This is part of a chef interview series. View all interviews here.
I had the opportunity to ask Chef Brent Martin of The Summit Room nine questions about life as a chef in Charlotte. He’s been involved in the Got to Be NC Competition Dining Series from the start, and will be competing in the annual championship, “Battle of Champions,” on Friday (October 30) in Raleigh. Follow along on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to see how he fares. After dining at The Summit Room, I have no doubt he will be bringing his A-game to the competition.
What are your thoughts on social media playing such a huge role in the restaurant scene? Has it made an impact good or bad?
I use social media very little, but the ability to instantly reach customers to promote daily specials or upcoming events has its benefits. Social media also offers anyone with a smart phone the platform to be their own critic, for better or worse.
What is the first thing you do after a long day at the restaurant?
Getting a good sweat in at the gym is the best way to clear my mind of all the stress this job has to offer. For those particularly unforgettable days, whiskey has a similar effect.
For you, what is the most challenging part of running a restaurant?
The biggest challenge I’ve faced throughout my journey as a chef is gaining respect. You have to gain respect from owners, general managers, front-of-house staff and back-of-house staff, while at the same time being judged by every department based on different points of production. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, respect will not be earned by being a tyrant. True respect is gained over time through hard work and sacrifice. You have to be well rounded as a chef and constantly trying to master every aspect of the job. Passion is obvious to spot and even easier to follow.
Besides Charlotte [of course!], what’s your favorite city to eat your way through?
I was born and raised in Buffalo, N.Y. The rare trip back home always turns into a frantic food tour. I never know when I’ll have the chance to eat a John & Mary’s royal sub or Duff’s chicken wings and fries again. One of the worst feelings in the world is driving back down South and realizing I forgot to hit up Ted’s for a foot-long and onion rings or forgetting to gorge myself on Anderson’s frozen custard. I just made my own mouth water.
What is your prediction for the next “big ingredient” in the food world?
Molecular gastronomy seems to be all the rage right now. The manipulation of food at the cellular level all sounds very exciting, but for me it’s a fad. I foresee a simpler form of cooking making a comeback. Old school braising, roasting and baking are the bases of my culinary training. More young chefs should be focusing on the fundamentals of cooking. Properly searing fish or grilling a fat steak to a perfect medium rare should be common knowledge before we try to rewrite the book. Fads come and go, but good, well-prepared food will never go out of style.
Do you have any advice you would give an aspiring chef that you wish someone would have given you when you first began your culinary journey?
The best advice I could give a young chef is to stay humble and never stop learning. Becoming a great or even a decent chef takes time. You cannot skip ahead.
What is your biggest pet peeve in restaurants?
My biggest pet peeves are laziness and complacency. Some of my most important duties as a chef are to motivate my staff, teach them how to set goals, and give them the tools to achieve said goals. That being said, this job takes passion and dedication, and if you can’t find a way to self motivate, I don’t have time for you.
How do you juggle the work versus life balance?
There isn’t much of a divide between work and life for me. Professional success means everything to me at this point. My career is beginning to build momentum and I see a real opportunity to do something special. I’m not going to let that slip away. Maybe one day I’ll slow down but for now the kitchen is my life. Luckily, I have friends and family who support me and understand the grind of the restaurant but will sometimes pull me away for special occasions.
What’s your favorite dish on The Summit Room menu?
Here at the Summit Room we just rolled out our new fall menu. It’s hard to pick a favorite because I’m kind of geeking out about the entire thing. Everyone around here gets pretty pumped up for new menus.
Connect with Chef Brent Martin and The Summit Room:
(Photo credit: The Summit Room Facebook page, Got to Be NC Competition Dining Series)