Chef Talk: Pelham's Brian Chan

Unlike most of his peers, Brian Chan didn’t go to culinary school with hopes of becoming a chef. He started his professional life as a commercial photographer and only began to consider a culinary career after watching a team of food stylists at one of his shoots. Wanting to mix it up, he enrolled in the California Culinary Academy and got a side job in a local kitchen to pay his tuition bills. He never left.

“I like to say I’m classically French-trained, California-influenced and New York-toughened,” Chan says. “When you work in a New York kitchen, everyone’s out to climb the ladder.”

Kitchens in the Big Apple are notoriously difficult, but the native Californian adjusted quickly after building a solid foundation of private dining and restaurant experience. He started at the Beringer Vineyards estate in Napa Valley, then picked up and moved to the East Coast, joining the staff in the fine dining room at The Ritz-Carlton Boston.

“I learned a lot – it was my first non-California cuisine restaurant. I went through the ranks in that kitchen,” he says. “You start in garde manger, move on to entremetier. Before you leave, you end up in the meat station and you’re cooking all the steaks and duck.”

He transferred hotels to get to New York, arriving at The Ritz-Carlton Central Park before moving on to work as Chef de Partie at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon. Chan recalls working with the man named ‘Chef of the Century’ as an “eye-opening experience”, but it was his next job that he considers one of his most challenging.

“Moving to Peacock Alley, that was a big learning curve for me. I learned something new every day, but there’s a tradition to the place,” he says. “I’ve made a lot of Waldorf salads in my life.”

After more than three years, Chan decided he wanted to return to the world of fine dining, preferably with a smaller kitchen. When the Waldorf Astoria Shanghai on the bund offered him a position at Pelham's, he jumped at the chance.

While he cooks New York cuisine when he’s at work, Chan is no stranger to Chinese food. His parents owned a Chinese restaurant in San Diego growing up, and he admits to being a “fan of anything on a stick or encased, from sausages to dumplings”, making street food and holes-in-the-wall the perfect after service meal for the intrepid diner and chef.

Despite his meteoric rise through the kitchen ranks over the past decade, Chan still has a bit of the food stylist left in him. “I still love flipping through cookbooks,” he confesses, but he’s happiest in the kitchen.