Getting to know Chef Braley

Dec 06, 2016Student Leadership Development Institute

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 €œthis 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 €œI 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