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About Chef Brian Stefan

See life as it unfolds at his blog fireandknives.wordpress.com

 

                                                            

 

Brian was born on the New Jersey shore in 1982, and spent much of his younger life fishing and surfing away his time in the shadow of New York City.  Working summers at the Circus Driving Dinner he found an aptitude for cooking and decided to forgo art school or underwater archeology and study culinary arts at Penn Technical College in Williamsport Pennsylvania and later transferred to Penn State’s mane campus for Hotel & Restaurant Management.  It was culinary professors in PA like chef Mike Ditchfield who first introduced him to farming practices and the rich bounty of the earth, which until that time he only saw sitting benign in food stores or unceremoniously loaded through the back doors of restaurants.  Balanced between football games and the lively student life at Penn State Brian was also one of the founding members of the Sustainable Agriculture Club which has grown at Penn State for the past eight years.

 

After college Brian packed everything he owned in his jeep and headed to South Carolina where he fell in with an amazing group of chefs in Charleston.  He worked with  chef Sean Brock during his first few years at  McCradys restaurant, consistently ranking as one of the best and most influential restaurants in the country.  Chefs like Sean and Anderson Allen had a profound influence on him and he saw in their passion and conviction what it really ment to live a food centric life of a chef.  They would take almost daily trips to local farms and markets, corralling chickens or helping plant rows of tomatoes in the Carolina sun.  It is his time in the South that he collected many of the methods and recipes which are the heart of Southern Smoke.

 

After several years in Charleston Brian was given an opportunity that he could not refuse and he ounce again packed the jeep and headed to Colorado where he ran the kitchen of the Smith Fork Guest Ranch, and ultra high end resort high in the West Elk Mountains.  Surrounded by natural beauty he was finally able to build his own cuisine based on the local farms and ranches, as well as foraged edibles form the mountain side.  Smoked Elk Tartar, foraged watercress tart, wild chamomile ice cream where common fare on the mountain in the small dinning room where guests where entertained, as well as the ranch’s closest neighbor on the mountain, Joe Cocker. (and rest in peace or silver toughed friend) 

 

The ranch would close in the winters so Brian was always left to find his own way as the seasons changed.  It was this seasonal lifestyle that really appealed to him and his love of travel.   He traveled across the country extensively, eating and meeting everyone he could.  He also traveled to Thailand, Bali, and took a sous chef job in New Zealand at a lodge on the South Island and ran the kitchen of the Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge in Alaska.

 

In 2010 Brian left the ranch after a change in management and again headed South, this time to the Caribbean to work with his old friend Anderson Allan in Red Hood St Thomas, USVI.  The island culture is a saucy mix of ethnicity and cultures which have blended into a delicious stew, if not a bit to spicy at times.  It was here that Brian also collected methods and flavors that appear on plates and bowls at Southern Smoke.  Many dishes have been adapted for a Northern audience but the flavors and traditions are all still there and Brian is always waiting for the time he can sell calves foot soup or curried goat’s head in the states.

 

It the summer of 2011 Brian returned to his home in New Jersey, and with extremely modest start up funds he started Southern Smoke to try and bring back the food ways and flavors that he found on his travels.  It is a constant education in business and patients and as he always says “ the cooking is the fun part, but it’s only about 40% of a business”  Still, the business soldiers on though trial and tribulation, and continues to grow and bring the best of the South to the good people of the North.  Come and be a part of the story, and we hope you will enjoy the journey as much as we do.


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