Each month we feature a Chef of Chef Works®. If you’re a fan of Chef Works gear and are interested in being featured, fill out this form. Pictured above is our October 2021 Chef of Chef Works®, Kristopher Brown, in his MONTREAL COOL VENT CHEF COAT.
Kristopher Brown is the executive chef at Hearthstone Country Club in Houston, Texas and our latest feature for our “Chef of Chef Works” series. We spoke to him about what it was like to cook for the late (and great) Anthony Bourdain, how to bring a learning mindset to everything you do, and the importance of nutrition in the kitchen.
Chef Works: Tell us a little bit about how your career got started?
Kristopher Brown: I knew what I wanted to do since I was 5 or 6 years old. I didn’t have a lot of money growing up, so I joined the military as soon as I got out of high school, where I repaired missile guidance systems. But as soon as I left the military, I went to culinary school. That was in 1996, and since I graduated in 2002, I’ve been working all over Houston — really, all over the United States. But I’ve been up to a lot of cool stuff here in Houston.
CW: We’d love to hear about your love of cooking! How did you know this was something you wanted to do?
KB: I didn’t really have a dad around, so I spent a lot of time with my grandmother and she taught me how to cook. I’d sit on the counter, watching her, and I learned a lot. Today, one of the best parts of my life is getting to go back and cook for her.
CW: What type of cooking do you specialize in?
KB: I like to focus on one cuisine for a couple years and then move on to the next. Since I started out in Cajun, I do a lot of really good Cajun food. But I do a lot of everything. I like Asian food, Vietnamese especially. I love food [laughs].
CW: And what does your grandmother think about it now?
KB: Oh, she loves it.
CW: As a chef, could you tell us about the country club environment and how it differs?
KB: I came from restaurants and it’s a whole lot different. It can be a shock to go into a club environment. For one, we do a lot more catering than restaurants; we do a lot of weddings, private events, and tournaments, for example. We also do à la carte quite a bit of it, so we really get the best of both worlds. Another difference is that there isn’t a lot you can say ‘no’ to while cooking for a club. In a restaurant, you can say ‘no’ to a lot of things. For example, if you don’t have something, you can’t serve it. But here in a club, it’s not like that. Members pay a pretty decent amount of money to dine, so they expect a little bit more. You always have to be willing to accommodate.
CW: How do you manage cooking for big events?
KB: I start off with a production list, which kind of makes everything fall in line. I make a little timeline of what needs to be done when. It’s a whole process, you know. It takes a few days to get events ready, depending on how nice they are.
CW: Do you pull any of your military experience into that?
KB: I mean, it definitely helps me as far as organizing and planning, but I don’t yell or anything [laughs].
CW: Since you’re the executive chef at Hearthstone, what’s it like managing a team? How do you build a sense of camaraderie and teamwork?
KB: I have 12 people in my team. I try to build a sense of camaraderie by working beside them and teaching them what I know. Most of them want to be better. We’re all here for that same reason: we all want to learn from each other and learn as much as we can. Whenever we can teach people things that they value, it definitely helps.
CW: You mentioned that you’ve been all around the US before coming back to your hometown of Houston. What are some lessons that you’ve learned from your travels?
KB: Oh man, every place is different. People think of places as being generally the same — and they are to an extent. But there are different rules in every place, and you always have the opportunity to learn more whenever you go to a different place. It’s really whatever you take advantage of while you’re there.
CW: What are some things that you’d love to share with any aspiring chefs or people just starting out in the industry?
KB: I grew up not eating a lot of vegetables. My mom always cooked with canned vegetables, so I never really knew what fresh vegetables tasted like. When I started incorporating more freshness into my cooking, it was eye-opening to me. I was like, “Wow, I do like these things that are healthy!” So, I like to share that nutritional eating can be awesome. It doesn’t always have to be saturated fats, loaded full of things. I think that if people took a little bit of time into their ingredients, it would help their overall health, their craftiness in the kitchen, and everything. I have three daughters, and I’ve found that when I cook with them, they’re more interested in being creative in the kitchen.
CW: What is one of your favorite memories since becoming a chef?
KB: We have a pretty big museum district here in Houston — a lot of the big performers come through there. And I had the opportunity to do a big VIP party for Anthony Bourdain. I was able to cook for him and all of the big names. It was really neat. He gave a 2-hour speech in between eating, so we were all backstage during all of this. I got to meet him and everything.
CW: Was it nerve-racking to be cooking for such a big chef?
KB: Yeah, it was definitely, but I had a good team with me. It wasn’t just me. It was so fun, and every one of us was just really excited to be able to do that!
If you live in the Houston area, you can try Kristopher’s cooking out for yourself by becoming a member at Hearthstone Country Club.
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