Chef Chat, Part 1: John Brand of Las Canarias and Pesca on the River

San Antonio's John Brand is executive chef at Las Canarias at the Omni La Mansion del Rio, along with Pesca on the River at the Watermark Hotel. We were able to catch him during a brief visit to Houston, when we discussed the process of writing corporate menus -- and how to coax a secret barbecue recipe out of a tight-lipped Texan.

Eating Our Words: Tell me about this Triple Play lunch menu.

Brand: This menu is something all the Omni properties in Texas are doing. It's a Texas-themed menu centered on barbeque. It's a menu for the summer that's running through Labor Day.

EOW: How were you involved writing this menu, and what was the process like?

Brand: Yes, I got to help write this menu, but I was just one of a couple of contributing chefs. They asked us to submit ideas for the menu with the idea this was lunch/bar/pool type food. So we had to develop these recipes and sent in a bunch of ideas. The powers that be chose the ones they liked. Then they took pictures of everything. It was something like 25 dishes in a couple of hours. I worked with another chef in a kitchen in Dallas to make all these dishes. They then sent out the pictures, recipes and menus to all the Texas properties.

EOW: How did you feel working on developing this menu?

Brand: I was honored, especially since I'm not a native Texan. I am especially interested to see how different properties interpret the menu. I know if I received the recipes for a menu written by another chef, I would want to spin it my own direction. I would take the recipe as a base and try to make it bigger. So I'm sure that other chefs would do the same, and I respect that. I'm interested to see how the other chefs would make my base recipe better.

EOW: Since you're not a native Texan, how did you go about researching the flavors and creating the recipes?

Brand: By full immersion into the Texas culture. I'm surrounded by native Texans and I do my best to work closely with them and ask questions about the flavors. I've eaten and cooked Texas cuisine many times before writing this menu. I've traveled to places like Luling, Elgin and Lockhart for their barbecue. The way I cook evolved as I learned more. The way I make a brisket now isn't the same as the way I made it 10 years ago. Also the way I cook is dependant on the equipment available. How I make a brisket at home is different than in my kitchens. But in the end, I just have to eat it and try to figure out how I could try to make it better.

EOW: I'm sure you know by now that Texans are very protective of our barbecue recipes. How have you gone about gleaning their tricks of the trade?

Brand: It's all about exposing their confidence. By that I mean each chef has a confidence in his or her recipes. So when working with others, they'll typically show you the one way they think something should be done because, to them, there is no other way.

We'll continue our chat with Chef Brand tomorrow.

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