By Mara Papatheodorou, Your Tastes & Traditions Expert
Executive Chef, Michael Bryant’s passion for cooking and creating memorable mouthwatering dishes from the freshest of ingredients began early while growing up in rural Virginia. Working his way up in established kitchens in Virginia led him to Florida into the renowned New World Cuisine kitchen of Norman Van Aiken. There and then in Norman’s California restaurant, Michael further developed his culinary skills before moving on to Bin 8945 in West Hollywood, acclaimed Joe’s in Venice and famed Father's Office. A winner of Food Network's Chopped, his unique and impressive interpretations of New American Cuisine with worldly flavorful daring twists are now making their mark at The Churchill, a Los Angeles gastropub extraordinaire.
Q: As an established Executive Chef, what is your philosophy in the kitchen? What inspires you?
A: The world of flavors inspires me! Synergy is really important to me too. My inspiration and philosophy go hand in hand. Keep it simple, local and fresh, fresh, fresh. I always say remember who you are when you cook, your heart, your soul, your roots. Have fun doing it while educating those around you. That is what I learned from those above me who gave me opportunities to try and to do when I first began. They taught me to be prepared and to keep stretching my ability and my sensibilities. I love what I do and that just makes me more aware of the diverse ingredients and spices that surround me. As an Executive Chef, I am always asking myself, “How can I mix and match these elements for a dynamite result for my patrons?”
Q: What do you like about being the Executive Chef of the Churchill?
A: A gastro pub is a perfect type of restaurant for what I like to do. It has a really welcome vibe that ideally matches my hope for guests who come with open minds and ready-to-try-anything palates. The Churchill is a terrific place to be with patrons who are curious and excited about what they eat. Everyone here and everything on our menu is real and the appreciation is pure. It’s a relaxed multi-layered adventure on a plate in every way. I love the casual rustic yet refined décor and our busy bar with great wines and spirits complement our small plates from the internationally inspired menu.
Q: This small plate offering of Spanish Octopus sizzling with green beans, tomatoes, lemon, garlic and harissa is stunning and a sensational hit on your menu. How did you develop it?
A: Taste, taste, taste. I just kept mixing and matching until it worked! I’ve always found octopus exotic and presented it on my menus even before it became the current rage and “it” ingredient of the day. It is luscious and soft and absorbs flavors so well. I love heat so the hot chile spice of harissa really works. But I love contrasting that with the coolness of acid like I get with Meyer lemons. And for me any type of garlic used in all sorts of ways-roasted, sautéed, as fresh paste is an ingredient with depth. The freshness and textures of the green beans and tomatoes add another flavorful part. Together, these all make me happy and the results speak for themselves.
Q: What is it about the Matfer products that make a difference in your preparation and results of your various dishes?
A: The high quality of Matfer products is consistent. They continue to go above and beyond what I need all of the time. I appreciate that. The commitment they project about and with their wide assortment of items translates to my commitment to wanting to use them. It adds another layer of confidence that the dishes I am preparing will succeed. It’s a no brainer formula really. Use the best ingredients, the best chefs’ tools, give it your best effort and you’ll create the best dish you can. My mentor Norman Van Aiken used Matfer products so I knew from the start that these were the ones that made a difference.
Q: What do you think of Matfer's Classic Ceramic Pan, Copper Round Frying Pan, Copper Egg Pan, Chef Tweezers, Fish Spatula Turner and Multi-Purpose Kitchen Knife?
A: They are all excellent. I love the beauty of using copper from start to finish. The way Matfer's Classic Ceramic Pan and Copper Round Frying Pan retain the heat with no muss no fuss as I am blending flavors and ingredients is awesome. And the Copper Egg Pan is stunning and perfect for my Spanish Octopus Small Plate presentation. And I’m particular about the instruments I use when I’m cooking and then garnishing so the sturdiness yet delicacy of the Tweezers, the Fish Spatula Turner and the kitchen knife all really work for me.
Q: What are your favorite Matfer must-have tools?
A: I always rely on the Matfer kitchen knife, tweezers and spoons. The same ingredient rarely tastes exactly the same twice because of weather and ripeness so I taste everything each and every time I’m cooking it so I always need that spoon! I love to chop and the precision of the knife is great. I give each ingredient attention when I’m plating them so the tweezers let me do that well.
Q: Marcel Boulestin a 19th century renowned French Chef and Restauranteur said, “Cookery is not chemistry. It is an art. It requires instinct and taste rather than exact measurements.” Do you agree?
A: I completely agree with him. Big bold flavors matter to me. They are what make beautiful dishes. To get that blend of amazing explosive flavors from herbs and spices that add intrigue to a dish comes from instinct and attempt after attempt to see and feel what tastes right. I thrive on experimenting with elements from around the world to continue to challenge myself and to create new combinations. And I love that he is French since my Mom is French and that is where my interest in cooking began!
Q: On a personal note, what is your favorite ingredient to use when you cook?
A: I love heat so chiles of all kind remain a favorite. And I just keep looking and tasting to see what else catches my attention and feeds my soul.
TOOLS FOR THE TASTE:
As an executive chef, you know that less is more and fresh is best. Use Matfer's Copper Round Frying Pan, Copper Egg Pan, Classic Ceramic Pan, Chef Tweezers, Fish Spatula Turner & Multi-Purpose Kitchen Knife for your own small plate signature dishes.