Meet Chef Bryant Betts
- Chef, mentor and family man
- Encourages passion and humility in up-and-coming chefs
- Favorite gluten-free/vegan options
First and foremost is his family, which is challenging when working in an industry that requires many nights, weekends and holidays. However, he makes the most of his time and treasures the moments he spends with his wonderful wife Amber and two children Nolan (5) and Maecy (3).
Betts shares, “Trying to find that even medium between family and work is one of the toughest things you will face in this business.”
Chef Betts’ passion and experience comes from having worked with, and being mentored by, some amazing individuals; most recently at his last position at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island working under Executive Chef Hans Burtscher, as well as at The Fairmont Hotel in New Orleans (now known as the Waldorf Astoria), and working as the Executive Sous Chef at Le Pavillon Hotel in New Orleans (a member of the prestigious Leading Hotels of the World).
Midwest Meetings: What’s the best thing about being a chef?
Bryant Betts: The things I have enjoyed most about being a chef are being able to act as a mentor to the up-and-coming culinarians and helping them to develop their skills and passion. If they have passion they will go places; it’s passion that is going to make you give the biggest sacrifice. Being a cook doesn’t pay well and it comes with long hours. You have to have a definite goal, be passionate about food and be willing to sacrifice normalcies, like having friends outside of the industry and working every holiday.
MM: What’s the most memorable menu or event you’ve been a part of?
BB: One of the most memorable events I was involved in was the Midwest Republicans Conference at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island where we handled a group dinner of about 1,000 people. It was a well-orchestrated event and a great learning experience under Chef Burtscher.
Another event that stands out is a dinner I cooked for a small group of ladies in a private mountaintop condo here at Crystal Mountain. It was nothing but the best and I’ve cooked for this small group privately twice now. They are so much fun, always interested in trying new things and not scared to try anything! Their last menu featured items such as kangaroo tenderloin, emu and turtle and prawn gumbo. We did about eight courses, each paired with a great wine. It was a really intimate event where they watched me prepare everything and I explained the food and wine course by course.
BB: One of my favorite things is a globally inspired menu with comfort foods sourced locally. A few things I have done recently include: an Heirloom tart - tapenade, caramelized shallot, balsamic syrup with chevre, Sangria-macerated watermelon with whipped goat cheese and some micro basil. Simple and delicious.
Some other favorites include boneless, slow cola-braised, tender short ribs, seared organic carrots and romanesco, with Gouda, yukon and sweet potatoes; or a coffee BBQ lamb tenderloin with Nutella powder, parsnip puree and mint espuma and a purple basil & honeydew sorbet. This was a liquid nitrogen-cooled sorbet using purple basil out of our chef’s garden here at Crystal Mountain and the honeydews were sourced from a local farm this past summer.
MM: With all the different dietary requests, do you have any favorite or go-to options for people, e.g., gluten-free and/or vegan?
BB: There are so many special dietary restrictions and food allergies out there and I think I have seen most of them. We are always able to accommodate any allergies or special dietary restrictions. One of the things that always helps is knowing these restrictions in advance so we can plan accordingly. It can make it difficult if we find out minutes before the meal is served (even though we always come through).
A couple of my favorite gluten-free and/or vegan options would be Chiles Rellenos, using rice flour and cornmeal to give the chile some crunch. We fill it with a black bean sofrito, charred tomato chipotle salsa, Spanish rice and some flavored, textured vegetable protein or orecchiette with cippolini onion, roasted tomato, Greek olives, roasted garlic, artichoke, asiago cheese and Marsala herb pan sauce. This can be vegetarian or vegan, but it’s a lot better with cheese and butter!
MM: Any final thoughts?
BB: Something that kind of plays into what we were talking about earlier on professional culinarians having passion… Another trait that is a key to success in this industry is humility. It doesn’t matter how knowledgeable you are about cooking, being a line cook or even the new trend of gastronomy, it’s a must to be humble and willing to learn new things. You can never be “too good” to get down to the nitty gritty with your staff by cleaning or peeling vegetables for hours. Actually some of my fondest memories of my career are when I first started out. It’s that camaraderie with your team, going into work two hours early (off the clock) to make sure my station was set – just to sweat all night long while having the time of my life on the line. That’s the thing I miss most about being a “cook.” That, and going out for that end of shift beer with my fellow cooks after a long, hard but fulfilling night on the line. Those were simpler times with a world of possibilities and opportunities at my door.
So my advice to those passionate line cooks just starting out; you can never be too successful to get to know your staff and get dirty with them. Continue to be passionate, be humble and enjoy it while it lasts.