Getting to know Chef Braley

Dec 06, 2016Student Leadership Development Institute Blog

By Cecelia Johnson-Chavis

I have had the pleasure of working with Chef Braley in operations, but I know that there are many students who haven’t yet crossed his path. As a result, for this month’s blog, I decided to interview our newest Chef Instructor, Chef Braley. The interview starts below…

CJ: The first question’s easy. Did you always know that you wanted to cook professionally?

TB: Uh no, I did everything I could to avoid it (laughs). No, I’ve been cooking since I was a little kid but I never thought it was something I would do professionally, just kind of a passion. I went to school for sociology and I wanted to teach college sociology, which didn’t end up happening. I went instead and got a degree in secondary social studies to teach high school social studies, which I never did (laughs again) because I did my student teaching and realized that I didn’t know anything about global studies…I knew sociology. So from the time that I was 13 or 14 on I was learning the trades, so I was an electrician and a carpenter. All throughout college I was doing that on the side and that’s what I ended up doing after college instead of teaching until I figured out what I was going to do next. So I did that for a while and I ended up catering my brother’s rehearsal dinner for his wedding at my parents’ house on Cape Cod. It was 50 people and it took me like five days to prep. I did it pretty much by myself, but I could do the same menu by five o’clock today (laughing and looking at his watch) and its 2:50. But I had so much fun that whole week that I was like “this is what I want to do”, so I took another construction job down here in Pennsylvania. I’m originally from New York, and I managed the renovation of a house in Wayne for a year and saved money to come to school here. I came and lived with my sister here in West Philly while I went to school, and originally thought I was going to do catering… and then I started doing catering while I was in culinary school and was working in a restaurant at the same time and then I realized that catering was just schlepping stuff from one place to another. Cooking in a restaurant was much more, to me, like playing a piano. Everything is right there at your fingertips. It’s probably more like an organ because everything’s moving.

CJ: As an alumnus and now as an instructor, is there anything that you wish you had taken greater advantage of while you were a student here?

TB: I took pretty good advantage actually. I had very good relationships with the instructors that I had and most of them took me under their wing in one respect or another. And I did work really, really hard when I was here even though I was working full time in a restaurant and getting crushed on a day to day. But I think I did pretty well as far as taking advantage of the instructors that I had and their experience, and their willingness to share their experiences.

CJ: I remember once you said that when you reach a major milestone you like to treat yourself to something new. Do you try to make it relevant to the achievement or is it just something that you’ve had your eye on?

TB: This is the first job that I’ve taken that I haven’t done it yet, and that’s mostly just because I haven’t had time. It takes a little bit of my time, but I usually buy a knife for myself.

CJ: Do you have something in mind for this one?

TB: Possibly a Deba fish knife, and I’m not sure what the second runner up is, but basically from my first job on, each job that I’ve taken usually within a month or two I usually end up buying a new knife for myself…or I get one for Christmas or something, but it’s always correlated to the timeline of the career. It’s a nice way to look back and be like “I got this when I was at the Ritz, I got this when I was here”, so it’s usually a knife (laughs).

CJ: Can you recall any particular dish or plate that you composed that you were especially proud of?

TB: Hmm, that’s a tough one. At the restaurant, we had one dish that never changed. Every other dish changed constantly, and it was a saffron and mussel dish. I guess I would probably have to say that that was my signature dish at any time because that’s the only dish that’s never changed. So everything else was always whatever was in season, whatever we could get from the farmers. So I guess it would be the mussel dish. It’s a ridiculous amount of butter, a ridiculous amount of Dijon mustard, and then saffron steeped in white wine and mussels, and that’s pretty much it. It usually doesn’t need much seasoning because of the brininess of the mussels and then everyone thinks the sauce is great, but they don’t realize it’s pretty much 80% butter and then the mustard. That would probably be my signature dish.

CJ: Do you have a favorite tool in your kit right now?
TB: My spoon.

CJ: Is it a tasting spoon…plating spoon?

TB: I think it probably would be considered a plating spoon. A lot of chefs use the same one. It’s the grey Kunz design spoon. I think you can get it online. I know JB Prince in New York used to be the only one that sold it but now I think you can get it pretty much anywhere.

CJ: Why is it your favorite?

TB: It’s just the perfect balance, the perfect size…If I had two tools it would be my one chef’s knife that I bought on my trip to France and it would be my spoon. I pretty much cook anything with those two things. Pack light.

CJ: You’ve catered, you’ve owned a restaurant, now you’re teaching… Is there any other sector of the industry on your list that you hope to tackle?

TB: I’ve done a little bit of food styling, I did it for a kids television show. I’d like to do more food styling sometime cause that was a lot of fun, and someday I’d like to do a cookbook. I would definitely like to do a cookbook at some point. We thought we were going to get it together for the restaurant, and then running a restaurant took precedence. But yeah, someday I would like to do a cookbook.

CJ: I do have one more question. Do you have a favorite breakfast food? Do you eat breakfast?

TB: Oh boy, not normally, because for somebody who has chickens in his backyard, I’ve got plenty of eggs. But actually my favorite breakfast food is taking almost any leftover and serving it with an egg. So whether it’s beef bourguignon or braised chicken or whatever and have it with a poached egg as the sauce, kind of makes anything breakfast.

-Cecelia Johnson-Chavis, Student LeaderCulinary Arts, Class of March 2018