From rural farm boy to chef in D.C. may seem like an unlikely life path. But for Tom Crenshaw, executive chef of the city's beloved Georgia Brown's, his destiny was shaped early.
"My earliest memories are of spending time in the kitchen watching my mother preparing breads and pastries from scratch," he said. "These times, along with growing up on a farm in the rural Midwest, planted the seeds of local farm-to-table ideals at an early age ... We grew all our own vegetables, cows, chickens."
|If you go|
|» Where: 950 15th St., NW|
|» Info: 202-393-4499; gbrowns.com|
|» Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday, noon to 11 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 to 10 p.m. Sunday|
Before he settled on this as his final career, Crenshaw considered becoming an actor, working in a dinner theater. But even there cooking beckoned to him. He remembers how the kitchen staff were having so much fun, and he wanted part of that. Without going to culinary school, Crenshaw trained on the job, working first for several Midwestern restaurants.
In 1998 he relocated to Virginia to join Interstate Hotels & Resorts and spent the next 10 years working in a dual role as director of food and beverage and executive chef in five of their hotels, ranging from Maryland to Seattle, Wash. "In Seattle, I learned to cook with seafood," he said. "Coming here [was] a shock to cook without all the plentiful seafood."
|Recipe: Tom Crenshaw's pistachio-crusted scallops
• 2 large scallops, patted dry
• Salt and pepper to taste
• 1 1/2 tablespoon shelled pistachios, crushed fine
• 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sprinkle both sides of the scallops with salt and pepper. Press one side of the scallops into the pistachios. Heat the oil in a saute pan over medium heat. When the oil is hot and sizzling, place the scallops in the pan crust side up. Cook for 2 minutes; place in over for about 4 minutes. Remove and set aside.
Recipe: Tom Crenshaw's caramelized cauliflower
• 1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil
• 1/2 tablespoon butter
• 1/4 teaspoon minced shallots
• 1/4 cup cauliflower florettes
• 1/2 tablespoon pine nuts
• 1/8 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary. (Fresh rosemary, fine chopped.)
• 1/2 tablespoon grated Parmesan
• Salt and pepper to taste.
Heat a saute pan over medium high heat and add oil, butter and shallots. Cook until the shallots begin to brown. Add the cauliflower and pine nuts, and cook until these start to toast and turn golden. Remove from the heat, stir in the rosemary and sprinkle the Parmesan over top. Add salt and pepper to taste. To serve, place cauliflower in the center of the plate. Lay the scallops crust side up over top.
Of course, as an Illinois farm boy, Crenshaw has learned to adapt to many cooking styles over the years. "It takes some ingenuity," he said, of the flavors he has learned to put together. "I love playing with miso paste, for example, like combing miso with scallops. Miso and bonito broth for salmon has wonderful smoky flavors, an earthy flavor I love." He also plays around with Italian cooking, since he has spent chunks of time working at Paolo's Ristorante in Georgetown -- one of the several local restaurants in the Capital Restaurant Concepts group. "We even make our own gelato from scratch," he said of his days in Paolo's kitchen. "The wackiest flavor was oatmeal, either caramelized or pureed."
Now faced with translating a whole Southern repertoire at Georgia Brown's, Crenshaw is taking a slightly different approach to that cooking genre. "I am lightening it up a bit," he explained, "So I use quail and not roasted chicken. I also now use Carolina gold rice, a heritage rice that was almost extinct but has been brought back. ... I even make tomato marmalade."
What is your comfort food?
All the things I grew up on, such as homemade noodles and beef stew.
What is your must-have ingredient?
That varies. Right now, Brussels sprouts; beets; cauliflower.
What's in your fridge?
Nothing. Maybe a can of Pepsi and a 6-pack of Diet Coke
Which chef do you admire most in the world?
I like the chefs I turn to for what they do. Michael Symon, who keeps it straightforward. Thomas Keller, who is always straightforward. They are really important in this day and age.
Which is your favorite restaurant?
Blue Duck Tavern, Virtue Feed and Grain and Citronelle.