Who doesn’t like a baked Brie and a hearty mac-and-cheese?
Like many people in the restaurant business, Grain H2O Craft Bar + Kitchen Chef Phil Brown got his start washing dishes right out of high school. He was attending Del Tech, and his uncle was a manager at Home Grown Café in Newark who offered Brown a job to help pay for school.
Brown moved through the ranks over the next five years, working in the pantry, making salads, running the line and ultimately becoming a sous chef. He had left Del Tech shortly after joining Home Grown so that he could make more money.
“It ballooned from there,” says the 25-year-old Brown. “I never expected to be doing this as a career, but I can’t imagine myself doing anything else,” he said. “I like the people I work with a lot and enjoy how much you can do with food. In my family, everyone gathers around the kitchen.”
He left Home Grown in September 2016 to become sous chef at Grain Craft Bar + Kitchen in Newark. When the restaurant opened new locations in Bear and Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, in June 2017, Brown moved to the Bear location (at Summit North Marina) as the head chef while staffing the new Delaware restaurant and setting up processes.
“Phil has an awesome passion for creating great dishes,” said Grain H2O Founder Lee Mikles. “He is very much a “let’s make it from scratch” chef. His calm demeanor is perfect for a sometimes crazy-busy spot like Grain H2O. He has been a great asset to the Grain brand.”
Brown took a few minutes with the Delaware Business Times to reflect on his approach to cooking.
When I’m at home, I normally cook … Lots lots of Italian foods. It is quick and flavorful at the same time. My goal is to get out of the kitchen and to the dinner table with my wife as quickly as possible.
The lessons that I’ve learned over the years that I’ve brought to both my work and home cooking are … Wrapping fresh herbs in damp paper towels and storing them in plastic bags really extends their life. Nothing frustrates me more than having to throw out a partial pack of herbs from my fridge.
The thing most people notice first about my kitchen is … How how open it is. My wife and I really wanted an open floor plan. A lot of good memories are made in the kitchen, so we want to make it as much a part of the rest of the house as possible. The kitchen is where entertaining inevitably happens, so we want to make it easy to gather there.
The kitchen tool I can’t live without … A a good wooden spoon. I am constantly on the hunt for a better one that won’t scratch the pans while I cook.
In my pantry, you’ll always find … Sazon and Adobo spices. They are great to add to soups, ramen, rice, etc. They pack a lot of great flavors.
My favorite cooking “trick” is … Drying off meat and seasoning before grilling. It doesn’t take much time, but it gives a much better sear and really adds to the results.
The books I repeatedly cook from are … Thomas Keller’s books are some of my favorites. These days, Epicurious is my favorite online spot to get ideas.
In my freezer, you’ll always find … At at least one pork butt. You never know when you are going to get the urge to smoke something. You can throw it in the smoker in the morning and have an awesome dinner that night.
My favorite cooking show on TV is… I really don’t have a must-see show, but I do enjoy a good episode of “Chopped,” and “Kitchen Nightmares” as well.
The one thing I MUST serve at every family get-together is … Baked mac-and-cheese. Everyone loves a hearty mac-and-cheese.
The best meal I’ve ever had is … My first time at the House of William and Merry (in Hockessin) for our first anniversary. – A braised pork shank over grits that made the night perfect.
My time in Delaware has made me a better chef because … I’ve worked with a lot of good people and really knowledgeable people. Everyone I’ve had the pleasure of working with has left some sort of impact. I still like learning every day.
My cooking mentor is/was … Lee Wroten – the first chef I ever worked for. He took the time to teach me different things and really sparked my passion for cooking.
When I entertain, I like to make … Baked Brie. Everybody gathers around the appetizers, so Brie is perfect for that.
What is the most difficult thing for you to cook/create in the kitchen? Desserts. I still have a lot to learn about baking and the required precision/patience.
My favorite person to cook with… Definitely my wife Sarah. She’s never been big on cooking, and I love spending time with her and teaching her a new dish.
Type of meat: Boston butt shoulder or picnic roast (boneless works best).
Wood type: Applewood
Cayenne (can omit)
Dry rub ratio
Equal parts brown sugar and salt
1/2 parts garlic (granulated) and onion powder
1/4 parts black pepper and paprika
1/8 parts dry mustard and cayenne
Trim off most of the excess fat (if applicable). If using a Boston butt, don’t trim fat, only score it.
Coat entire butt/shoulder with rub evenly. Be thorough and ensure you cover the entire surface area including all folds. Let sit in fridge overnight (at least 12 hours).
Remove meat 1 hour prior to cooking to allow meat to reach room temperature.
Plan cook time for around 90 minutes to 2 hours per pound at 240 Fahrenheit. It should only take around 90 minutes per pound, but I always plan for the long haul as sometimes things don’t always work out on a tight time constraint. If using an electric smoker, keep meat 2 two racks above heat source to ensure an even cook.
Cook until an internal temperature of 195-205 Fahrenheit is reached. It is best to reach this temperature so the tissues in the meat start to break down and allow for more of a tender texture. Be sure to monitor internal temperature throughout the cooking process with a probe thermometer. At some point in your cooking process the meat will “stall,”, meaning the internal temperature is not rising as quickly it was before. This is normal so don’t worry.
Once desired internal temperature is reached, remove meat from smoker, wrap in foil and place in a clean cooler. Drape old kitchen towels or beach towels over meat, close cooler and allow to rest for at least 1 hour. Keeping in an insulated cooler allows the meat to rest without over cooking and keeps it warm until you’re ready to serve.