Up until last spring, Brian Enyart served as the chef de cuisine of Rick Bayless’ acclaimed Topolobampo restaurant in Chicago. While Enyart assumed that position in 2007 his tenure with Bayless’ family of restaurants spanned 14 years, nearly his entire adult life. Enyart’s previous posts include pastry sous chef at Topolobampo, sous chef at Frontera and managing chef of both restaurants. Often described as Bayless’ right-hand man, Enyart essentially ran the fine dining, Mexican cuisine kitchen. He also developed and tested countless recipes for Rick Bayless’ cookbooks and retail products. A graduate of The Cooking & Hospitality Institute of Chicago (which is now a part of Le Cordon Bleu), Enyart has been doing some consulting work and has plans to venture out on his own, but the specifics remain hush-hush for now.
FE&S: What is one of your earliest childhood food memories?
Brian Enyart: We always made time for dinner. That was huge. Holidays involved more cooking than any other time, and I remember that everyone was together working toward a single goal. My earliest and biggest memory was spinach and lentil soup. It looked like [heck] and I would not touch it. My mom made me sit at the dinner table until I at least tried it. A half hour or so after the family had left the table, obviously calling my bluff, I leaned in to try the now stone cold soup. I asked for seconds.
FE&S: Are there any foods from your childhood that you still recreate to this day?
Brian Enyart: Artichokes, breaded and fried pork tenderloin, apple pie and cheddar cheese.
FE&S: Do you recall an early moment in a restaurant when you knew you were hooked on the industry?
Brian Enyart: My moment was at Soul Kitchen in Chicago, my first cooking job. I loved the people I worked with. There was such a feeling of community, almost like a family. I worked hard not because I had big aspirations for my career but because I didn't want to let anyone down.
FE&S: Which industry awards or accolades are the most important to you?
Brian Enyart: I’m not sure anyone in Chicago sets out to win an award. We do the best we can, and push ourselves to be a good part of the food community. That being said, however, facing down the barrel of a possible award changes your perspective a little, I think. Winning the Michelin star was a huge honor, but probably mattered little to our business in the long run, and many people have talked about how fair or unfair the rating system is. But right now, speaking for myself, I hope that my efforts and the efforts of my team are recognized. Chicago Magazine, Beard and Michelin are the biggest for me in terms of accolades.
FE&S: What are your top three career accomplishments?
Brian Enyart: Being on stage when we took home the Beard award for the most outstanding restaurant in 2007, cooking the state dinner at the White House for President Obama and receiving a Michelin star.
FE&S: Let’s talk about food trends now. Do you secretly wish the farm-to-table hysteria would just go away, since everyone should use fresh food anyway?
Brian Enyart: No. It should be assumed that the top places are using the best products, but we also set the example for how and what people should and could be eating. Are we all going to be living on a farm in the future? No, but we should know where our food comes from if not the person who grew it. I have done a couple of dinners on the farm with Spence Farm. They are amazing people and dear friends so I love to help whenever I can. Seeing the food I buy still in the ground, to smell the air, see the sunsets...good times. I try to visit farms as often as I can, which for our group was about five to six times a year, and unfortunately, only about two to three for myself when I was working at Topolobampo. We try to reconnect with our suppliers, the land, and introduce our staff to the people and places that make us what we are.