We talk to Chef Chad Brauze, the mastermind behind the Backroom at One57, the restaurant for Park Hyatt New York located in billionaire favorite One57 (that’s the mega-priced, 90-story condo where apartments can sell for over $100 million dollars). Here Brauze muses on the New York food scene and what it was like to work with such culinary superstars as Daniel Bolud, Thomas Keller, and Ferran Adria.
Where are your from?
I grew up in a small town in Michigan called Brighton. I got my first restaurant job at 14 in a little place called the Brighton Bar and Grill. I started as a dishwasher who got bumped up to cook one day when the line cooks were too short-staffed to manage the dinner service. I loved it!
Did you always want to be a chef?
I was always cooking, but I didn’t really see it as a viable career. Late nights, good pay ($10 an hour when the minimum wage was $4.75 hour,) free food for me and my friends, young waitresses to sneak us beers…it was everything that a teenager could ask for, but nothing that a respectable person would want to do for their entire life. In 1997, the year that I graduated high school, food and cooking hadn’t reached their current state of stardom. Emeril, Mario Batali, and Bobby Flay were just getting underway on the Food Network.
What changed your mind?
I entered an engineering program at the University of Michigan, but I kept cooking jobs on the side for fun and extra money. At some point I happened onto a copy of Michael Ruhlman’s first book, The Making of a Chef, and my perception of what cooking could be changed. I found a new restaurant job with an owner who had graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, the same school and program that Ruhlman had so excellently described. Shortly thereafter, I formally left the University of Michigan and put in an application at the CIA.
How long have you been in your current position?
I’ve been with the Park Hyatt team for a little less than a year, but I’ve been cooking in the city since 2002.
We read you worked with Daniel Boulud, Ferran Adria, and Thomas Keller. What did you learn from these maestros?
Daniel Bolud is a master at capturing attention, a virtuoso of charisma. Whether it is touching the tables in his dining room, directing a group of Michelin-starred chefs at a major cooking event, or even just instructing his cooks to properly cook vegetables, he draws full attention from his audience.
Ferran Adria: In addition to Ferran’s gifts-of-imagination and the courage to take food in non-familiar directions, I admired the chef team he developed to keep El Bulli running so smoothly. He had a wildly-creative “idea guy” to drive innovation, an all-seeing “bulldog” to keep the team of 65 cooks moving forward efficiently, and a fun “father figure” to keep everything glued together. It was truly a great thing to be a part of.
Thomas Keller: He demanded perfect focus in all aspects of his restaurant. If we had 70 covers in an evening and I had lamb for the second meat course, it was expected that I would finish the evening having cooked enough racks to cut exactly 70 chops, each a perfect rosé.
Since becoming Chef de Cuisine, what changes did you make to the Backroom menu and why?
It’s a cliché, but good food starts from good ingredients. I made myself comfortable by tracking down and bringing in the products that I had used before in my career. I’m comfortable when I can trust what I am using. I know that the lamb from Jamison will be tasty and evenly sized every time. I know that the spices from La Boîte à Epices will always be flavorful. I know that the Mangalitsa from Mosefund will always be richly marbled. This comfort [level] gives me the ability to craft a menu that my team will be able to recreate for each service.
People are very particular about their diets these days—how are you accommodating that?
Our most popular dietary request is gluten free, so I make sure to have a way to easily exclude it from most of our dishes.
Dish you’re most proud of (and why):
We’ve been buying some beautiful grains that were harvested in the Hudson Valley by the Wild Hive Grain Project. For spring, I’m featuring wheatberries. They are like farro, but a little more plump and toothy. I first cook them like pasta in salted, boiling water then finish them with green peas, fresh favas, spring morels, and a minted crème fraiche. I could eat this dish every day!
The entree at The Back Room you’re most likely to order at lunch or dinner:
For lunch, I’m a big burger guy and I really like ours! I worked with DeBragga and tasted 12 different meat grinds before I found one that I absolutely loved. It’s flavored with a touch of dry-aged brisket for that “blue-cheesy” flavor and has hanger and skirt for “meatiness.” The buns come to us twice a day from Maison Kayser, just up the street. We grill the patty under flames on a broiler, top with a nice slice of NY Cheddar, and serve with spear of half-sour pickle. Coupled with a nice IPA and some potatoes fried in duck fat, it’s my perfect lunch!
What would you say is your signature dish?
I feel like I’m still trying to find that one dish that I want to keep with me for life.
Here’s my adage: An Old-fashioned before a nice meal, Michelada any time that there’s tacos, Amaro after a big dinner, and a Bloody Mary with brunch.
To cook with it’s Vin Jaune from Jura. There’s this intense nuttiness from the aging process that melds so nicely with many things. I throw a splash into my farro as I finish the dish, and I inject it into my truffled chickens before roasting. To drink, Marcassin Chardonnay and Ruinart Champagne
Considering how diet and weight conscious everyone is today, how did you approach your dessert menu?
We are super lucky at the Park Hyatt to have Scott Cioe as our pastry chef. So there’s very little need for me to offer input. I’m mostly there for taste testing!
Any news for The Back Room for summer and fall that you can share?
Big things are coming, stay tuned!