In an eye-catching (and mouth-watering) New York Times story, restaurant critic Sam Sifton praises Johnson & Wales University alum Sean Brock’s new restaurant Husk, calling it “local cooking at its best.”
Elevating Southern Cuisine to an ArtformSifton places Brock ‘00 in a long line of Charleston chefs elevating Southern cuisine and hospitality to an artform, including his former boss, the Peninsula Grill's Robert Hunter ’89, Mike Lata's Fig and Martha Lou Gadsden of the legendary soul-food kitchen Mama Lou's Kitchen. As much as he loves Husk, Sifton calls Brock’s other restaurant, McCrady’s, where he serves as executive chef, “one of only a few outside the first tier of American cities that could compete in any of them.” Putting Ingredients in the SpotlightBut Sifton finds Husk's emphasis on truly Southern cooking admirable. “The restaurant’s purpose,” Sifton writes, “is not to rediscover Southern cooking so much as to allow diners to experience the realities of Southern ingredients.” For one thing, everything on Husk’s menu originates below the Mason-Dixon line. (“We didn’t even have olive oil until chef found some in Texas,” a waitress is quoted as saying.) With a menu that changes every day according to what's fresh, ingredients are truly in the spotlight.
This marks a shift from Brock's brash style when he took the helm at McCrady’s in 2006. At that time, Sifton writes, he was “a mad modern scientist” who leaned heavily on molecular gastronomy, a deeply technical form of cooking associated with chefs like El Bulli’s Ferran Adrià and WD-50’s Wylie Dufresne. Preserving Culinary HistoryBrock still uses 21st-century kitchen techniques, but these days he’s more interested in restoring heirloom ingredients to the Southern table.
In addition to sourcing everything locally, Brock isn't afraid to get his hands dirty; he grows as much as he can in his own 1.5 acre heritage garden. What he can't use immediately in the kitchen, he pickles, just like his grandmother used to do when he was growing up in rural Virginia. A sidebar by Times writer Chris Dixon traces Brock’s adventures in farming, including his attempts to grow crops that haven’t been seen since last century, like Sea Island red peas, benne, and Jimmy Red corn, which gives his celebrated shrimp and grits its distinctive color. (The Times kindly includes the recipe.) In January, food blog Eater.com announced that Brock, who won the 2010 James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southern Region, is hard at work on his first cookbook, which, according to the site, promises to give "the foods of Charleston and the Lowcountry the hefty Artisan treatment."