Henry Santoro: It's been just about a year that Bill Brodsky's been the Chief Culinary Officer at Boston Nightlife Ventures. They're the folks that are behind the great restaurants Wink & Nod, The Tap Trailhouse, Griddler’s Burgers and Dogs, and Southern Ken Cookhouse in Assembly Square Row. And if that's not mouthwatering enough they also have a couple of other projects in the works. And it's my pleasure to welcome Chef Bill Brodsky to WGBH to Henry in the Hub.
Bill Brodsky: Thanks so much for having me. This is so great to see you again.
HS: You made your mark in Boston with your own restaurant city landing, which you closed to take this new gig. Any regrets?
BB: None whatsoever. It was a really fantastic opportunity for me to have access to a larger infrastructure and resources that I wouldn't have normally had. Right. And you know here we are we're growing every day we've got two more restaurants on the way for 2017 and we've got a few projects even further out that we're starting to put together.
HS: You were born in New York. You cook in Boston. Yeah. Clam chowder or Manhattan Clam?
BB: Honestly I've got to go New England Clam Chowder.
HS: Because you worked on the Cape for a long time?
BB : Yes, the over 10 years I was down on the Cape. And when you order chowder there's nothing Red or any tomato anywhere near.
HS: Where did your love of New England seafood come from? Because people rave about your seafood and if they haven't had it, they need to.
BB: Well I grew up in Long Island. Right. And you know very beachy communities all over the island. And it was what I grew up eating, you know, so I can certainly remember sitting around a tab;e with the family, you know, having some steamers… having lobster… and you know that stuff just it gets embedded in you and ingrained in who you are.
HS: You also come from a big medical family, and you were in med school yourself?
BB: I was, I was three and a half years in the program when I decided that maybe I wanted to take a different course of action.
HS: And you know here it's a rather than a scalpel you chose a chef.
BB: That's right. That's right. You know to my parents chagrin by all means, but it was definitely the right pick for me.
HS: A jury of your peers call you one of the best chefs in the country. Does that put pressure on you when someone does that?
BB: Well I don't know who's saying that but I'd like to thank them personally and let them know that I owe a lot of people, including the James Beard Foundation.
HS: Is your mantra still "always local, always fresh?" Yeah?
BB: I mean that's one of the mantras that we use at Griddler’s. And you know it's a great burger concept where we should be using all locally sourced and responsible ingredients. But I think any chef that's, you know, worth their weight in salt will tell you that, you know, to give great product to people you've got to have the best stuff and the best up is always right around the corner. You know, I think about running into the farmer's market getting those beautifully ripe tomatoes. That's what I want to service. And I think there's a lot of us that feel that way.
HS: Let's talk about the concept of the incubator concept, that Wink and Nod, you have not changed that.
BB: It's a program set-up first. Hiring chefs who are interested in ownership and what we do is we bring in chefs that have really hard core concepts and they know who they are and what they want to do and we give them an opportunity to run the kitchen at Wink and Nod and they're responsible for all the different business aspects of running the kitchen. And it's a great way for a chef to come in and kind of make their mark, get some brand awareness, go and refine their concept. All without having to lay out a sizable capital investment.
HS: Right. But it's also it's a very unorthodox way for your company to run a restaurant, right?
BB: It is a little bit unorthodox. I mean there's always the fear that if we have the wrong person in there it might negatively affect the business and the clientele that we serve. But we go through a very thorough vetting process. I mean right now I'm probably talking to about eight different chefs for our next incubator program which will start in February and it involves first, you know, getting to know them learning about what their backgrounds are and then ultimately you know they start cooking for us and we see what we really like and if it makes sense.
HS: If it's so it's so it's really that simple.
HS: If somebody wants to do with they get a hold of you they and then you just start vetting, right?
BB: That's it. I mean, you, know, I have a list of questions to kind of start the dialogue and then from there, you know, you can kind of organically tell if it's a good fit for what we're trying to do and, you know, if it needs to be mutually beneficial. They've got to really take the bonus to put out the best possible product and provide the, you know, the best version of their concept that they possibly can. And, you know, we try to support them every step along the way.
HS: Well I do know that Brendan Pelley loved his residency there.
BB: Yeah and it's great. And he also packed them in. I mean, he was a very good chef.
HS: He's an amazing talent. And what impressed me most about Brendan is not how good his food was but just what a chill, really sweet guy is. He's a consummate professional. And, you know, he's someone that we're definitely keeping an eye on for the future. We know he's going to do big things.
HS: Can you tell us what the next concept coming in will be?
BB: Well I can tell you we've got it narrowed down to a few finalists. In short I'll tell you that we're looking at an aging concept. We're looking at a Peruvian concept, we're looking at a farm to table concept and we're just coming off the tail of a Nepali chef Peta Cantrell who's doing a fantastic job there, kind of exposing the Boston market to Nepali cuisine which is something that I really didn't have much familiarity with prior to her coming on board.
HS: And it's a South End establishment and I think that as far as the neighborhood is concerned it has to be awesome for them because every six months they get a new restaurant.
