Brian Wilson, Executive Chef at North Fork Table & Inn, will attend this year’s Dan’s Chefs of the North Fork celebration at the Halyard at Sound View Greenport on Saturday, July 13. Wilson talks family, his love of cars and more.
First word (or words) that comes to mind when you hear “Taste of Summer.”
Sliced tomatoes, just-shucked corn, and family dinners outside on the deck. Growing up, my mother had a big garden in the back of our yard, so those words bring me back to my childhood. That, not to mention the taste of bug spray from spraying too much around my head before working in the garden!
You can invite three people, living or dead, to your dinner party. Who are they, and what would that meal be?
My father, mother and brother. My family, and family dinners, are the inspiration for my love of cooking. For this dinner party, my brother would make cocktails. My dad would make his famous Caesar salad. I’d do a sweet corn soup with crab, and then we’d have my dad’s meatloaf with grilled asparagus, along with my mom’s Dakota bread. I’d make tiramisu for dessert. Or perhaps even seven-layer mocha cake…
What’s your favorite dish to prepare, and do you enjoy eating it as much as preparing it?
Agnolotti. I love the process all the way through, from making the dough and filling, to rolling and stuffing the pasta, and then to the final cooking and saucing. I’m not Italian, but I love making it and, of course, love eating it.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
“Work with what you’ve got!” When I was a new line cook at my first restaurant, just getting the hang of the line, I was starting to get a bit mouthy and critical of some of the things at the restaurant. With a Trinidadian tone on his sharp words, the head line cook snapped “Homeboy, shut up and work with what you got!” Sometimes we all need to do just that. Whether it’s with ingredients, staff, or even pots and pans, we have to find a way to extract the best from what’s right in front of us.
Share your funniest/most unforgettable/oddest kitchen incident.
I’d say it’s when I didn’t realize that the Vitamix was on high gear when I turned it on, and the soup went flying literally everywhere. Having to climb up to get it off the ceiling was pretty unforgettable.
Who do you most admire in the food/wine world and why?
My first chef/owner boss, Joe Hippely at the Warehouse Bistro in Opelika, Alabama. He cooked and plated beautiful food, directed the staff, did all the ordering and maintained all vendor relationships, did all the maintenance and repairs, and kept up with every other aspect of the restaurant. And he was always there to help you with anything you needed. He instilled in me a passion for work that helped me become who I am today.
What’s the oddest request you’ve ever received from a diner?
I was once asked to mince the whole entree up into tiny pieces after it was cooked.
What talent would you most like to have?
I’d love to know how to spray paint graffiti, like the ridiculously big colorful pieces on the sides of buildings, or the ornate signature pieces on the sides of trains. And I want to learn how to surf. I’m a “Beach Boy,” after all!
What’s your comfort food and why?
Soft scrambled eggs inside a toasted tortilla with melted cheese and hummus. I like the soft eggs next to the buttery crunch of the tortilla with the garlicky hummus. The cheese is just necessary—pepper jack, cheddar, Swiss. It’s all good!
What recent travels have you taken that have inspired you?
Years ago, I was in Spain for study abroad. This was well before I was cooking for a living. But I still remember the freshness and uniqueness of each and every tapas dish I ate, the smell of the jamons hanging in the delis, the simple deliciousness of a Spanish tortilla, crispy croquettes, and strong coffee in the morning.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
I’m honored that I have the opportunity to carry the torch here at The North Fork Table & Inn and to work with Claudia Fleming.
If you were not in the food or wine business, what would you be doing?
A mechanic. I love working on my car, and especially air-cooled VWs. I have always wanted an auto shop/restaurant. But I don’t think working on cars and food at the same time is a good idea…
What has surprised you about working in the East End culinary scene?
The willingness of the local business owners/farmers/purveyors to work with you, to accommodate you, to get you the things you need, even if it’s at the last minute. There’s great pride put into producing these local goods, and it shows in the quality.
It’s your last weekend on earth—what’s the menu?
My mother’s French toast.
We just handed you a glass of bubbly. Make a toast to summer on the East End.
Here’s to you, summer. Give us some great fruits and vegetables to eat, some great weather to enjoy, some great friends to be with, and not too many mosquitos please. And keep down the humidity.