26 Apr Interview with Brian Lewis
Meet Brian Lewis
Brian Lewis is one of Connecticut’s most celebrated chefs, lauded for his commitment to quality and seasonally driven American cuisine featured at his restaurant, The Cottage, as well as his love for Japanese cuisine at his newest venture, OKO. The Cottage, based in Westport, Connecticut, was recognized with an “Excellent” review in the New York Times, after only being open for four months, commending Lewis’ sophisticated menu in a cozy setting.
Lewis was also honored in 2018 as a semi-finalist for the James Beard Awards’ Best Chef: Northeast in the 2018.
Siobhan: Thank you, Brian, for taking the time to share your story with me. I’m a big fan of both your restaurants in Westport, The Cottage and OKO. Not only is the food amazing in both but the atmosphere that you have created is equally impressive and I think just as important. I’ve always been interested in the drive behind a great chef. I really appreciate the artistry of your culinary skills and your passion to create. A dear friend of mine inspired me to learn how to cook well years ago. Her passion for creating a great meal that brought friends together inspired me to take many classes at the Institute of Culinary Education in NYC. I thought it was something I would pursue but I learned quickly about the stamina it takes to run a kitchen.
How did you discover your love for cooking? Is there a certain childhood memory that was pivotal or revealing for you?
My love for cooking was an obsession from the moment that I stumbled upon the kitchen doors at Mona Trattoria, an amazing “temple” of Bolognese ( northern Italian) cooking in Somers, New York. I was 13 years old, and had a sports injury which benched me from any type of sports for the year, so, with boundless energy, I set out onto what would be a lifelong journey with cooking that would only gain momentum and shape, in great part, the character of who I am today.
The most vivid memory for me was walking into Monas and meeting the Chef, Tom Elia ( who would become a hero, dear friend, inspiration, father figure, role model….) and I just stood on the ” sidelines” and watched as Tom and his team of bad-ass cooks danced their macabre kitchen dance and created the most beautiful and delicious food that I can still smell and taste today when I think of it.
By way of an interview, I washed pots and pans all night, the dish pit was right there with full view of the cooking line and I stared at the kitchen team and all of their amazing moves and high wire tightrope walking as hard as I washed the pots and pans, hoping to be selected to be part of this team of rock star cooks ( Tom gave me a loaf of bread to sop up the sauces in the pans as they were gently thrown my way – dishwashing has its privileges!!!) I was hired that evening at 13 years old for a part time job at Monas – as a dishwasher and prep hand – I ran home to tell my Mom the news – as if I just aced all of my classes for the year, which I promise you I didn’t.
What should every kitchen or pantry have stocked at all times, to make delicious, wholesome meals at home?
Fruity Extra Virgin Olive Oil – White Sesame seeds – Ripe Avocado – Local Farm Eggs – Millstone Farms Chicken
Do you have an all-time favorite recipe you’ve created?
My go-to favorite recipe for cooking at home with Dana and the boys is of course seasonal driven – during the Winter months I love to make a big stew of chicken curry with cauliflower, butternut squash , potatoes and scallions with a side of brown jasmine rice. I love toasting a bit of garlic and sesame seeds for a “gomashio” to top the stew with, a bit of a Japanese touch to the curry and really rounds out the dish nicely.
During the Summer we are all about the grill and harvesting the garden for eggplant, tomatoes, squash and their blossoms – I love to grill the eggplant whole in the skin and later whip the flesh with olive oil and a touch of raw garlic for a delicious accompaniment to either grilled fish or chicken, along with grilled tomatoes and a salsa verde made from the squash and their blossoms
Siobhan: Both sound amazing! I’ll bring the wine!
What are your favorite foods to create with?
Vegetables from our Garden in the Summer and early Fall. I had a beautiful fenced in garden built for my wife Dana’s birthday and our 5 year old twin boys, Jude and Jax, love to help us from planting to harvesting ( a highly supervised endeavor) and the value of having fresh veggies at our fingertips, right in the back yard is a really amazing way to both teach the boys about loving their veggies and enjoy great family time together.
Siobhan: Farm to Table dining – it’s how I feel about skincare – Farm To Skin
Do you have any culinary influences or chefs you admire?
Daniel Humm, Daniel Patterson, Alain Passard, Mr. Koshikawa, Stuart Brioza
What have you learned along the way as chef/owner of two restaurants that can be applied to life as a whole?
Words to live by – Patience, discipline, appreciation, gratefulness, focus, taste and taste again, creativity is a gift and needs to be nurtured.
What do you think modern society is missing most when it comes to food?
Slowing Down to really enjoy every juicy bite!
Siobhan: I couldn’t agree more. I love when dinner lasts more than an hour.
What is next on the horizon for you in the culinary world?
I am incredibly blessed and grateful for being able to ( still ) be as passionate about a single ingredient, both new found ones such as the many variations of togarashi from Kyoto and those as simple as a perfect carrot from our garden. So as we continue to focus on both of our Westport restaurants, OKO and The Cottage, and open new restaurants in other locations, through it all, maintaining the highest level of creativity, discipline, hands on cooking and inspiring my staff, needs to always be on the forefront of all of these endeavors – so cooking, focusing and even obsessing over the ingredients and trying to bring the most from these ingredients, in both new and tried and true ways, will continue to be my (elusive) horizon.
Siobhan: I look forward to visiting your new locations and all the exciting offerings that are to come!
Are there certain foods you would recommend for home beauty treatments?
Either directly applied or as part of a regular diet. I try and eat a very healthy diet and spend a great deal of time committed to fitness on a daily basis and find balance with eating is key. I am fortunate to have so much amazing healthy food within reach everyday, as well as way to much ice cream if I choose – a huge fan – so I find that while I might not eat for ” beauty” I eat to feel the very best I can – some of my daily go-to ingredients are; avocado, lots of avocado, broccoli, carrots, steamed fish, love black bass, king salmon, halibut, also a big fan of greens, a bowl of spring vegetables, asparagus, sweet peas, ramps, spring onions …..
What is your personal meaning of beauty?
“Kind & Gentle” those are the two words that I have instilled in our boys from as early as we could speak together and some days I ask them which one they are feeling today ( they are 5) and I would have to say that when Jude may say ” I am gentle today Dad”….or Jax says “I want to be kind Dad”….. that is a a beauty that just shines, inside and out.
Siobhan: Those are profound words and I believe especially important for boys because they are not always emphasized enough in our society. Thank you, Brian for being my first chef interviewee! I’m looking forward to visiting my 2 favorite local eateries and the new ones on the horizon.
COMING TOGETHER THROUGH THE LOVE OF NATURAL BEAUTY, WELLNESS, FOOD, AND SUSTAINABILITY