It may be 29-year old Chef Brandon Brumback’s first time leading a kitchen as executive chef, and his first time working at a hotel restaurant, but he’s more than up for the challenge at The Albert in Marriott’s new Hotel EMC2, a member of the Autograph Collection, in Chicago.
The young chef hails from Kansas City, and his impressive fine-dining resume includes stints at London’s The Fat Duck, under Heston Blumenthal, and Yountville, California’s, The French Laundry, under Thomas Keller.
He’s now been in Chicago for the last eight years and has fallen in love with the city. Most recently Brumback helped open Michelin-starred restaurants GreenRiver and Roister. Now he’s shaking up the menu at The Albert.
Brumback sat down with Marriott TRAVELER to chat about his culinary influences, must-try Chicago restaurants and where he finds culinary inspiration.
We're definitely creating art on a daily basis with the aesthetics of our plates and drinks. We're trying to put food out there with little to no manipulation.
You’ve worked under several world-famous chefs. Who is your biggest culinary mentor?
Mike Sheerin at Blackbird probably had the biggest influence on me. I didn’t stay at many restaurants long enough to have a real mentor, to be honest. I was so nomadic. I just wanted to learn more and was always looking for more money and more creative freedom.
After Blackbird, Curtis Duffy at Grace showed me so much in avant-garde cuisine and techniques. He’s a very quiet person, so you have to pull it out of him.
How would you describe your cooking style at The Albert?
We’re definitely creating art on a daily basis with the aesthetics of our plates and drinks. We’re trying to put food out there with little to no manipulation. There’s no molecular gastronomy or anything like that.
We wanted to create an approachable, casual restaurant for hotel guests and locals. We have a beautiful dining room and hotel, but our staff aren’t stuffy at all.
Do you have a favorite dish on the menu?
Right now I have a three-way tie. I really love our green papaya salad. It’s light, refreshing and vegan, so everybody can enjoy it.
Our octopus is the most popular dish. I think that will stay awhile. And I really love the dry-aged duck. It’s something that I’ve been working on for a long time.
We used to do an aged duck at Blackbird, where we remove the legs from the bird and age the carcass with the breasts on. I’ve taken it a little bit further by introducing it to our dry-aging room, where we have our beef, as well.
It develops an almost mushroom essence, a little bit of funk and gamey quality that I think is very unique and fun. It’s for more adventurous eaters, for sure.
And where do you get your inspiration from?
I’ve always loved traveling. I’m an only child, and we didn’t take yearly vacations as a kid. We would save for a couple years and go to Europe for a month. It’s been five years since my last vacation, but I’m taking a trip in late September for my 30th birthday, visiting Europe for a couple of weeks.
I’m flying into London and will spend two days there to get reacquainted with the city. The restaurant I want to eat at the most is Le Gavroche. I had a meal there when I was 19, and it was one of the best meals I’ve ever had. I’ll be hanging around Borough Market, too.
It’s been 10 years now since I was in Europe, and last time I didn’t have the funds to eat at these places. I’m excited to see these chefs that I’ve been reading about for 10 to 15 years.
We wanted to create an approachable, casual restaurant for hotel guests and locals. We have a beautiful dining room and hotel, but our staff aren't stuffy at all.
Beyond The Albert, what’s your favorite neighborhood restaurant in the city?
I live just west of the West Loop, right by the United Center, and I love The Loyalist. Chef Mark Bolton’s food is so interesting, and I’ve never gone in there and not liked something. Great drinks, great vibe and great food.
They do this thing called fancy chicken. It’s an off-menu dish: chicken thighs glazed in hot sauce and chicken-liver mousse emulsion. Really rich but only two small pieces.
The Aberdeen Tap is my local bar. I don’t want to say I’m a regular there, but before I took this job, I’d be there two or three nights a week.
Do you have a favorite local breakfast or coffee spot?
My favorite coffee is Sparrow, and I love La Fournette in Old Town, more for their pastries than their coffee, but that’s my little guilty pleasure every now and then. I’ll get the hazelnut beignet.
I’ve always been impressed by the pastry and bread program at Nico Osteria, too. I sometimes stop by there and get a ham and cheese croissant to go. A cup of coffee and croissant is the best breakfast you can have.
Any other Chicago spots where you enjoy eating?
My other favorite restaurant right now is Cafe Marie-Jeanne in Humboldt Park. I’m there at least once a week. That would be my ideal restaurant if I could open one. Have a chalkboard full of your daily specials. Go to the market and talk to your fish or meat guy to see what you have for tomorrow. Maybe you only have five of this, or three of that, but it’s bringing the full creative possibilities to the table.
If you could dine at any restaurant in the world, which would it be?
I would probably say Astrance in Paris. European and French chefs are just so different from American chefs. You see Michel Bras getting up at 4:30 a.m. then driving to the market two hours away. Something about the dedication and time everyone puts in is so different from America. I don’t necessarily know if I could do it myself, but it’s inspiring for sure.