2010 San Francisco Bay Area Rising Star Host Chef Martin Brock of Gary Danko

2010 San Francisco Bay Area Rising Star Host Chef Martin Brock of Gary Danko
June 2010

Martin Brock was raised on his family’s working farm nestled in the foothills of Bavaria. He developed a love for traditional recipes like Bavarian creams and fresh wursts that demonstrate the direct connection between the dishes he makes, the animals they are made from, and the land that nourishes them both. This respect for ingredients in their purest form is reflected in every aspect of Brock’s cuisine.

At the age of 16, Brock embarked on a traditional three-year apprenticeship where he worked at every station in the kitchen and graduated at the top of his class. He spent the next 11 years working throughout Europe, rising through the ranks in the kitchens of several Michelin-starred restaurants.

In 2004, Brock moved to the US to be on the opening team of Café Gray in New York City as sous chef. Under the guidance of Chef Gray Kunz, Brock fell in love with Kunz’s clean approach to modern cuisine, merging his classic techniques with European ingredients as well as a new-found love of Asian flavors. Brock was named executive chef at Kunz’s second restaurant, Grayz, and later stayed on when Grayz was re-invented as Atria.

When Chef Gary Danko learned of Atria’s closing in May 2009, he approached Brock with the prospect of bringing his innovative style to the West Coast. Brock joined Gary Danko in August 2009 as chef de cuisine. Together with Danko, Brock works to merge his modern take on haute cuisine with the restaurant’s tradition of showcasing seasonal ingredients prepared with classical technique.

Interview with Chef Martin Brock of Gary Danko – San Francisco, CA

Antoinette Bruno: What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?
Martin Brock: Always, since I first began, I liked cooking. When I finished school, I did an apprenticeship four days per week with one day per week at school. After doing that I knew it was the right fit for me. I grew up on a farm  and I was always introduced to fresh produce. We butchered our own meat. So I was introduced to nice products.

AB: Where have you worked professionally as a chef?
MB: Café Gray and Grayz. In Germany, Villa Hammerschmiede; in Switzerland Haus Paradies Hotel; Humperdinck in Frankfurt.

AB: Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring cooks?
MB: Once again, it’s a little bit different in Germany. You have to do an apprenticeship. Here, if you are smart, you pick it up on your own. Culinary school provides good fundamentals. It's a lot of money to go to school here in the USA.

AB: Who are some of your mentors? What have you learned from them?
MB: Gray Kunz. I learned from him the blending of flavors. He uses a lot of acid in his dishes to bring out the flavors. Eckhart Witzigmann created fine dining in Germany. He inspired me with his perfectionism, his style of cuisine, and his vision. There was a time before him and after him. Every big chef in Germany has worked for him.

AB: What trends do you see emerging in the restaurant industry?
MB: I saw, in New York, that people don't want to dress up anymore. They want a laid-back experience and want to go to a restaurant where they can be themselves with great food.

AB: What’s your philosophy on food and dining?
MB: You should appreciate the product you work with. It's something special. When I became a chef, my goal was to entertain people. You support your diner to have a good time.

AB: What’s the toughest thing you’ve had to do in your career?
MB: I think being patient and waiting for the right opportunity.

AB: How are you involved in the local culinary community?
MB: Not too much I've only been out here [in San Francisco] for a few months. I've met a few people, the chef at Michael Mina, the chef at flour + water who was a former cook here.

AB:If you had one thing that you could do again or do over what would it be?
MB: I would focus a little more on pastry. I have a little pastry experience, but wish I had more. I'm at a point in my career where it’s a little too late. It’s my weakest point.

AB: What has been your proudest accomplishment in your career to date?
MB: My greatest accomplishment is that I came to another country that doesn’t speak my mother language and had to basically start again. I'm proud of where I am today. From the moment I came to the States and what I accomplished in the past couple of years—I'm happy with that.

AB: What’s next for you? Where will we find you in five years?
MB: In five years I'd like to have ideally my own place. If it will be on the East Coast or West Coast, I don't know yet. I'd like to have a small place with great food but not as high-end as this restaurant. Smaller and more rustic food.