Getting Salty with Brian Young of Cultivar and ‘Top Chef’
Brian Young has a big few months coming up: The Nashville native will appear on the 16th season of “Top Chef,” debuting on Dec. 6. After that, the Cultivar chef de cuisine — formerly at Townsman, Citizen Public House, and Post 390 — will become executive chef at The Emory, a neighborhood bar and kitchen slated to open in April in the Scollay Square space.
What’s the first restaurant you ever ate at in Boston? My cousin is a director of operations for Franklin Restaurant Group and Tasty Burger. When I moved here, she was working for the Barbara Lynch Gruppo. The first place she ever brought me was Peach Farm for seafood. It’s the first time I ever met [server] Debbie. Debbie is Peach Farm! She’s been there forever. We ordered surf clams in XO sauce.
What’s one thing you’d like to fix about the restaurant industry here? We have a very serious drought of young line cooks who are driven. You hire someone who is young and promising, and you hear them talking to other line cooks: “I can’t wait until I get out of here!” Why are you here then? There’s a drought of people who want to do this for the rest of their lives.
What other restaurants do you visit? I go to Coppa frequently, to be honest. I still go to Peach Farm or Anchovies, when I’ve been working 12 or 13 hours and I’m hungry. And they’re still open! On my day off, I’ll go to Santarpio’s and get pizza. I live in Revere.
What’s your earliest food memory that made you think: I want to work in restaurants? One that stands out to me is my mom’s mom making strawberry jam. I think I was 6 or 7. It was so weird to me. I didn’t realize that a person could make jam. I thought it came in a jar. Someone else does it! And my father’s mother, I remember having big breakfasts at her house. I was always curious. She was always in the kitchen doing something. She learned how to cook from her mom, and we had fresh cantaloupe from a farmstand down the street, biscuits, coffeecake, eggs, sausage gravy. A big Southern breakfast on a Saturday and Sunday morning.
What’s the worst restaurant experience you’ve ever had? Usually whenever I go into my own restaurant on my day off. I can’t sit still. I just notice everything wrong, the things other people wouldn’t notice. The bread is warm but not hot. The crackers on the charcuterie plate are too thick. The server didn’t fill up my water right away.
How could Boston become a better food city? I’d love to see liquor licenses get less expensive so more people could try [to open a restaurant]. I’d love to see the cost of opening a business go down or the red tape cut through some of it for us. I think the thing that separates us from San Francisco is there you could stumble into a place in a strip mall the size of a closet and get a beer and the best taco you ever had. It’s an authenticity. It’s so expensive to start here. There’s no cheap way to do it, not if you want a liquor license, as far as zoning laws. The city and everything in Boston is historic. You can’t change it. You have to go to 12 boards of directors for this and that to put a hardwood floor on top of a floor that already existed.
Name three adjectives for Boston diners. Educated, adventurous, gluten-free.
What’s the most overdone trend right now? The whole one-bite plate of food. The three-bite plate. OK, it’s pretty, but what else is there? Let’s eat again.
What are you reading? I’m actually reading the new David McMillan book about [Montreal restaurant] Joe Beef.
How’s your commute? I take the train. I always take the train. I don’t trust people who don’t. I put my headphones on and read a book. I read the paper a lot. It’s the only way I can stay informed, to try to read between places.
What’s the one food you never want to eat again? Oh, I know. I really do not like eel. It’s sweet meat. I don’t know. I’m not into it. I will never go back to eel.
What kind of restaurant is Boston missing right now? A place where you can share larger-format things. A place that’s fun and makes no apologies, like Momofuku in New York. We don’t have that sort of place. . . . Vibe-wise, I love what Jamie Bissonette did at Little Donkey. Great space. Great room. Food-wise, what I like the most in the whole city is what Dan Amighi is doing: Quebecoise at Café du Pays. To me, if I could combine those two places, it’d be the perfect place.
What’s your most missed Boston restaurant? Hamersley’s. Gordon [Hamersley] has had my chicken, and I don’t think I breathed the whole time. I was terrified.
Who was your most memorable customer? When I was an executive sous for Mary [Dumont] at Harvest, Joan Parker, [wife of author Robert B. Parker], used to come in three times a week. She never wanted anything on the menu. She was so rad. She’d ask for broccoli and stuff, so I’d keep it in the restaurant for when Joan would come in. We’d talk all the time, and she was a great person and a joy to have as a guest, always.
If you had to eat your last meal in Boston, what would it be? One of the most memorable meals I’ve had in recent memory was at Waypoint. Michael [Scelfo] is a beacon of hospitality. The food there is really good. I’d go to Waypoint again. I’d order 50 oysters to eat alone, pizza, two cocktails, and a bottle of wine — Lambrusco, for the pizza.