On tonight’s episode of Chef Wanted, Tavern 1757 in Seymour, Conn., needed a new executive chef after losing its former chef. The restaurant features country-style Italian cuisine anchored by a brick oven. The owners, Tony Mavuli and his son Tonino, were looking for a chef who could showcase the vision of the restaurant. Anne Burrell brought in four candidates: chefs Brian Reilly, Kelli Daniels, Tommy Valdes and Ryan Escude. Two initial tests would narrow down the chefs to two finalists, who would each get to run the restaurant’s dinner service on separate nights. In the end the decision for the Mavulis would be difficult since both chefs offered great flavors.
The first test required the chefs to create a flatbread inspired by Sardinia. Chef Tommy tried making deep-fried stuffed bread, but his fillings leaked out, so he ended up baking one, but it had too many flavors going on and wasn’t well executed; he was sent home. For the second challenge, the chefs had to create a rustic dish using either squab, rabbit, lamb or wild boar. Chef Kelli’s roasted lamb leg dish was found to be slightly overcooked and lacking in finesse, so she was sent home. It would be Chefs Brian and Ryan who would make it to dinner service.
During Ryan’s dinner service, the biggest issue was that his quail dish kept coming back undercooked. Overwhelmed, Ryan left the kitchen to gather himself, and he came back ready to finish service. Brian’s service was plagued by inconsistencies in his dishes, most noticeably his pizza. But once he stepped in to better oversee the baking of the pizzas, he corrected the issues and finished dinner on a high note. In the end, the Mavulis had a tough decision on their hands because both chefs put out great food, but they were most impressed with Chef Brian and offered him the position of executive chef at Tavern 1757.
FN Dish caught up with Chef Brian to chat about his experience on the show and what he’s been doing since winning the executive chef position at Tavern 1757. Read his interview below.
In the second challenge, you used miso in your rabbit dish, which the owners loved. What was your thinking, creating a dish that was so far outside the Italian country-style food of the restaurant?
My thoughts on this dish were to bring all of my skills and what I like as my background to the table. Honestly, if I had not done the show, I would not have been pushed to create or even think of this dish.
Dinner service was a little bumpy for you, with dishes coming back due to inconsistencies. But once you got control, things turned around. What was the hardest part for you?
There were minor hiccups, like the computer going down, handwritten tickets. I’m used to a very functional expo line that is in tune with the kitchen. However, that was not the case that evening.
What was your mentality going into the show? You seemed really confident from the beginning.
I had nothing to lose and wanted to give it my all. I seek adventure in this industry, and this was one of my greatest!
How was it working with Anne Burrell?
I have a lot of respect for Anne and all she knows and has done. I was not intimidated by her, but loved her two cents with what I was doing.
What has the experience of doing the show taught you?
Calmness! There is no need to go all Ramsay on anyone (most of the time) — just handle things as they happen. It was a great experience. If I had to do it again? Maybe.
How are you settling into life in Connecticut? What do you find most different coming from Cleveland?
The scenery is pretty much the same; the guest base is not used to anything that is not dinner-style Italian food. And NO metal scene, but the restaurant is great. There is a new following of foodies that are coming in.
What was one of the first things you did at Tavern 1757? What kind of menu have you created?
ORGANIZE EVERYTHING! The kitchen is in three parts, and it’s huge. I am bringing some new American and local ideas to the table with a strong country-rustic Italian mindset.
What advice would you give to other chefs competing on Chef Wanted?
If you make it to dinner service? Just roll with the punches. Say “yes, chef,” and bring your A-game. It’s no joke!
Watch Chef Wanted on Thursdays at 10pm/9c and keep coming back to FN Dish for updates and behind-the-scenes content.