Sean Brock is the executive chef at Husk in Charleston, South Carolina, and Nashville, Tennessee, and is quickly becoming one of the rising stars in modern culinary circles, particularly within the Farm-to-Table movement. Born and raised in rural Virginia, Sean Brock’s worldview as a chef was deeply influenced by his country origins. His philosophy of cooking is intensely hyper-local, dependent on a truly Southern heritage of values, such as thrift, practicality, and a reverence for the story and history inherent in Southern food. It is precisely this sense of place and his almost evangelical zeal for heritage foods and ingredients that has propelled him to where he is today.
It was the experience of actually raising his own food with his family during his growing up years that shaped his view of the world more than anything else. Any food they ate was food grown and prepared locally. Locally-sourced food is deeply rooted in time and place. Rather than being a commodified and anonymous product of an industrialized monoculture, local food has a history and a connection to the people who have lovingly worked to preserve nearly forgotten ways of life.
Before becoming a rising culinary star, Sean worked for years in several prestigious restaurants. He studied at Johnson & Wales University in Charleston, and then went on to work at Peninsula Grill. He soon became executive sous chef for Walter Bundy at Lemaire Restaurant in Richmond, Virginia. In 2003 he became executive chef at Hermitage Restaurant in Nashville, followed by becoming executive chef at McCrady’s Restaurant in Charleston.
It wasn’t until coming back to Charleston that Sean found his true calling. As a chef interested in local food, and being aware of both the rich cultural heritage of Southern cuisine (he collects antique Southern cookbooks) and the abundant bounty of locally-grown produce in the South, Sean began to grow his own heritage crops in a local garden. He worked with Dr. David Shields and Glenn Roberts of Anson Mills to resurrect and preserve heritage crops, such as James Island Red Corn, Benne Seed (a kind of rich and subtle sesame seed), Rice Peas, Farro, and more.
Sean Brock is one of the featured chefs in the Anthony Bourdain-produced PBS series The Mind of a Chef. In the film, he shares his love and advocacy for heritage crops, emphasizing their historical importance within the Southern culinary tradition. The film also features his travels to Western Africa, where he traces the connections between Southern cuisine and African cuisine.
Most recently, however, Sean has written a cookbook entitled Heritage, released October 21, 2014. In it he offers his own personal interpretations of Southern classics like Hoppin’ John, slow cooked pork shoulder with tomato gravy and more. With any luck his evangelical zeal for Southern culinary traditions will help to bring more authentic (and delicious) Southern food into home kitchens everywhere.