when he was a teenager, Ruth learned how to be “one of the best.”
“I just feel like I’m a hometown girl, and I’m just doing something for my hometown people,” she said.
“If they can leave with anything, for me, it’s learning how to treat others as you want to be treated...I always tell them, when customers come in, I want them to feel like they’ve been invited to my kitchen.”
Ruth’s Kitchen is open Monday through Saturday 6 a.m.to 2 p.m. and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sunday. Breakfast is from 6 to 10:30, lunch from 11 to 2 p.m. There will be a “Breakfast with Santa” on Dec. 18 for the kids to enjoy this holiday season.