Sean Brock has had quite a ride since he left Nashville nearly seven years ago, departing the Capitol Grille for the fertile restaurant city of Charleston, S.C. That's where Brock won a James Beard award for his work at McCrady's, and where he and his Neighborhood Dining Group partners launched Husk Restaurant in 2010 to instant acclaim.
Brock was propelled to the global chef buzz list, and even his ink got ink. (Vogue did a piece praising Brock's lavish vegetable-themed tattoos.) But more importantly — at least for his fanbase and chef buddies in Nashville — Husk gave Brock the chance to come back to Music City.
Earlier this week Brock and his partners announced they are opening a second incarnation of Husk in Nashville by early spring, in the historic Victorian house on Rutledge Hill once occupied by Andrew Chadwick's.
Husk is Brock's dream restaurant, founded on the premise of using Southern ingredients almost exclusively, celebrating Southern foodways past and present, with the chefs rewriting Husk's menu daily to reflect the freshest ingredients, and according to Brock, fulfilling his motto: "This is what the South tastes like today."
If it seems like a coup for Nashville to land the second outpost of what Bon Appetit magazine ranked No. 1 on its 2011 list of best new restaurants in America, Brock insists he's the fortunate one.
"I get to live in Charleston and Nashville — how lucky is that?" Brock says by phone, the morning after an elaborate dinner at McCrady's with guest chef Magnus Nilsson (the Swede who's captured the imagination of food-obsessed folks around the world with tales of the exotically rugged Nordic fare he serves at his 12-seat restaurant Faviken in remote northern Sweden).
But today Brock has Nashville, not trendy Nordic cuisine, on his mind.
"I loved that piece in Bon Appetit," he says. (He means the one in February that proclaimed Nashville "the coolest, tastiest city in the South.") "It showed what's unique about Nashville, the incredible diversity: low-brow to high-brow, from Arnold's and Prince's to the Capitol Grille, and everything in between."
Speaking of high-brow, he praises Nashville's cutting-edge culinary nook The Catbird Seat and notes the Catbird chefs were at his dinner with Nilsson the previous night.
Brock seems to have a knack for forging relationships, whether it's the farmers and purveyors in Tennessee that he still taps daily at Husk, or his pals in the chef-driven barbecue team The Fatback Collective, or current Capitol Grille chef Tyler Brown ("one of my best friends since 1998"), or other buddies like Tandy Wilson of City House or Hal Holden-Bache of Lockeland Table. (Holden-Bache also used to work at the Capitol Grille.)
And relationships are what Brock says he'll rely on to prevent being stretched too thin by the Husk expansion. He quizzed other chefs who've pulled off a multiple-city empire thing. (Brock's home and family remain in Charleston, but he'll have a place here and estimates he'll split his energy between cities "50-50.")
"Everyone I talk to says the same thing: It's all about the hiring process. Make sure you've got the right people or you'll never get any sleep," he says. "And my teams are pretty badass."
At Husk in Charleston, his team is led by chef de cuisine Travis Grimes. "He's worked for me for seven years," Brock says, adding with a laugh: "He's my clone."
The search for his Nashville clone is still under way. Brock says he's looking within his company in Charleston and also in kitchens in Nashville and beyond. "There are a lot of great cooks in the South."
Overall, Brock anticipates hiring a good number of people in Nashville, "especially the front-of-the-house leaders. We want them to know Nashville. We want them to know everybody."
Both Brock and David Howard, the British chef and entrepreneur who heads Neighborhood Dining Group, say the property they purchased in Nashville is essential to the new Husk.
Like the original, Husk Nashville is going into a graceful 19th century Southern house.
Brock says the team is using the same interior designers as the original, and the new Husk will have "the same feel."
"It looks unassuming, then you walk in and holy cow, what a crazy transformation of an old house into such a fun place to eat and drink."
He adds, "The kitchen is going to be really cool, too. A lot of the cooking will be driven by live fire." But he says he hasn't ditched the high-tech methods he learned when experimenting with molecular gastronomy at the Capitol Grille.
"Never turn your back on technology," Brock says. "We wouldn't even think of making banana pudding ice cream without liquid nitrogen."
Husk is expected to open by March 1.
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