Sean Brock

Chef, Restaurateur

Charleston

In his relatively short career, Charleston’s Sean Brock has become one of the most important chefs in the country. As executive chef and owner at both McCrady’s and Husk, the James Beard Award-winning chef is a leader in the movement to preserve and restore traditional Southern heirloom ingredients. The rural Virginia native grew up in a family that farmed, cooked, canned and preserved, and those practices have been ingrained in Brock ever since. His restaurants preach and teach Southern ingredients and traditions, and the menu at Husk focuses solely on foods indigenous to the region. Brock is also a passionate advocate for seed saving and grows a number of heirloom crops. He opened his second Husk location — this time in Nashville — which focuses on hearth and ember cooking, as well as local Tennessee vegetables, meat and threes, and hot chicken sandwiches. Brock is also writing his first cookbook, which is expected out next spring.

  • On March 12, 2013
    Sean Brock answered the question: Sean Brock

    What are Sean Brock’s favorite Charleston markets?

    There’s a fantastic market called Blackbird. And then there’s another one called the Tomato Shed. That’s actually a café, but it’s at the Stono Market. And that one’s really cool and old school. I really love that market. Those are my two favorite markets, for sure.
  • On March 12, 2013
    Sean Brock answered the question: Sean Brock

    Does Sean Brock prefer beer or wine?

    You’d be surprised. I prefer wine — red wine, Rhônes and Bordeaux. I drink red wine every single day.
  • On March 12, 2013
    Sean Brock answered the question: Sean Brock

    Who is Sean Brock’s biggest inspiration?

    Hands down, my grandmother. I grew up in the Appalachian Mountains in the middle of the coal fields. And that cuisine is very specific and very unique. In fact, it’s nearly faded away. There are very few people documenting it, studying it and celebrating it. She was that pure Appalachian cook that grew everything, raised everything, conserved everything and cooked everything all day long. So growing up, all my chores had to do with food. Before I could play whiffle ball or Nintendo Super Mario Bros., I would have to string up a bushel of beans or snap beans, shuck corn, grate cabbage for sauerkraut or peel potatoes every day. I was working with food from the time I was able to walk.

    When you live in a rural area like that, you didn’t go to restaurants. In fact, I don’t even think that the town that I’m from even has a restaurant these days or has ever had a restaurant. You don’t go out to eat; you cook all day, sit down with your family and you eat. You occasionally order pizza, but I thought everybody lived that way. It’s very European to live that way. I didn’t sit down and eat at a nice restaurant until I was like 15 years old.
  • On March 12, 2013
    Sean Brock answered the question: Sean Brock

    Where does Sean Brock get his heirloom seeds?

    Seed saving is one of my obsessions. I have a giant white chest freezer full of hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of varieties of Southern plants. There’s this group of people that are obsessed with collecting these things and are their stories. It’s a small group, and we all just work together. Lots of things show up in the mail, and I ship things out. And then, the more interviews that I’m able to do or any chance I get to talk about it, you never know who’s reading that article. Because someone reads that article and sees how passionate I am about saving these things and then I start getting packages in the mail and handwritten letters saying, “This was my grandmother’s favorite bean. It’s from blank-blank county, Virginia, please take care of it.” That’s kind of the way it works. It’s super cool.
  • On March 12, 2013
    Sean Brock answered the question: Sean Brock

    What keeps Sean Brock so passionate about cooking and the restaurant industry?

    I love the eating, I love discovering and I love learning. And I’ve always been this way, since I was a little kid, and that’s what this job is— constant research, constant development, constantly forming relationships and searching out producers and even guests and even ideas, and then taking all of these things and developing them into a dining experience. That’s a lifetime journey. What I’m trying to do is going to take my entire life. I want to get food, Southern food, back to its purity and its honesty. And you can’t do that by yourself. It all starts with the dirt and the plants and the breeds, and if we can do that, which will take a lifetime, then we can sit down and enjoy food that is as delicious as it can possibly be. Let’s take watermelon, for instance. The watermelon we eat these days is like playing Russian roulette. No one ever knows even what variety it is. It’s so commercialized. If you go back to the 19th century, you’ll find very specific varieties grown for very specific flavors, all well documented. The ground and soil haven’t been contaminated with toxins and poisons like we have now. And if you can find an old Bradford watermelon seed and grow it in beautiful soil, then you’re going to taste a watermelon that’s going to blow your mind. Just like the heirloom tomato series. Once you taste an heirloom tomato grown in proper soil, you won’t let someone shove one of those plastic-looking tomatoes into your mouth. But what we have to understand is that every vegetable is in the same situation — even lemons, even celery. We’ve screwed celery up! Who’s growing beautiful heirloom celery? In order to move forward, we have to look back pretty far, and we have to dig through agricultural journals, and look through the literature and old newspaper ads and farm journals. We have to make friends with historians, professors, scientists and seeds men. We can’t just stay in the kitchen glued to the stove in order to move this cuisine forward. It’s a tremendous amount of work that involves a lot of different of people.
  • On March 12, 2013
    Sean Brock answered the question: Sean Brock

    How does Sean Brock inspire his team?

    You have to be extremely passionate. The passion has to just pour out of you when you talk, when you handle things, when you cook, when you explain things. You have to be extremely passionate because you just pass that on, and that passion just becomes part of your life. And you see how positive it can be and how much it can make a difference when you’re cooking, serving or entertaining.
  • On March 12, 2013
    Sean Brock answered the question: Sean Brock

    What makes a successful restaurant to Sean Brock?

