Sous Chef Alex Brown: Cooking in a Michelin-Star Kitchen
Alex Brown '06, knew he wanted to be a chef before he even started at Blair, and by the time he was a sophomore he was working weekends and summers at Marcel's, Robert Wiedmaier's celebrated French restaurant in Washington, DC. After being featured in Silver Chips, the Washington Post interviewed him in March 2004: "The Kid in the Kitchen." Brown has continued cooking since then, and he recently answered some questions from Ted Jou '99 about his culinary career, and where you can find him cooking today.
What were the important things that you learned working under Chef Wiedmaier?
Did you continue working weekends and summers all through high school? How long did you keep working at Marcel's?
Yes, I continued with this schedule until the summer of 2010.
I knew I wanted to attend college; the question became whether to go to culinary school or the University of Maryland. It was a surprisingly short conversation with Chef (Wiedmaier), who firmly believed I would be better off learning on the job rather than losing out on valuable hands-on experience.
In heeding his advice I was able to get a bachelor’s degree while still keeping one foot in the industry. It helped keep a fresh perspective on both aspects of my life at the time.
Did you consider going into the kitchen full time after high school? How did you make the decision to go to college?
Chef instilled a great level of discipline in all of his cooks. He taught us all how to clean, how to organize, how to taste, and the importance of attention to detail.
Brown is a sophomore in the mathematics, science and computer science magnet program at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring. When the spring semester ends, he'll return to a more rigorous schedule at Marcel's, where, in the traditional manner, under chef-owner Robert Wiedmaier, he continues to work his way through the different kitchen stations -- from the garde-manger station -- where he's now making salads, pates and terrines -- to the entremetier (soups and vegetables), the rotisseur-grillardin (meats), the poissonier (fish) and the saucier (sauces). "That will take about three years," says Wiedmaier. "I'm adamant about teaching him a classical foundation."
Like everyone else in the kitchen, Brown is dressed in a proper chef's uniform: a white jacket and black and white checked trousers, a towel at his waist and a chef's toque -- though it sits on his head a lot more securely than it did when he came to Marcel's 11 months ago.
"It's so neat to see him now," says Wiedmaier. "People walk up and say 'How old is he?' He started out as a little boy, but every day he walks in he's an inch taller."
Upon hearing the news of CityZen’s closure, I still felt I had plenty to learn from Chef Eric. I also became very interested in being a part of the opening of 2 restaurants at the same time, with Métier and Kinship both operating out of the same kitchen.
What happened when you learned that Chef Ziebold was closing CityZen in 2014? How did you decide what you wanted to do?
In my 4.5 years at CityZen, I was able to work each station in the savory kitchen, from Garde Manger to Fish to Meat. Ziebold’s philosophy was growth through repetition; fortunately my tenure allowed me the improve on each station before moving to the next.
Chef Eric was hiring during the summer that I was planning on leaving Marcel’s. His reputation was well known and much respected both in DC and nationwide, as he was Chef de Cuisine at the 3-Michelin Star French Laundry in Yountville, CA. His kitchen was known for its low turnover, so it was a great privilege to be given a spot in the brigade.
How did you meet Eric Ziebold? Why did you want to go work for him?
When did you graduate? Where did you go to work after that?
I graduated from the University of Maryland in 2010, at which point I took a job as a line cook for Eric Ziebold at CityZen.
Sous Chef literally translates to "Under the Chef," our job is to execute Chef Ziebold’s vision while managing the kitchen staff.
What is a Sous Chef and what are your responsibilities?
I am currently one of two Sous Chefs.
In 2016, the Washingtonian magazine said that Kinship is the Most Exciting DC Restaurant Opening of the New Year. What was the experience like leading up to the opening of Kinship and Métier? Were you involved with developing the menu or the concept for the restaurant?
The menu and concept was and still is entirely up to Chef and his wife, Célia. My role was to help execute their vision and help make the restaurants as successful and sustainable as possible. The biggest, but also most rewarding, challenge was getting the cooks to buy into the same philosophy towards food, cooking, and general work ethic that Chef Eric (and Wiedmaier) instilled in me.
What is your role now at the restaurants?
Can you describe your typical day? What are your hours like?
A typical day involves receiving and placing orders, butchering fish and meat for the night’s service, and checking the quality of all food preparation in the kitchen. I work 5 days, when I’m at the restaurant the mentality is to do whatever is necessary and for however long to make the restaurant successful.
Métier is an intimate, fine dining restaurant with a tasting menu format. Kinship is a slightly more casual concept where diners can order a la carte or create their own tasting menu. The must-try’s are certainly the Lobster French Toast and the Kinship Roast Chicken, the only two dishes that have been in the menu since the beginning.
Reviews of Kinship and Métier
In the 2019 Michelin Guide for Washington, DC, both Kinship and Métier received the distinction of a Michelin star, among only 16 DC area restaurants to receive the honor. The Washingtonian magazine named Métier the #1 Very Best Restaurant in DC for 2018, with the reviewers writing that the "seven-course tasting menu has inspired so many 'best we’ve ever had' comments (about the orange-scented mackerel or the butter-like kuroge beef) that we stopped counting."(Kinship is #27 on the Washingtonian's list).
The Washington Post's Tom Sietsema placed Kinship #2 on his list of best new restaurants in 2016, writing in his review that "Kinship makes you feel as if it’s a privilege to have you rather than the other way around." In 2017, Sietsema gave Métier a four-star review and placed it #5 on his top ten restaurants, writing: "Isn’t it a treat to eat the refined and frequently playful cooking of Eric Ziebold?"