Local Ingredients, Simple Platings: The Cookbook That Inspired Chef Brian Baxter
Brian Baxter has become a well-known chef for his work in the most lauded kitchens in some of the best restaurants in the South. In addition to his Culinary Institute of America education, hard work, and dedication, Brian relied on a few beloved cookbooks that inspired him throughout his career.
Familiar to many innovative chefs the world over, Brian’s go-to cookbook is, Noma: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine by René Redzepi, the owner and chef of the incomparable Noma Restaurant in Copenhagen, Denmark.
“Noma has been the restaurant that has probably influenced more people in this industry than any other restaurant,” Brian says. Widely known for its reinvention and interpretation of Nordic cuisine, the restaurant is famous for its use of locally foraged ingredients and a minimalist plating style.
“Chefs started mimicking their plating style,” he explains. “It’s simplistic, but when you eat the food, there are different flavors going on. Everything seems deceptively simple.”
Brian says he started focusing on some Noma methods when he began working at McCrady’s in historic downtown Charleston as chef de partie under Chef Sean Brock and Chef de Cuisine Jeremiah Langhorne. According to Brian, he learned more in his first six months there than he had in the first six years of his career.
At McCrady’s, Brian and the rest of his team began focusing heavily on using only local ingredients with the help of a research and development chef. For example, Brian explains: “If you want to use a certain vinegar or soy sauce, if it’s not made in the South, you have to figure out how to replicate the flavor with something that is.”
Brian learned how to make misos and soy sauces in a completely different way than he was used to—sometimes from Brewster oats, or Sea Island red peas, or whatever local ingredients were available.
Simplistic Menus and Plating Techniques
After a year and a half, Brian moved from Charleston to Tennessee to serve as sous chef on Husk Nashville’s opening team and was promoted to chef de cuisine of the establishment in 2014.
Again, Brian used the minimalist methodologies he learned from Noma. “To this day I’ll come up with dishes, taste them, and always try to take something away,” he says.
With regard to plating, Brian says he likes to build each plate in a way that no matter how the customer approaches the dish, they will experience everything he wants them to taste in each bite.
This year, Brian has made another big move to another big city to take on another big endeavor. Kevin Gillespie (of Top Chef fame, among other accomplishments) named Brian as the chef de cuisine for his new restaurant Cold Beer—a restaurant that opened in July on the Atlanta BeltLine.
“We do have cold beer,” Brian laughs. “But it’s not a [typical] bar...it’s more of a restaurant.”
Highlighting Drinks Through the Food
The 7,000-square-foot restaurant features a large dining room along with three BeltLine-facing patios. Some customers venture into Cold Beer while eating their way through the BeltLine, some come in to watch a Georgia football game with friends, and others enjoy sitting on one of the patios for the prime people-watching location.
Either way, each customer gets a unique experience when dining at the restaurant because of the unusual way the menus work together.
“It was a much different way of developing a menu than what I’m used to,” Brian says. He and bar manager Mercedes O’Brien crafted a menu in which they commit to having the same ingredients in both a drink and a dish. The food menu, Brian explains, strongly focuses on highlighting the work of the mixology team.
Each cocktail has a corresponding meal to order with it. Take, for example, the Eastern Trinidad Sour, which consists of Vadouvan bitters, fermented cashew, sour mango, Rhumtavia, aquafaba, lactic acid, and chili. The suggested dish for this drink is the lamb ribs, which also incorporates a Vadouvan spice blend and cashew yogurt.
A die-hard Buccaneers fan, Brian roots loudly at Cold Beer on game nights after his shifts. When he gets time away from the line, Brian enjoys spending time with his 4-month-old son Noah, exercising at the gym, and watercolor painting outdoors.