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April Bloomfield and Sean Brock Talk Mind of a Chef, Travel, and Expansion

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Hillary Dixler Canavan is Eater's restaurant editor and the author of the publication's debut book, Eater: 100 Essential Restaurant Recipes From the Authority on Where to Eat and Why It Matters (Abrams, September 2023). Her work focuses on dining trends and the people changing the industry — and scouting the next hot restaurant you need to try on Eater's annual Best New Restaurant list.

Zero Point Zero hosted a premiere party for the second season of their James Beard Award-winning PBS television series The Mind of Chef last night at the Ace Hotel in New York City. Season two, which premieres on September 7, focuses on chefs April Bloomfield and Sean Brock, and will visit locales from Louisiana to Senegal to England.

Before the party, Eater had the chance to meet up with Bloomfield and Brock at the ZPZ offices to talk about what they learned from working on the show, how travel and collaboration impact their cooking, and the challenges of expanding their restaurant groups to other cities. Brock recently opened his first restaurant outside of Charleston, while Bloomfield is working on opening her first restaurant outside of New York City this Fall in San Francisco. Here's what they had to say:

The Mind of a Chef will offer viewers the chance to learn more about you. Is there anything specific you took from the experience of making the show that you've applied to your restaurants?
Sean Brock: Doing the show is like crawling inside someone's brain. There's a lot of personal things in there. It was like a form of therapy. Is it something I use in my restaurants? That's the beauty of cooking: Every experience you have changes your outlook on cooking. For instance, I've made Savannah red rice a million but I learned a couple tricks watching Steven Satterfield make it that I use now. Going to Africa, I learned so much stuff that I believe will help change the face of Southern cooking, not just my cooking. Like, the future of Southern food. So to be able to have that opportunity to travel and to have it be documented is pretty amazing.

The Mind of a Chef lets viewers into the creative processes of chefs. Part of this is working and talking with other chefs. For example, in this season you cook with John Currence and the Lee Brothers. You are also working on launching the Stables at Husk which will host guest chefs. What is the importance of continuing to cook and collaborate with chefs outside of your restaurant group? And what do you hope to achieve by inviting chefs to cook in one of your spaces?
SB: I give a lot of credit to the Southern Foodways Alliance because it's introduced me to this incredible group of people in the food industry. Not just chefs, but thinkers, writers, and historians. In terms of cooking, we even took a bit further and started a thing called the Fatback Collective. It's based on the idea that the more we can cook with other people, the more we share ideas ... We firmly believe that the more you can cook with other people, the better chef you'll become, the more you'll understand. To me, that's one of the most important aspects of being a chef is cooking together and sharing and learning from each other. The more relationships you have with people who are willing to share, the faster cuisine progresses as a whole.

Husk Nashville is your first restaurant outside of Charleston. What have been some of the challenges in operating a restaurant in a different city? And how does your experience with opening and operating Husk Nashville make you feel about expanding further?
SB: Husk is a restaurant based on one idea: celebrating Southern ingredients and while it can be replicated all over the south and whatever micro-region you want to do it in, I find now, months later, that Husk Nashville's food is nothing like Charleston's and there are two reasons for that. One: the ingredients that thrive in that region. The seasons are different, the soils are different, Charleston's on the coast. There's the product aspect of it all, and that's what drives a restaurant like Husk. But two: you have to remember who's sitting in that chair. Charleston is a very traditional, historical place, whereas Nashville is a very creative, artistic place. We run experiments. There'll be dishes that sell like crazy in Charleston and won't sell at all in Nashville. It's important to understand who's eating the food. At Husk it's a daily changing menu, so you can play with it and figure it out.

You caught me right in the the thick of the sore period. [Laughs] Just opening a restaurant is tough. Period. Whether it's two doors down from your other restaurants... It's certainly challenging. It's an hour plane ride now if something happens. It changes the way you have to set up your management and how the kitchens are operating. It's tough, it's intimidating. I'm going to take a little break from opening restaurants.

You've hinted at opening a restaurant in New York City. Is that still on your radar?
SB: Before I die.

What did you learn while participating in The Mind of a Chef about yourself, your cuisine, your point of view? What did you bring back to your restaurants?
April Bloomfield: Basically, just getting to work with these people that I admire, and being humbled by that experience. It's always good to be humbled and to take that back to your kitchen and share that experience with your staff. That you're only human after all, it's a very poignant moment. I also agree with Sean, it was a bit like therapy to remember who you are, where you've been, and what you've done, and all the experiences that have made you who you are. It's made me feel like I need to keep pushing and keep experimenting and learning.

The Mind of a Chef suggests the importance that traveling and experience other cultures and cuisines can have on a chef. You are from Britain, living in New York, with Italian training. How do you find the different places you've experienced have impacted your cooking?
AB: It's important as a chef to travel because that's how you get to learn and pick up new things. Traveling and reading books is as important as cooking on the line. It makes you push and it makes you creative. Like for me to go to Italy and watch an Italian grandma making orecchiette; to be able to just really pay attention and fine tune your technique just by watching her hand movements, that makes it more real.

You'll be opening your first restaurant outside of NYC this Fall with Tosca Cafe in San Francisco. What are some of the challenges you've faced in building out the restaurant from NYC? How will you approach menu planning for the San Francisco clientele?
AB: I think I'm crazy. [Laughs] I'm still trying to figure the menu out, we're not quite there. We're still in the building process. Actually, the building process in San Francisco is a little bit easier than New York. It's quite refreshing in a way. It's not so much red tape or hard to get a hold of somebody. But food-wise we're still recipe testing right now. We've got a huge list of stuff we're into making and wanting to test, and we'll just cross off and narrow down a menu. It's more about feeling when we get there. Something might work, but in the kitchen on opening night we might be like, "That's not what we want." It's more instinctual.

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