Chef Chat, Part 2: Liz Brooks of Canopy and Woodbar

Liz Brooks of Canopy and Woodbar
Liz Brooks of Canopy and Woodbar
Photo by Phaedra Cook

In Part 1 of our Chef Chat with Liz Brooks, we talked about her progression as a chef. In culinary school, she interned at Claire Smith's restaurant Shade. After working various places after culinary school, she ultimately returned to a Claire Smith restaurant. Brooks is now executive chef not only at Canopy, but at newly opened Woodbar as well.

Canopy is a popular neighborhood restaurant and serves hundreds of diners a week. In this second part of our interview, we'll talk about what it's like to be both a parent as well as a chef of a busy restaurant. Brooks will also tell us her favorite cocktail at Woodbar, as well as the must-try items to order if you're visiting Canopy for the first time. We'll also get some details on the restaurant's Sunday brunch.

EOW: You mentioned earlier that [Canopy] is not afraid to embrace international ingredients. What are some of your favorite cuisines?

LB: I really do enjoy eating Indian food and Asian and Mediterranean are some more of my favorites.

Butter-Herb Seared Scallops with Spinach Soufflé, Sautéed Escarole, Artichoke Hearts, Red Peppers and Hearts of Palm
Butter-Herb Seared Scallops with Spinach Soufflé, Sautéed Escarole, Artichoke Hearts, Red Peppers and Hearts of Palm
Photo by Phaedra Cook

EOW:. If someone was coming to Canopy for the first time, what are three dishes that you would recommend that he or she order?

LB: I would recommend that they have the crab cakes. They're always the all-time favorite. The Tandoori Salmon is so delicious and light. It's a twist on a Tandoori dish. I'm a sucker for some junk food, so I would want to try the hot dog (laughs), but maybe some of the small tapas.

EOW: Do you have a favorite cocktail at Woodbar?

LB: I've been trying different ones, and so far I think my favorite has been the Oxy Daisy. But hopefully I'll try some more. (laughs)

EOW: Is the Oxy Daisy the one that has mezcal in it?

LB: Yes. It's really good with the honey.

EOW: I've had that, too. It is good.

LB: We have some other delicious cocktails, but I think that's one of my favorites.

EOW: Are you responsible for retaining staff here?

LB: Most of the back-of-the-house, yes. I hire front-of-the house once in a while.

EOW: What are some of the qualities that you look for when you're going to hire someone?

LB: I look for people that have longevity in other jobs. Sometimes seeing people that jump around a lot is a turnoff for me.

Punctuality is a big thing. I like the person to look clean-cut and ready to work when they get here. I do like if they have an experience cooking, but I'm willing to teach people. If they're new into this business and want to get in, I really embrace that as well.

EOW: What's the biggest mistake you've ever made?

LB: Oh wow. I guess we all make mistakes. There have been several. I can't really pinpoint one. One of the mistakes, I feel like I sometimes hold back a little bit. I think that's one of my mistakes -- that I hold back.

Lamb kefta with butternut squash and a lamb and green pea samosa with cilantro mint yogurt and red onion chutney.
Lamb kefta with butternut squash and a lamb and green pea samosa with cilantro mint yogurt and red onion chutney.
Photo by Phaedra Cook

EOW: In your cuisine, or in how you interact with people?

LB: How I interact with people. Sometimes I feel like I don't know how to communicate completely with people or sometimes just not worry too much about what people are going to think. Sometimes I don't express myself enough.

EOW: Like you're afraid of maybe hurting someone's feelings, or they're never going to talk to you again?

LB: No, not really, not that they're not going to talk to me again, but you learn as you go that sometimes it's not personal, it's just business. It took me awhile to learn that.

EOW: That's hard. I think that's a lesson many of us have to learn, that you have to just be direct.

LB: Yes. I have to learn to be more direct, but in the beginning of my career, I was challenged by that. I couldn't communicate and sometimes it came out wrong.

EOW: What is something that you would really like for our readers to know, whether it be about Canopy, Woodbar, you or your food?

LB: This business is so hard to be in as a female. But if you try hard and you work hard, it's also such a great place to be because you learn to work well with others. (At this point, Brooks chokes up a bit.)

EOW: It's okay. You're fine. It is hard to be in this business as a female chef. There are not many of them.

LB: I'm a mother. I have a great son; I just recently got married. That also plays a part in this job that you have to balance. Sometimes finding that balance is really hard.

EOW: Was there anyone else in your family who cooked?

LB: Growing up, it was my two older brothers.

EOW: Really?

LB: Yes, they're incredible cooks and they always cook for my other brother and I. There's four of us. My mom and my dad divorced when I was four years old.

So, she worked a lot and so it was up to my older brothers to take care of us. Some of my brothers were cooks.

I have an uncle that worked at the Pentagon for a while as a chef in Washington, D.C. I did grow up knowing that my grandparents had a farm. They sold fresh produce. Everybody would come to their house. It was always eating and feeding people, and people would just enjoy being there. I always wanted to be part of something like that. I just wanted to be in a place where people enjoy coming and enjoy the food and drinks.

EOW: You have a Sunday brunch here. Tell me a little bit about that.

LB: Oooh, it's crazy in here for brunch, but we offer a lot of fresh pastries that are made in-house. You need a reservation to get in here. But you can have brunch over at Woodbar on the patio or in the main dining room. We offer a variety of stuff. French toast, migas, pork with an Andouille sausage gravy.

EOW: You do menu-style or buffet-style?

LB: Menu-style.

EOW: Do you have Bloody Marys?

LB: Oh yes, Bloody Marys and mimosas. We have several different flavors, blood orange mimosas, white peach mimosas.

EOW: You get a lot of regulars here? People you see over and over again?

LB: All the time. There are a lot of people that you become friends with as time has gone by, and I really enjoy having them here all the time.

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