2016 Rust Belt Rising Star Chef Brett Sawyer of The Plum

2016 Rust Belt Rising Star Chef Brett Sawyer of The Plum
November 2016

Early on, Brett Sawyer’s career revolved around one of two gigs: serving or bartending. Years of that were enough to send him on a little soul-searching journey, specifically in the direction of Puillac, France. That’s where Sawyer lived on an island on the Gironde, dry-curing hams and processing foie gras. It’s hardly the worst way for a chef to find himself. But for Sawyer, it wasn’t just an exercise in the sublime classics. He was discovering what authentic food really is, and what it would mean to him as a chef. 

Back stateside, Sawyer did a one-eighty and cooked at a vegan restaurant in Akron, Ohio, learning about the pleasures of soulful food in an animal-free setting. The goal for Sawyer wasn’t so much the category of cuisine as the honest flavor, which is why he was able to go from a vegan kitchen to Three Aces and Publican in Chicago. 

Returning to Ohio, Sawyer worked with Jonathan Sawyer (no relation) at Cleveland’s Greenhouse Tavern and at Trentina and continued to hone his voice. Expressing itself as strongly in protein as it does in produce, Sawyer’s voice is loud and clear at The Plum CafĂ© and Kitchen, which he opened in mid 2016. At Plum, he’s fulfilling his creative path as both chef and partner and introducing Cleveland to his own brand of whimsy and imagination.


Interview with Rust Belt Rising Star Chef Brett Sawyer of Plum Cafe & Kitchen

Caroline Hatchett: How did you get your start?
Brett Sawyer:
I had been serving and bartending forever. I moved to Pauillac, France, for a while. I lived on a private island in the middle of the Gironde River. It was the first time I had dry cured hams and foie gras, and it really opened my eyes to see food in a way I never had before. I was unaware of what food really was until I went to Europe. When I came back was when I decided to start cooking. I worked at a vegan restaurant in Akron and then moved to Chicago, where I helped open Three Aces. I also worked at Publican with Brian Huston, before Cosmo [Goss] took over. Then I came back and worked with Jonathon Sawyer until about August when I quit to start doing this. I’m a partner in the restaurants, and this has always been my end goal.

CH: Who's your mentor?
In Chicago, Matt Troost was a big influence on me. When I go to Chicago and hang out, he’s one of the first people I call. We text back and forth often about food. He’s a really good friend, but he also showed me how to be a cook—all the little things you need to know to be a good line cook came from him, for sure. Johnathon Sawyer, too. Once I came here, developing as a chef definitely came from him. Knowing how to plan a menu, how to get the most out of product, how to tie a dish together when it’s missing something, sustainability. Matt was always about sustainability and using local as much as possible, but Jonathon really instilled it in me as something that had to be done for a lot of different reasons.

CH: What your favorite dish that you’ve ever made? 
A new dish called “Caviar & Leaf” with fried roselle leaf, bowfin caviar, pumpkin coulis, and sumac. My favorite dish changes with every new menu.

CH: Where you’d most like to visit for culinary travel?
Spain. Spanish food is very influential to a lot of the other cuisines I enjoy—with itsbright ingredients, fresh seafood, and family-style eating. It’s a “lust for life” kind of cuisine

CH: What steps are you taking to become a sustainable restaurant?
We’ve been in talks with the Rust Belt Riders. They’ll be doing our compost. Sustainability is a thing that I am a big advocate for. I buy local whenever I can. I try to waste nothing. I use as much of the product as I possibly can, like keeping shrimp shells to make a stock. I’m still learning.