Kevin Bryant epitomizes Southern charm. There's just something about him that puts you at ease immediately, so for our chat, I felt like I catching up with an old friend.
Maybe it's the fact that he loves dogs. Although he has dogs of his own, for a couple of years now, he's worked with the Lucky Dog Rescue, fostering dogs who don't have a place to go. Or maybe it's his humility. Despite working in some fine kitchens, he's humble and sincere. And hardworking.
No doubt these qualities have helped Bryant get to where he is today. We caught up with him last week on the patio outside of the new bar/restaurant/music venue in the heart of downtown,The Capitol at St. Germain, where he is the Executive Chef.
EOW: So I read your bio, and you've been all over the place. Is it true that you started as a pastry chef?
KB: Well, it was back and forth. I started at the Aquarium in Kemah, started off working on the line a month before they opened, trained on the line, worked the hot appetizer station, then got into pastries.
EOW: Did you go to culinary school, then?
KB: Nope. I didn't know what I wanted to do after college, and I was going to be a server for a while, but I ended up not being a server because they didn't have a position to fill. I talked to one chef that had gone through the whole program at CIA and graduated with honors, and I talked to another one that had gone through the hard knocks, and I said "Well, that's what I want to do. Can you give me a job? I'll do whatever, I'll wash dishes," -- I was young -- and talked my way into a job at the Kemah Aquarium.
EOW: How old were you?
KB: I was 21.
EOW: So, has not having a formal degree hindered you? Because your resume is really good...Tell me some of the places you've been.
KB: I've been at both Tony's locations, the Aquarium, of course, Oceanaire, and I worked as a private chef for a while. I liked what I did. I have no regrets. I've seen people who have gone through all the schooling and come out with a false representation of what real life is in the industry. Those are private schools, they have every tool and every piece of equipment. You go into the real world, and the stoves are held up maybe by a brick, or you're trying to struggle with one pair of tongs and there's eight guys in the kitchen. So, I'd rather have done it the way that I did, I have no regrets the way I did it.
EOW: Which is...
KB: Just the hard knocks. Finding a good restaurant, interviewing them just like they're interviewing you for the jobs. And then really being under the right chef. If you're not under the right chef, you can get stuck.
EOW: Who were your chefs?
KB: John McCarvey, a pastry chef over at the Aquarium in Kemah. He teaches at the Art Institute now, I believe. Another chef was Olivier Ciesielski, who was the executive chef at Tony's for about 14 years. Olivier taught me the passion, things about being a saucier, and the high-end products at Tony's. He's getting ready to open his own restaurant.
EOW: How long were you at Tony's?
KB: I was at Post Oak for four years, and a year and a half at Greenway Plaza. Landry's and Tony's shared me for a while, because when I left Post Oak, I went to open the Aquarium Downtown, and then I went to open up the Nashville Aquarium. And then Tony's called me back to help open up Greenway Plaza. I learned all my food and cooking style from Tony's, and I learned all my number crunching and food cost numbers from Landry's.
EOW: So you went through all this corporate training, then I understand you left to become a private chef? How did that come about?
KB: It was an opportunity I couldn't say no to. I was asked to be the private chef for country singer George Strait.
EOW: What was life like as a private chef?
KB: It was amazing, a lot of fun -- they were the most genuine, nicest people I'd ever met in my entire life. I cooked lunch and dinner for them five days a week. He was a steak and potatoes guy -- we started with that, but we really got into wild game, and we could get exotic meats like elk, kangaroo. We did a lot of wine tastings, where we paired different glasses of wine to food.
EOW: You had an unlimited budget, right? What was coolest thing that you ever made?
KB: (smiles mischievously) When I first started cooking for him, I didn't know what he liked. I'd just throw the dice out there, and he'd always say everything was great. Then one day, just as a joke, he said, "This is the second best thing I've ever had in my life." So I said "Only second best? What's the best thing you've had?" You could see the wheels turning in his head, he was coming up with something, and then he said, "Flaming filet of yak, Peking."
So for a couple of months, I was working with this exotic meat company to get filet of yak with the skin on it, and when I finally had it, I incorporated it into a six-course tasting. I had this piece of yak, and I separated the skin, and it was all crispy and I was going to light it up. When we came to the course, I said, "Okay, are you ready? " And he says, "What is it?" And I said "You will know exactly what it is."
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And this is after several months of him joking about how all my dishes were only second best to his flaming yak Peking. So I went out to the table, put the yak down and went and lit each one of them on fire. And he looks down at it, and he started laughing. And everyone's laughing so hard, they're in tears. And I said "There's you're flaming filet of yak, Peking. Now, how's that?" And he laughed and responded, "It's the best thing I've ever had in my life!"
Check back with us tomorrow as we chat with Bryant about his role at The Capitol and what he does for fun when he's not in the kitchen.