Chef Josh Brown of Gather welcomes Travail's chefs into his kitchen; celebrates second anniversary
Chef Josh Brown of Gather by D'Amico -- the sophisticated modern-American restaurant located in the Walker--has got quite a bit piled up on his plate. In addition to handling all the regular head chef stuff, Brown also heads up Gather's innovative Chef-in-Residence program, where on the first Thursday of every month, Gather invites a local Twin Cities chef into his kitchen. For the entire month, Gather prepares and features a few select dishes by the guest chef on their menu. In the two years it's been open, Gather has welcomed 23 distinct and highly-talented chefs onto their rotating team -- everyone from La Belle Vie's Tim McKee to Tilia's Steve Brown to D'Amico's executive chefs. It's more names than you can shake a spatula at.
This Thursday, June 5, Gather celebrates its two-year anniversary with a very special residency. Mike Brown, James Winberg, and Bob Gerken, the enthusiastic trio that head up Travail, will be adding a special dish to the June menu -- Langoustine Tartare with Osetra -- and will be hanging around the restaurant all Thursday evening, sharing free tasting samples of their dish.
Hot Dish caught up with Chef Josh Brown ahead of the celebration to talk about the details of the residence program, some of the new menu items he's looking forward to serving, and just exactly how much gray hair he's accumulated since he's been at the helm of Gather.
Hot Dish: Tell me about Gather -- the basic notion behind the plates that you serve.
Josh Brown: Okay, so -- Gather is locally sourced and globally inspired. The first Thursday of every month we bring in a guest chef from the Twin Cities and we give away samples of their plates of food for free. The rest of the Thursdays [that month], we produce their dishes on the menu and sell them at the regular price. For me, I feel extremely honored to do this program. I get to work with some of the best chefs in the Twin Cities, some up-and-coming chefs, and some people that have really established themselves, and I get to learn something new every single month.
How does that work, exactly? I'm envisioning some sort of Gordon Ramsey kitchen takeover situation.
The way that it works is the guest chef will give me their dishes -- the menu items, ingredient list, and descriptions of how they want the dishes done -- at least two weeks or a week and a half ahead of time. So we have about two weeks or a week and a half to prepare for [the first Thursday], and getting the staff familiarized with the dishes we're doing. Sometimes there's totally new ingredients or techniques that we've never used before, and the guest chef is so absolutely wonderful to work with. Some of them have come into our kitchen and some of them have invited me into their kitchen. I went to the Butcher & the Boar and made sausage with Jack Riebel, that was awesome. [The chefs] usually come in a week before and do the dishes with us, and the first Thursday, they come in and pre-shift with us. Then they're generally there that evening. Sometimes they work the line with us, and sometimes they walk the floor.
Gather turns two this month. What's changed for you since the restaurant opened?
Oh, I'm pretty sure that I've gotten some gray hair. I'm positive that I've lost some hair. [Laughs] No, um, what has changed for me... Probably confidence, and the amount of information that I've been able to learn over a couple years. It's just amazing. I'm able to learn from some of the greatest chefs in the Twin Cities and some of the great up-and-coming chefs, as well and being able to work with these guys. It's a feeling like I've never felt before. I'm honored to be able to do it.
Let's say you've got one week to live. Where would you spend that week eating and drinking? What are you must-haves before you leave the planet?
Oh, let's see... Well, I grew up in Montana, and family is probably hands-down the most important thing to me. Where I would want to end my time is with family and friends, because that's where it started for me, at a farm in Montana, in the garden and cooking with my grandma and my aunts, making bread. I think that's where it all started for me. So it would definitely be with family. If I had to pick a place past my family, man, it would for sure be on the lake up North. Somewhere on the lake.
Another hypothetical: You have a friend coming into the Twin Cities to visit--what's the one place (aside from your restaurant) where you would take them?
Just one?! [Laughs] Okay... well, I went to Butcher & the Boar a little while ago, and it was like meat heaven. So assuming it was a guy coming to visit, I would probably want to go there. So that's off the top of my head. It's food that I would love to eat.
You just changed your cocktail, lunch, and dinner menus for the summer. What are some highlights? What are you most excited to share with people?
I'll have to defer the cocktail menu to our front of the house. I know we have some really fun new cocktails. I think there's a celery-tini -- a celery infused martini. It's pretty rad. I'll have to defer the cocktail menu to them, but as far as the food menu, we have a couple new things that I'm really excited about. We revamped our watermelon salad, we've topped it with some really nice burrata cheese, which I think is super sexy. We have this Vietnamese pancake that's made with rice flour and coconut milk, and a bit of turmeric, so it's got this beautiful color, and it's tossed with a chili lime sauce, it's super fresh, really gorgeous. And we have two sandwiches on the lunch menu that are just killing it right now--we've got this bison burger with crispy shallots that's out of this world, and a duck French dip where the duck is sliced super thin and it's smother it in onions that have been caramelized in duck fat, so it's a little confit, and we serve it with duck jus on the side, and it's really, really good. I think those are probably my top things for the lunch menu.... For dinner, we've got this chili-braised short rib, so we took ancho chilies, chipotle, pasilla, and guajillo chilis, and we're braising it in the oven with tomatoes and mango and agave, so it's a really nice balance of sweet and spicy. We're serving it with sweet corn risotto... It's the ultimate grill food.
Join the fun at Gather this Thursday from 5-9 p.m. to celebrate the restaurant's anniversary and try the Travail special. Reservations highly recommended. Info here.