From the Editor: Brian Roland Does Us a Flavor or Two
The man behind Crave Culinaire dishes on his road to celebrity chefdom.
Where will Chef BrianRoland’s career trajectory end? We know him now as founder of the very hot Crave Culinaire catering service (see Taste These on p. 124) and the talented guy who did star turns at CrÜ, Chops City Grill and M Waterfront Grille, among others. But let me tell you first about a couple of early influences that got him rolling.
At the very beginning, when he was 14, he took a job washing dishes at Teresa’s Café in Princeton, N.J., and couldn’t take his eyes off the people rolling the pizza dough and creating the sauces. One day, he was asked to help, and by 15 he was a prep cook for the restaurant. In his junior year of high school, he told his parents, he says, “This is it. This is what I want to do with my life.” At their urging, he applied for, and won, a scholarship to the renowned Culinary Institute of America in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and he was on his way.
Now let’s look in on him at Daniel and Café Boulud in New York City, where he was an entremetier (prepping side dishes featuring vegetable ingredients) for these celebrated eateries. They demanded the best and, woe, if you didn’t deliver it. “I’d be doing my food prep with all these finest of ingredients,” Brian says. “Sometimes the process took place over 14 hours—and if everything wasn’t perfect, the sous chef would throw it all out and I’d have to start over. You learn to master the details.”
So here he is just finishing his first year of Crave Culinaire—“I was terrified at the beginning”—60 percent over both the revenue and profit that he had projected. We see him around at parties and events, handsome, stylishly turned out, very well-spoken. What we don’t see is the mad scientist experimenting and creating in his commercial kitchen in an industrial building in south Naples. In chef pants, T-shirt and apron, he’s working with the best ingredients, including the organic produce from the famed Chef’s Garden in Huron, Ohio. And he’s practicing, among other things, molecular gastronomy (which he describes as “spherification, gelification, aeration”). The processes shape liquid into spheres and can make liquids gelatinous. This is where he develops the ability, say, to encapsulate soy sake caviar or candied apple pearls. “It’s an exciting way to present something special, and then you get that great rush of flavor when you burst the bubble,” he says. The aeration capability enables him to create foam for texture and look.
His most exotic creation? Brian’s description may explain the reason for the building excitement about his work. “This was a party at the Naples home of Brian and Denise Cobb to celebrate the 25th anniversary of (figure skater) Brian Boitano’s Olympic gold medal. There were lots of big players in social circles here, plus celebrities like The Phantom of the Opera star Franc D’Ambrosio and bestselling author Randy Wayne White. The pressure was on.”
What got everyone talking later was his intermezzo presentation as a bridge from the lighter courses to the main dishes ahead. He calls it strawberries and bubbles with smoked cream and candied mint. He injected the strawberries with a carbonation to get the effervescence of a champagne. He employed a smoking gun device that pushed smoke through a tube to enhance the flavor of the cream. The candied mint touch was for sweetness and texture. “I presented this in individual tins with clear glass tops. There was kind of a roar in the room when the guests opened the tops and first got the taste. The effect also just seemed to get everyone laughing together and relaxing together.”
Beyond the love of the roar over his dishes, Brian dedicates his heart and craft, too, to helping the needy. Back in his M Waterfront Grille days, he had a regular deal of making pizzas with 25 or so foster kids. Brian reports that one of the boys who kept coming back said to him one day, “Do you think you could adopt me?” Touching, indeed. Fortunately for the young man, his mother did take him back home. But now maybe some serious foodies might want to consider adopting Brian. Just think of all the spherification, gelification and aeration you could enjoy. Mmmm.