This is part one of my interview with Jared Brant, executive chef of Satchel's on 6th. Part two of that interview will run in this space tomorrow.
If you've eaten at Satchel's on 6th and loved the food, you can thank executive chef Jared Brant's former art teacher -- at least in part. "I desperately wanted to go to school to become an art teacher; I loved art and painting. But I absolutely hated my art teacher in high school -- so much, in fact, that it made me switch gears and go the cooking route," confesses Brant.
And as luck would have it, his sophomore year of high school, Brant was also taking a home economics class, in which the students were visited by a representative from Le Cordon Bleu. "Someone came in, and, if I remember correctly, they made an omelet while talking up culinary school, and while I'd never thought about becoming a cook, or a chef, I started to think that it might be something that I'd be interested in," Brant recalls. He made plans to enroll in culinary school, but a chef friend intervened, advising him to get a year of kitchen street cred under his belt before committing himself to the classroom. And that's exactly what he did. "I got my first kitchen job when I was a junior, washing dishes and doing prep, and I stayed for a good year and then applied to culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu in downtown Pittsburgh," he says.
Brant never looked back. He graduated, moved to Florida to work the line at a resort in Boca Raton, then returned to his home turf of Indianapolis, where he hooked up with a chef named Greg Hardesty. Brant compares him to Frank Bonanno, another chef he'd later team up with. "Greg was definitely the Frank of Indianapolis. Everyone watched his next move and couldn't wait to see what he did next," says Brant, adding that Hardesty is still the most inspirational chef for whom he's ever worked.
While he was doing time on the line, though, he met a girl who wanted to relocate to Denver, so Brant packed up his knives and the two headed to the Mile High City. He didn't waste any time getting his feet wet, staging at several Denver restaurants, including Red Square Euro Bistro, the Denver Country Club and Kevin Taylor's at the Opera House -- which he walked out of after three days. He also staged at Mizuna, just for a night, but two months after that stint, he got a phone call from Alex Seidel, then the chef de cuisine at Mizuna. "He was calling to offer me a job," recollects Brant. "At the time, everyone in Denver was telling me that Mizuna was the place to be, and working with Alex was fantastic. It was a great job."
But the position wasn't quite as alluring as the girlfriend, who ultimately decided that she wanted to return to Indy. Brant followed, and for the two years he was sequestered there he honed his talents at an outpost of Oceanaire -- where, coincidentally, Matt Mine, now the executive chef of Denver's Oceanaire, was the sous chef. Brant eventually stepped into Mine's position, but he continued to keep in touch with the guys from Mizuna, and when he and the girlfriend split, he headed back to Denver, reuniting with Bonanno at Bones, where he was hired as the chef de cuisine.
He stayed for a year, until a mutual friend introduced him to Andrew Casalini, who had closed Satchel's Market and was opening a new restaurant: Satchel's on 6th. Although Brant wasn't interested initially, Casalini convinced him that he should be. "He sold me on the idea that the concept was wine paired with food -- not food paired with wine -- and the whole thing just sounded really, really cool," says Brant. "This restaurant was clearly his baby, he was extremely focused without overreaching, he's really hands-on, and it was a great opportunity for me to open a restaurant from the ground up and watch it all evolve -- and so far, we're getting our asses kicked, which is a very good thing."
In the following interview, Brant talks about finger limes at Frasca, his disdain for egomaniacal chefs and the lamest dude alive.
Six words to describe your food: Creative, approachable, simple, fun and still evolving.
Ten words to describe you: Honest, excited, energetic, humorous, eager, mainly mild-tempered, humble, anxious, accepting and talkative.
Culinary inspirations: The most inspirational chef for me will always be Greg Hardesty, who owns Recess restaurant in Indianapolis. I used to work for him, and I'll never forget the day he pulled me aside while we were prepping for service to take the time to show me how to perfectly cook mushrooms. He was so passionate about maintaining the integrity of the ingredient, and he genuinely loves cooking and teaching others how to appreciate the satisfaction that comes from serving people.
Favorite ingredient: Vinegar. There are so many kinds and so many different applications. I love dressing salads and raw fish with just a nice vinegar and olive oil. I'm also a fiend for pickles.
