Chef, McCrady's Restaurant
For bringing tech tricks to farm-to-table cuisine. High-end chefs often fall into one of two camps: the Alice Waters minimalist, ingredient-driven, "I worship this tomato" approach, or the flashy, high-tech Ferran Adrià type. Sean Brock of McCrady's Restaurant in Charleston, South Carolina, is in both camps. He has found music where before there was only discord. When making grits, for instance, he chills his heirloom corn kernels with liquid nitrogen before grinding them; he's found it's the best way to preserve their flavor.
But although Brock loves to play with science-y gadgets and techniques, his real love is showcasing historical foods of the South, particularly the Lowcountry. This fall, Brock is opening a new restaurant called Husk that will serve only food produced in the South. The cooking will be rustic: a lot of it done in a wood-burning oven. But he'll still be entertaining diners with dishes like cotton candy made out of emulsified country ham.
What are you really excited about right now?
In the past few years, I've fallen in love with the art of seed saving. There are so many incredibly wonderful varieties of food in existence that people aren't cooking, because of generations of genetic modification. I have a two-acre garden that's nothing but seed saving. It's so easy—you just grow the cantaloupe, wash the damn seeds off, and dry them! My goal is to give my seeds to every farmer I can grab by the overalls and make him promise he's gonna grow it, and get him inspired. When you come to our restaurant, you'll be eating food you've never seen before, and that's pretty damn cool.
What are you serving now that people have probably never had before?
We might be the only restaurant in the South serving benne, a plant that was nearly bred out of existence. You can use the whole plant: The leaves you could braise, or mash them in a mortar to make pesto and they'll release okralike cellulose to thicken sauces. Toast the seeds and put them on greens or oyster stew and they have this beautiful, floral, earthy, nutty flavor that finishes with bitterness. You can mash them and get tons of this delicious oil. The cake flour makes really good-tasting wafers and cookies. Benne is the missing link to Lowcountry cooking!