A masterclass in seasoning with Nashville chef Sean Brock
The Southern food king takes us through his award-winning approach to flavour profiling at Soho House’s Secret Sauce dinner with HexClad
Wednesday 23 November 2022 By Jacquelyn Lumley Photography by Autumn Dozier
When Sean Brock first rolled into Charleston back in 2006, things looked a little different. He trailblazed the city’s dining scene with Husk and McCrady’s, and a string of James Beard Awards followed. The chef now calls Nashville home, recently debuting two side-by-side outposts, Audrey and June, a duo paying homage to his grandmother’s influence on his craft and his upbringing in rural Appalachia. Sounds simple enough, but don’t let that sentiment mislead any conclusions about Brock. His intellect is next level when it comes to flavour technique, as evidenced by his new ‘flavour extraction lab,’ which dwells in the basement of Audrey.
Brock brought his talents to Soho House Nashville last week, delighting members as the surprise chef for our Secret Sauce dinner series. ‘It’s my responsibility to pay attention to not only what, but how people enjoy dining,’ he explains. Guests indulged in a dinner inspired by the gilded age of American gastronomy, complete with HexClad tableside carvings, duck press sauces and fine spirit pairings.
Since the beginning, Brock has held a high standard for showcasing singular, concentrated flavour in his perfectly minimalist platings. He’s now finding ways to season and spice with even more specific aromatic compounds, extracted from peels and seeds, cores and beyond. ‘I’m an obsessive collector of old, at-risk-of-being-forgotten techniques and ingredients,’ says Brock. He builds on age-old techniques of fermentation and preservation, dialling things up just a bit in terms of precision and presentation.
‘In all my restaurants, I‘ve always had a little area where we play around and experiment,’ he says. ‘When I had the opportunity to build the restaurant of my dreams in Nashville, I knew that I wanted to have a space that was just dedicated to finding new ways to make food delicious – more delicious than we’ve ever been able to. So, I built a culinary research and development lab to help isolate, preserve and capture flavour compounds.’
The machinery in his lab is typically used to extract terpenes from marijuana plants. Brock is using these state-of-the-art machines to extract food flavour compounds, like the aroma hidden within the peel of an heirloom squash variety. The extracted flavours are used to make syrups, salts, sauces, misos, and more. ‘What I’ve learnt is that every ingredient has flavour matrixes within them that need to be unlocked,’ he says.
A self-proclaimed, cooking-gear nerd, Brock says the number-one element he seeks out in kitchen supplies is longevity. ‘I’m hyper-focused on pots and pans, because there’s not a lot of people making really high-quality ones,’ he says. ‘I’m fascinated by the HexClad finish. It’s a hybrid pan that happens to be non-stick, which is the best of both worlds because a lot of non-stick finishes chip away over time. The HexClad finish is there for good.’ If he could only use one pan for the rest of his life, it would be a rondeau – ‘a round pan with a lip and handles on both sides,’ he says. ‘That’s all you need.’
If there was one theme that Brock’s career trajectory has tracked, it’s an obsession with ingredients. ‘For me, it’s chasing those moments when you first open a jar that you’ve been waiting to taste for a year, or you pull potatoes out of the ground that have been growing for four months. There’s this dopamine rush that happens when I taste something so vibrant and alive. I’ve been chasing that for as long as I can remember.’ We’ll take one of whatever Brock is having. And then another one, please.