Chef Chat, Part 2: John Brand of Las Canarias and Pesca on the River

We continue our meeting with Chef John Brand from San Antonio, discussing how he makes his brisket, what his mama taught him, and how to spot a poser.

EOW: You mentioned how you cook a brisket now is different than 10 years ago. Tell me how.

Brand: Well, I now brine my brisket. Brining really works for me; I really believe in brining. Now I also make a spice rub instead of just salt and pepper. I do a heavy-duty spice rub with cinnamon, cumin, coriander, paprika, and 10 other ingredients. I coat the heck out of it and just pack on the spices. And now when I cook it, I don't cook it over just raw heat but I drag it through the garden. That's something my mom taught me. Dragging it through the garden means you cook it over vegetables, typically carrots, celery and onions. I like to add fennel seeds, coriander seeds and mustard seeds because when they cook, they bloom up with a little more flavor. I put the brisket on top of all that in a high-walled pan and add some liquid. It could be beer, coke, or Dr. Pepper, if you want to add some Texas flare. Then when it's done cooking, while it's still warm, I wrap it in plastic wrap, which compresses it a little bit and keeps all the juices in it. Though it might not be the best way, this way of cooking a brisket has always worked for me and gotten results.

EOW: Besides dragging things through the garden, what other things did mama teach you?

Brand: Mom's German potato salad. She's given me the recipe, and I've made it for her, but she'll be like, "Hmmm...you didn't do this right." And I'm like, "Mom, I'm supposed to upgrade this and try to make it better." She also has this chocolate molten cake that I remember trying to duplicate, but I could never turn it out the way she did. Maybe it was it was the cheap aluminum pan or cheap ingredients she used. I don't know, and so I could never get it the way I remembered. It's so good that I would put it on the menu. I plan to work on it over the next year or two to achieve the same emotional effect that I got out of it. Of course I plan dress it up a bit with Valrhona chocolate and maybe add a nut.

EOW: That sounds delicious, but would your mom approve of it?

Brand: I'm sure she will, but she'll still tell me it's not the same. I can't blame her. Mom was a great cook. I don't ever remember her spoiling a meal.

EOW: How often does Omni gather all the chefs together for a conference?

Brand: Well, I've only been at the Omni for a couple of years. When I was first here, we had a big conference in Boston. About 18 months later we all went to France. This year, we haven't had a conference yet, but we are going to Germany in September. EOW: So give our readers some insight into some of the drama that goes on while attending a conference of executive chefs.

Brand: Well, there are definitely egos involved. There are those who look at others thinking, "You call yourself a chef?" Then there are those who draw attention to themselves and make people wonder how they got their job. EOW: So how do you gauge another chef's abilities?

Brand: You can judge them by their menu, presentation and ingredients they use. You can also see how much they know of trends in the industry. For example, a question that might be asked would be, "How have you used black garlic?" If the other person's response is, "Uh...what?" then that gives you a clue. Similar questions are asked about equipment. But I'll tell you, the best way to gauge is by looking at their hands. Look for nicks and bumps on their hands. Look for scars on their arms. If there's a bunch of hair on their knuckles, they're not near a stove. That's how you gauge. Compare one hand to the other and you should be able to tell which hand they sauté with. That's how I can tell where someone is in the kitchen.

Check back tomorrow for photos of dishes from the Texas-themed lunch menu that Chef Brand helped develop.

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