BB: I would think it's a gem. You know, and if it's not your style of cuisine or ethnicity that you want to eat, wait six months. Come on back and there'll be something else in there.
HS: Right. Let's head over to southern Canada assembly row. This is a restaurant that I had lunch with Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone shortly after you first opened and we absolutely love the place. Thank you. Describe the feel the menu? The fried chicken.
BB: Yes that's right. So Southern, I mean this this little restaurant is a monster, right? It is just really kicking tail. So the concept is Southern cuisine. And I spent over two years living in Charleston, South Carolina. Prior to that I was down in Dallas, Texas and I really kind of got into the Southern cuisine and the culture behind it. Let me go on record saying Southern Cane is not a barbecue shack. It is a true Southern restaurant. So obviously the food has a very South Carolina …Charleston note to it and that's just because that's what I was exposed to and I wasn't going to, you know, just offer something that was kind of Southern that I wasn't really comfortable cooking homemade pies. So authenticity-wise, I mean it's right there. So we have amazing fried chicken that we have these large pressure fryers to cook it in and we brine the chicken, it's quite a process so that the chicken is memorable and you come and you get our fried chicken. You know you've arrived. We do have BBQ ribs but we have some more kind of one off dishes like she-crab soup which you puree. It's basically a crab bisque with the addition of crab row in it. Right. And a lot of sherry wine, it's a beautiful little dish.
HS: Hence the name. She-crab.
BB: Yeah that's right. You got it. And we do an awesome version of deviled eggs which is a Southern Classic. We have fried catfish on the menu with sweet corn succotash.
HS: I mean, you name it, pretty much the down home take on soul food is what we we're after and I think that's what we got.
HS: So you bring your time on the Cape to the seafood dishes that you make. You bring your time down south to to the Southern fried chicken food that you make. Where are you going to travel to next?
BB: Honestly I'm feeling in Italy. It's time to dive into that. No, I've actually worked at an Italian restaurant for a couple of years and it's something that I've always wanted to revisit kind of knowing what I know now. So maybe in the future I'll see one of those.
HS: And you brought with you today a spread from Southern kin. What is that biscuit that I'm looking at?
BB: So that that is a classic buttermilk biscuit. We serve it with this beautiful little honey butter revamps. Well, that's how a biscuit should be. You know, most people you know when you're out at the breadbasket you feel guilty grabbing more than one. So we just made a huge one. All right. And I'll have that one piece.
HS: And I see a mountain of fried chicken over there. Yeah. And I also see some tacos. Yeah. So we've got some alligator. OK gator tacos. I mean what could be better right than gator tacos. And most people ask, 'Does it taste like chicken or mackerel?' Just lift it up over there. It did indeed. And you did bring some chic she-crab soup as well. Yeah. I needed to pay homage to the crab soup.
HS: Now tap trail house located at Faneuil Hall on the Freedom Trail putting out food colonial era food, that is the best anybody will ever have.
BB: Well thank you. Thank you. Yeah. Well I know you spoke with our executive chef over there, Matt. It is truly a throwback to Colonial food but it's got a little bit of a modern twist on it. We're still trying to keep it in the gastro pub you know, kind of cuisine and the Tap Trailhouse is such a cool place. I mean, we have 24 craft beers on tap. You kind of roll in there. You have a great cold beer and then all of a sudden you get a look at the menu and it's like 'Oh man, I need to check that out. And you know, some really nice food.
HS: Now I mentioned in my introduction that Boston nightlife ventures has some other concepts they're working on. Are you at liberty to talk about that?
BB: Yeah. So the next one we have opening in April is is called Certified Meatball Company. And I know most people think of meatballs and they think the classic Italian ball with red sauce and certainly we will have a version of that. But I think we really wanted to kind of take the chef approach and kind of tweak it out and just go nuts with it. So I've got spicy pork balls with green curry sauce. I've got a vegetarian kind of spin on my coffee which is an Italian ball in a beautiful little curry sauce and obviously it goes further.
HS: When you think about, meatballs almost have the same sort of worldwide appeal as dumplings do?
HS: Absolutely. Absolutely. You know, everyone makes them. And you can go Italy you can go to Eastern Europe and they really they take on that flavor.
BB: Yeah. And everyone's got a different take on the meatball So hopefully we can hit all the right notes. Very calm. In addition to that we also have an awesome little restaurant called the Kindo which is going to be opening in the south and right next to Wink and Nod where we're doing Southeast Asian cuisine in this restaurant special to us because the chef is one of the former incubators that went through Winks and Nods culinary incubator program. His name is Patrick Leahy. And man this guy's got crazy chops when it comes to food. He is Filipino background but he really just nailed the whole area. And we've actually partnered with him and we're opening this. We're considering this a huge success for the incubator program.
HS: Very cool. Well Bill Brodsky thank you so much for coming in. It's always a pleasure to see you. We're talking Southern kin cookouts, griddle burgers, and dogs, Tap Trail House, Wink and Nod and other projects in the works, so good luck to you. And you can hear the passion in your voice. Thanks a lot. It's great.
BB: Thank you.