Chef James Briscione will be the featured speaker for Ocala-based IHMC’s Evening Lecture Series on April 10.
World-class chefs tend to have a reputation. All that talent in the kitchen seems to come with a bit of an attitude. Exacting. Egotistical. Demanding.
Somehow, Chef James Briscione got all of the talent and none of the attitude. His skill is surpassed only by his gracious enthusiasm in sharing his passion for cooking.
The first-ever two-time Chopped champion, he was named one of People magazine’s ‘Sexiest Chefs Alive’ in 2016. (“I still don’t know how I landed on that list,” he laughs.) After honing his skills in some of the country’s finest restaurant kitchens, Briscione found his calling as a chef-instructor at The Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) in New York City, where he is currently director of culinary development. He’s written five cookbooks and also stars in the current Food Network series Cooking with Dad, where his 8-year-old daughter joins in the action.
James hails from Pensacola, Florida, and originally wanted to pursue a career in sports medicine, but a high school summer job at a restaurant changed everything.
At 16, James began as a dishwasher at Highlands Bar and Grill, a top-rated restaurant in Birmingham, Alabama. Over the next several years, he worked his way up and proved his worth to Chef Frank Stitt, a James Beard Award-winning chef, eventually achieving the rank of Chef de Cuisine at the remarkably young age of 23.
When it was time to challenge himself even more, James rose to the occasion, becoming sous chef for Daniel’s, the private dining room of Chef Daniel Boulud in New York City.
In 2006, James joined the faculty at ICE, where he enjoys teaching and inspiring his students. It’s a far different world from the way he started his own culinary journey, and he says there are pros and cons to both methods.
“In culinary school all that learning is quite compact and efficient. You move through a lot of disciplines and techniques very quickly, as opposed to learning on the job the way I did,” says James, who did not attend culinary school.
“On the job, you may learn a technique and just do that same thing for days, weeks or even months, but that’s where the mastery comes. The progression without culinary school is slower, but learning on the job is more thorough.”
If James could give one piece of advice to the next generation of chefs it would be to travel.
“Go everywhere you can,” he says. “Get a summer job in the food industry in another country. It gets a lot harder to travel as you get older, so move around and experience things when you can.”
Although he relishes working with students, James admits there are moments he misses the fast pace and challenge of working in the restaurant world.
“I’m lucky in what I do here in New York,” he says. “I remain very involved by being part of chef’s dinners and galas where I still get to cook for people, but there’s nothing like the excitement of the restaurant, and I definitely miss that sometimes.”
James, now 37, and his wife, Brooke Parkhurst, who is also a chef, wrote their first cookbook together, Just Married and Cooking, which was released in 2011. They have two children, their daughter, Parker, who is in third grade, and their toddler son, August.
“Parker is very proud of cooking. She has her own small knife, and she feels important when she gets to chop things,” says James, adding that she’s very at ease on the set of Cooking with Dad, and likes to take over once he has everything going. At just 2 1/2, August isn’t exactly cooking yet, but he has recently developed an interest in scrambling eggs.
Chef James Briscione will discuss his newest cookbook, The Flavor Matrix (release date March 6), during his lecture at IHMC on April 10.
“The book is all about the science of flavors and innovative flavor pairings,” he notes, adding that two full years of research went into the project. “The book is visual and not overly technical; it’s something the average home cook can put to use.”
Prior to the lecture there will be a book signing at Shannon Roth Collections from 11am to 2pm. Attendees will enjoy a pairing with an appetizer at the signing and another at the lecture that evening.
For a complete experience, be sure to purchase tickets for the post-lecture event, “The Flavor Matrix: An Unusual and Unexpected Evening with Chef James Briscione,” held at Brick City Center for the Arts in downtown Ocala. This ticketed event starts immediately after the lecture (about 7:30pm) and will feature local chefs and culinary students who are creating dishes of their own making, based on “unusual and unexpected pairings” as suggested by Chef Briscione. He will be on hand to interact with the participating chefs, students and guests throughout the evening, as attendees enjoy wine and samples of all the culinary creations. Live music completes the evening. Proceeds will benefit a culinary student scholarship and help deserving students attend Robotics Camp at IHMC this summer.