    I think you have to have a story or a message, and that’s important because you’ve got to have something to believe in to inspire you. But also so do your cooks, so do your servers, because once they understand the story and the message — once they start drinking the Kool-Aid — then they work twice as hard and then they transfer that energy. And now it’s to the guests, and you have to complete the loop. It’s just about having a mission statement, having a goal that everybody agrees upon and can get behind and support and believe in. That’s what it’s all about. Because if your front of the house believes in it, and your cooks believe in it, then the guests are gonna believe in it. And then once the consumer starts believing in something, then they trust you and they’ll eat anything and they want to come back. I think that’s a lesson that I’ve really learned in the past three or four years.
  • On March 12, 2013
    Sean Brock answered the question: Sean Brock

    What is Sean Brock’s favorite dish?

    I get pretty darn excited about making cornbread just because it’s such a simple thing that can be messed up so easily. [It’s tough] to master it and to get a recipe down that you’re happy with — to master it so it has a perfectly crunchy crust toasted properly and an inside that is soft and fluffy. You taste the corn, you taste the buttermilk, you taste the lard. Those smells instantly take me back to my grandmother’s kitchen. I eat it every day.
  • On March 12, 2013
    Sean Brock answered the question: Sean Brock

    How does Sean Brock come up with his menus?

    Our menus change all the time. Most of the time it’s the same products and the same producers, so the challenge is how can I sort through the things in my head to determine which dish goes to what restaurant. So in knowing that, that’s kind of why we put that set of rules and discipline in place at Husk. You can only buy products from the South, so we have to write the menu every day. That kind of ties our hands a little bit and keeps us from being too creative. You have to cook on the fly — so it’s like a jazz song. You’re just doing it as it happens — it’s in the moment. It’s whatever just kind of falls out of the sky. You don’t think about it; you just cook. Whereas at McCrady’s, we can work on dishes for two weeks to perfect it. So one is the heart, and one is the mind.
  • On March 12, 2013
    Sean Brock answered the question: Sean Brock

    What is Sean Brock’s favorite cuisine?

    Obviously Southern is my favorite cuisine, but if I had to pick another one, it would certainly be Korean. I love Korean food. I love condiments, so when you sit down for a meal at a Korean restaurant and they just pound you right off the bat with 12 different condiments — pickled things, fermented things, sauces and spices — I love it. I get so excited about Korean food.
  • On March 12, 2013
    Sean Brock answered the question: Sean Brock

    What is Sean Brock’s favorite cookbook?

    The Unrivaled Cookbook is one that I’ve been chasing. I found a copy of it and gave it away to a person that I really admire — they actually introduced me to it and had been looking for it for years. But it’s really the first kind of book about Southern cooking. You really see the first documented recipe for boiled peanuts, and you start to see the origins and the roots of all of these dishes. There are only a handful of these books in existence — but you can get it. You can get it on Google Books, and that’s where I read it, but I want the first edition.
  • On March 12, 2013
    Sean Brock answered the question: Sean Brock

    What are Sean Brock’s favorite ingredients?

    I get crazy obsessive about ingredients. Right now I’m going through this bizarre sorghum phase. I’m collecting 20 to 30 different sorghum sources, tasting them all and rechecking plant varieties, cooking techniques, steam verses wood, the cooking process and terroir of different states. I’ve eaten sorghum every day since I was a little kid. I love the traditions and cultures that go along with it.

    I get excited about cornmeal just as much. It’s so cool because there are a hundreds of different varieties of corn, hundreds of milling techniques from a hundred different places and different grinds, and it’s just all so different in flavor. It’s just so much fun to play with.
  • On March 12, 2013
    Sean Brock answered the question: Sean Brock

    What are Sean Brock’s most important kitchen tools?

    A really good blender. You have to have a high-powered blender to get silky-smooth purees and textures. I get nervous if I don’t have a blender. Cast-iron pans are pretty critical as well — I’d say probably even more than a blender. You’ve gotta have cast-iron pans.
  • On March 12, 2013
    Sean Brock answered the question: Sean Brock

    Where would Sean Brock get the ingredients for his ultimate dinner party?

    Well, the farmers market is amazing. Then, for hard-to-find stuff like quality meats, Two Boroughs Larder and The Glass Onion, which are actually restaurants that sell food, as well. Two Boroughs Larder really has a lot of fantastic things that are just sustainably raised — the products that we both use in our own restaurants — so that’s a really good bet.
  • On March 12, 2013
    Sean Brock answered the question: Sean Brock

    What would Sean Brock serve at his ultimate dinner party?

    If I have lots of folks over or visitors from out of town or out of the country, I always replicate a meal from my grandmother’s house, like a classic meal that I grew up with. So there would be a beautiful pot of chicken and dumplings, a huge pan of cornbread, a pone bread, biscuits. There would be a huge crudité platter of lots and lots of raw vegetables — sliced tomatoes, onions, banana peppers, and cucumbers and onions and vinegar. And then tons of vegetables — whatever’s fresh. I’d also serve preserved vegetables from mason jars like navy beans, mixed pickles and lots of different condiments. And then a beautiful sorbet and apple stack cake for dessert.