Sean Brock. For many culinarians and food historians, that name is not only synonymous with Charleston's vibrant food scene, but with the widespread revival of Southern cooking traditions. The Virginia-raised visionary is a product of his upbringing in the rural farming culture - an environment that instilled in him a respect for the heirloom foods that once nourished the Old South. As Brock restores these crops to a place of honor on the menus of the New South, his trio of South Carolina-born restaurants - McCrady's, HUSK and Minero - are readily making this chef a legend in his own time.
For Brock, the deeper a dish is rooted in Southern traditions, the better. While foods that reflect the heritage of the region are a focal point, old-school cooking methods evoke his passion as well. The wood-fired cooking of foods - everything from heirloom peas to vegetables to meat and fish - is a preferred technique, as well as pickling, canning and preserving things fresh from the earth.
"I've been cooking in the Lowcountry for 15 years now, and the history of South Carolina has been the catalyst of my approach to cooking," Brock said. "I've spent my career diving deeper into the culture and geography and learning how it shapes the cuisine."
Brock's strong farm-to-table aesthetic was home grown. Residing in a mining town devoid of restaurants meant living off the land was essential to survival. But the daily monotony on the family farm and in the kitchen only served to fuel his interest in pursuing a culinary career. Despite being far removed from the lively happenings of famed food-centric cities, the future chef found plenty of inspiration in his youth.
"I grew up around Southern women who were cooking all day, and if they weren't cooking, they were in their garden growing food," he said. "I also used to watch ‘Great Chefs of the World.'"
Brock sought formal training at Johnson & Wales in Charleston and found work in the storied kitchen of Peninsula Grill assisting Chef Robert Carter. After two years, he landed back in Virginia as sous chef at Jefferson Hotel's acclaimed Lemaire Restaurant. He accepted the position of executive chef at Nashville's Hermitage Hotel in 2003, where he helmed operations for three productive years. A return to Charleston to lead the kitchen of McCrady's set into motion a new day for the city's burgeoning food scene. It wasn't long before Brock established his own gardens, consulted food historians and local farmers, and began exploring heirloom foods like Jimmy Red corn, benne seed, Sea Island peas and other crops that have recently risen to prominence in the South's finest restaurants. The opening of HUSK in 2010 propelled him into the national spotlight, earning him the James Beard Award as Best Chef - Southeast, followed by a number of national television appearances and the 2011 naming of HUSK as "Best New Restaurant in America" by Bon Appétit.
His love for rustic Mexican cuisine led to the opening of Minero in 2014 in Charleston. Harnessing the momentum of his remarkable success, Brock decided to share his concepts by opening an Atlanta location of Minero and establishing HUSK as a major player on the food scenes in Greenville, Nashville and Savannah. He spends his time moving between the restaurants, ensuring that diners experience his vision just as he intended it.