Dan Catinella: How did you get into cooking?
Ashley Brauze: I graduated from high school in 1999 and enrolled in 2001 at Johnson & Wales in Charleston, where I earned my associates degree in pastry between 2002 and 2003.
DC: Where have you worked professionally as a chef?
AB: The Inn at Little Washington, Daniel, El Bulli, Per Se, Café Boulud, and DB Bistro Moderne.
DC: Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring cooks? Do you hire chefs with and without a culinary school background?
AB: It believe that culinary school can provide a good entrance for people interested in a culinary career. I don’t think it’s necessarily meant for everyone—that’s something only a chef can determine for himself or herself. Before culinary school, I believe the most important thing is getting into a restaurant’s kitchen. Whether you’re washing dishes or standing in a corner, you need to see what’s going on. The externs that do the best for us have a strong desire to learn and don’t mind doing the small stuff.
DC: Who are some of your mentors? What have you learned from them?
AB: Working with Dominique Ansel was a real privilege. He gives you a lot of one on one and time. He’s a good mentor in that he’s watching and critiquing but not screaming when you screw up. He makes sure you understand the technique.
DC: What question gives you the most insight to a cook when you’re interviewing them for a position in your kitchen? What sort of answer are you looking for?
AB: We ask the externs what they like the most about pastry. This allows me to understand and see what they envision for themselves. If they envision a restaurant or a bakery, the attitudes will vary, but we allow certain freedoms here.
DC: What advice would you offer young chefs just getting started?
AB: Accept that it’s an exhausting job that requires you to constantly be learning, going out to dinner, looking around, and getting outside of the city.
DC: What ingredient that you like do you feel is underappreciated or under utilized? Why?
AB: I think we all go through different phases where we love one ingredient more than another. Last year it was juniper; recently it is Tonka bean.
DC: Is there a culinary technique that you have either created or borrowed and used in an unusual way?
AB: El Bulli used meringues for different shapes, textures, and flavors. They have a strawberry meringue that is very light that uses egg white powder and gelatin. It is dried at a low temperature and has less sugar. It’s almost like a Styrofoam texture.
DC: Define “American” cuisine. What does it mean to you?
AB: It varies by region. In New York, the emphasis is on locally sourced products that match a variety of techniques. Where I’m from, it’s a little more Southern, a little more down home.
DC: Where do you like to go for culinary travel? Why?
AB: Spain. I miss it. I miss the freshness of the seafood.
DC: What are your favorite restaurants—off the beaten path—in your city? What is your favorite dish there? What are your favorite after hour places and bars?
AB: Danji, but it’s not really off the beaten path anymore. Maybe the steak tartare is one. Takashi on Hudson Street—it’s like a Japanese grill restaurant.
DC: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
AB: I like flavors people are accustomed to, but I also like things that are visually stimulating—i.e. something they are not anticipating with maybe a new flavor combination that can offer a new perspective without making things too weird.
DC: How are you involved in your local culinary community?
AB: I’ve done a few C-CAP events and just recently was a judge at International Culinary Center graduation for the final product evaluation.
DC: What are some of your favorite food-related charities?
AB: I like to support City Meals on Wheels. It’s a great organization. My grandmother and I used to serve meals together and now she receives their meals. It’s really amazing to see how things go full circle and how much influence programs can have.
DC: What does success mean for you?
AB: I think whenever I feel successful, it comes down to my team and how I reach out and inspire people—not just in the dining room but in the kitchen. Being a chef is about being a leader and making everyone feel inspired. It’s a good challenge.