On the Line: Chef Brad Rowell
Current location: Park Country Club
Current Title: Sous Chef
How many years behind the stove: Ten
He set out to obtain a history degree and ended with a life in the kitchen. Yes, Brad Rowell’s path to success has surprised even himself. The Hamburg native initially had a teaching career in mind, but he wasn’t entirely fulfilled.
So Rowell ventured to Denver to room with a friend and joined him as an oyster shucker at the popular eatery, Jax Fish House. Soon the fledgling chef realized that he enjoyed the time he spent in the kitchen—prepping for the oyster bar—more than any other aspect of the job, and so he asked head chef Hosea Rosenberg (winner of Top Chef, season five) for a couple of shifts in the kitchen.
Rowell and the kitchen were a match, so after a promotion and subsequent mastery of a line cook position at Jax, he moved to New York, where he attended the French Culinary Institute. Taking classes during the day, by night he worked under chef April Bloomfield at the Spotted Pig and filled his off time with a job at Oppenheimer Prime Meats, learning the ins and outs of meat cuts and grades.
His passion for his newfound career developed, and once he finished school he yearned to travel and experience as many different types of kitchens as he could, so he staged at the Michelin-starred restaurants St. John and River Café in London. Upon returning to the States, Rowell opened Colt and Gray in Denver with a fellow FCI grad. The progressive restaurant opened to rave reviews, and as its chef, Rowell was named Culinary Rising Star by Denver magazine. Colt and Gray was also lauded by the New York Times’ travel section for its “up-market bar food” and “farm-sourced tavern fare,” and noted by Elle Décor for its ambiance.
With several years of operating a successful restaurant under his belt, Rowell returned home to Western New York last year, where he currently works as the sous chef at the area’s most food-forward country club, Park in Williamsville. Rowell’s resumé could take him far in plenty of cities (and he can still shuck oysters faster than just about anyone), but Buffalo will be his home for the foreseeable future. He and his wife, Caryn, are currently looking at buildings as they prepare to one day open their own restaurant here.
If you weren't a chef, what would you do?
I would split time doing quality control at Southern Tier Brewing and Nickel City Cheese and Mercantile.
What makes a good chef?
Favorite classic dish?
Croque Madame. It’s a fancy ham and cheese with an egg.
What trend or technique would you like to further explore?
I built a pretty good-sized garden this year and planted mostly heirloom varieties that are not readily available in the area. I would like to learn more about soil and different gardening techniques.
Restaurants you're dying to try:
I would like to spend a couple nights in San Francisco and go to Bar Agricole, Locanda, and Outerlands. All three seem to have atmosphere with serious food and drinks.
Your go-to food reference cookbook:
The Flavor Bible (Little, Brown, and Company, 2008). It’s all about flavor combinations.
Favorite after work beverage:
Craft beer on my porch. I fell in love with Avery, Great Divide, and Oskar Blues while living in Denver.
Best LP to cook by:
Exile on Main St. by the Rolling Stones, and The Last Waltz by the Band are my go-tos, but lately it’s been Circuital by My Morning Jacket.
Food no chef should love, but you do anyway:
It’s funny—I would rather eat my own arm than a Whopper, but I have no problem with a Mighty Pack.
What Buffalo's food scene needs:
To be proud of what it has. Europa, Carmelo’s, Vera, Sample, Mike A’s at Hotel Lafayette, Blue Monk, Seabar, and all the artisanal producers, specialty shops, and breweries are doing different concepts at a high level. It’s more than most cities have.
The most exciting thing about Buffalo’s food scene is:
The people. The people in Buffalo are very supportive of the new things that are happening here, and the people who are trying to do things the right way.
Christa Glennie Seychew is Spree’s food editor.