Favorite local ingredient and where you get it: My favorite local ingredients come from Verde Farms. I always look forward to sampling what Josh, who works with Alex Seidel at Fruition Farms, is growing. His microgreens are amazing, and he's now able to supply restaurants with all types of lettuces, as well.
Favorite spice: Cayenne pepper. The smallest amount adds such a depth of flavor to dishes.
Most overrated ingredient: Probably lobster, mainly because it's such a status-symbol thing to have on a menu -- and it immediately reminds me of filet mignon and high-end steakhouses. It's just very expensive, and it can often be worse than getting an overcooked steak if it isn't cooked perfectly.
Most underrated ingredient: I absolutely love fennel. I eat it raw and like to put it in salads, plus it can be roasted, braised, grilled, pickled or puréed. We use a lot of fennel seeds and pollen at Satchel's, too.
One food you detest: I don't really have a food I detest. If there were one ingredient I think could totally ruin a dish, it would be fish sauce. While It can add great depth to a dish, it's terrible if you use too much.
One food you can't live without: I don't think I could live without shallots. They're amazing raw or cooked, plus they're sweet and pungent at the same time and never overwhelm your palate like everything else in the onion family.
Best recent food find: The coolest ingredient I've come across recently was the finger lime at Frasca. It's a tiny citrus fruit that's a little smaller than your pinky, and when you cut it in half, you squeeze out these tiny caviar-like seeds that pop in your mouth and taste like a lime.
Favorite music to cook by: I've found that I enjoy cooking to anything without lyrics. I love classical music on Pandora, and I could also listen to Ratatat all the time. I think instruments can display so much more emotion than words.
What's never in your kitchen? Never in my kitchen...chef pants! I guess that's not totally true, but I don't require anyone to wear chef coats or pants at all. I hate baggy chef pants. They look like pajamas, and I can't imagine wearing pajama bottoms to any other job. My sous chef wears jeans or dresses to work all the time. I don't care what we wear, as long as the food comes first.
What's always in your kitchen? Always in my kitchen...laughter! I've always had fun in every kitchen I've worked, and my view is that even the most serious kitchens should be able to enjoy our line of work -- even when we're getting our asses kicked.
Rules of conduct in your kitchen: I don't really have a lot of rules, other than that I'll send someone home -- or just get rid of them -- if they have a bad attitude. Other than that, I just expect everyone to show up and have fun cooking, and to be passionate about every dish that they're plating.
Biggest kitchen disaster: That was at Schwa, in Chicago. My friend set me up with a stage there for a couple of days while I was deciding if I should move to Chicago or back to Denver. Michael Carlson was the most famous chef I've ever staged for, and I was really intimidated at the thought of hanging out in his kitchen. I had to slice and punch out perfect tiny rounds of plantains for his amuse bouche. When the first table came in, he asked where the ring mold was. He only had one and used it to fill with a crab salad and the tiny fried plantains. As he freaked out trying to find it, I realized I might have thrown it away with the scraps on the cutting board, so I quietly dug through the trash can and found it. He thanked me for my honesty and ended up giving me his personal copy of GQ, an issue where Schwa was featured, plus a $200 bottle of Dark Lord beer and a free, twelve-course meal for a friend and me after my stage. I still felt dumb, though.
If you could cook for one famous chef, dead or alive, who would it be? I'd love to personally cook for Thomas Keller. I'd be scared out of my mind, but it would be fun to say I had the opportunity.
Favorite celebrity chef: I like Gordon Ramsay's energy and passion, and his show, Kitchen Nightmare, is really entertaining.
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Celebrity chef who should shut up: Guy Fieri is not only the worst celebrity chef on TV, he's the lamest dude alive.
What's next for you? We opened Satchel's on 6th just over a month ago, and I plan on doing the best I can to provide a great meal every time. We're starting to get our feet on the ground and tightening up the food and service. I'd also like to try and be a part of dinners and events with other local chefs. The guys at twelve, Masterpiece Deli, ChoLon, Fruition and Table 6 get together and just cook at cool events, and I like the idea of supporting each other for fun -- and because we're interested in the same thing.