Interview by Veronique Deblois
Chef Bryan Gregg is a native of Pittsburgh and a graduate of the Pennsylvania Institute of Culinary Arts. Early in his career, Chef Gregg honed his skills at some of the most highly-regarded restaurants and with world-class chefs in New York and New Jersey. The crusader for local New Jersey food producers then had a chance to “stage” at multiple Michelin-starred restaurants in both France and England. These experiences led him to solidify his commitment to nose-to-tail cooking while still maintaining respect for the food he is given to work with.
Chef Gregg brings the ultimate farm-to-table experience to Essex County with Escape. Gregg, whose résumé features Ho-Ho-Kus Inn and Michael Anthony’s as previous employers, brings southern fine cuisine to Montclair.
Jersey Bites: What is your earliest food memory?
Chef: I would say holiday dinners at my dad’s house. They seemed to always be big to-dos. I tried to help my step mom out with prep and setting up.
Jersey Bites: When did you realize you wanted to make cooking a career? Was there an “a-ha” moment?
Chef: Definitely an a-ha moment. I had tried college and I was not getting what I wanted out of it. I have always been a hands-on type of person. I had some friends who were in the profession working at the highest levels and saw some of their passion and their way of life and I was just drawn towards it -cooking that is.
Jersey Bites: Any interesting stories about where and with whom you started cooking professionally?
Chef: In this profession there are always interesting stories. I spent my early years in local dining establishments. Then I went to culinary school and once I finished that, I stepped on to the fine dining scene in Manhattan working for Gray Kunz and Peter Hoffmann. I also staged at many other highly-regarded restaurants. This is where I gained a knowledge for what it takes to be a cook at the highest level. I got myself a back bone along the way too, so to speak… lol.
Jersey Bites: What is your cooking style?
Chef: My style is “local”. At Escape, we focus on southern influence but for me, it’s all about technique and quality of product.
Jersey Bites: What is the greatest /neatest opportunity that has come from cooking?
Chef: Being able to stage at the Waterside Inn in Bray, England and work under Alain Roux.
Jersey Bites: What is the most memorable meal you’ve had, what did you eat and where was it?
Chef: That is easy – French Laundry in Yountville, California. I think it was like 16 courses. Hands-down the best meal, ever.
Jersey Bites: It’s your last day on earth, what would your final meal be?
Chef: Also easy! Bone-in ribeye, two dozen oysters and a bottle of Screaming Eagle.
Jersey Bites: What is the best advice you have to share with young folks interested in becoming chefs?
Chef: Make sure you have what it takes. This job involves long hours on your feet, being screamed at and doing all this while in a high-pressure environment and in a hot kitchen. Oh yeah, and the money stinks in the beginning. But, I will tell you this, I would not change a thing. It’s made me a better person.
Jersey Bites: If you could choose to be any food item, what would it be?
Jersey Bites: What is the one “staple” food you always have in your cupboard at home?
Chef: Good Soy Sauce.
Jersey Bites: What is your beverage of choice?
Chef: I drink way to much soda, it’s my downfall.
Jersey Bites: What is your favorite comfort food?
Chef: I love a good Cassoulet.
Jersey Bites: What New Jersey restaurant do you enjoy dining at, besides your own?
Chef: Restaurant Serenade in Chatham.
Jersey Bites: If you could have dinner with any three people, living, deceased or fictional, who would they be and why?
Chef: Julia Child, Ferran Adria and Art Rooney. Julia would just be a hoot. Ferran, well, that is pretty self-explanatory and Art because I am a huge Steelers fan.
Are you working on any upcoming projects our readers would be interested in learning about?
Chef: Well, we are about to kick off our chefs series dinners at Escape where we will be raising money for cancer and cancer awareness. We are also always trying to increase our think local food group with alternate locations so there will be some fun things coming in the upcoming years.
Escape. 345 Bloomfield Ave, Montclair, NJ.
Veronique Deblois, Food & Wine Chickie: Veronique is a food and wine writer based in Morris County, NJ. As the author of the popular blog, Food & Wine Chickie Insider, Veronique shares recipes, wine and restaurant reviews and insight into the travel industry of which she’s a 15-year veteran. Follow Veronique on Twitter or like her Facebook page.