Mike Brewer's story is fascinating. A Mobile, Alabama-native, he graduated from the University of South Alabama with a degree in electrical engineering. Through college, he worked as a bartender and waited tables.
In 1999, he moved to New Orleans, working as a vice president of an engineering firm. He didn't know anyone in town except Clark Brennan. Brewer said he needed a part-time job "to stay out of trouble," and worked as a waiter at the traditional Crescent City restaurant.
By 2002, his engineering job looked grim, so Brewer went back full-time into the hospitality business. With a background in sales and engineering and an inquisitive mind, Brewer went to Brennan's chef Michael Roussel.
"I asked (Roussel) to teach me how to cook your food," Brewer said. "I wanted to explain it to guests and sell it with the same passion. He saw that as a unique viewpoint from a waitstaff position. He took me under his wing, and he began to teach me classic French techniques."
Brewer would later work at Commander's Palace, heading the wine and liquor program there. In 2013, he opened his own restaurant, The Sammich. In 2015, he was crowned King of Louisiana Seafood, then took over the kitchen at Manning's.
Last October, Brewer moved to his corporate executive chef position at City Pork. En route to Baton Rouge, he answered a few questions about his career and food.
What do you want to bring to City Pork?
I see an amalgamation of Creole and Cajun foods. We've got Lafayette to the west and New Orleans to the east, and I want to bring those two cuisines together. I want to pull those together with a pork-centric menu. I want to liven up the flavors. We'll do some new things, but really we want to get people excited about the food.
You're willing to try anything in the kitchen. Why do you approach food that way?
I never went to culinary school. I don't have the rules and regulations in my head, the "what goes with what".... For me, each bite needs to hit all the places on the palate. I want to make sure I have some component of sweet, spicy, smoky and umami so that it leaves you with anticipation for the next bite. I think that comes from my engineering background, building the bite and structure to the dish.
What's the biggest challenge in being a chef?
Finding people who share the same passion. It's easy to find people who show up to work. There are very few who look at it and say, "I want to learn the craft. I want to be better." The greatest joy is hearing that one of the cooks got a job as a sous chef at another restaurant, or I'm promoting someone in my kitchen. I know that they are following that passion.
You've got a night off, what are you making?
Macaroni and cheese, out of a box. Kraft. It's true. If my wife, Jenry, wants me to cook something, I'll say, "Let's go out somewhere." I don't usually want to cook. Even more, I don't want to do the dishes. We eat out quite a bit, but if I'm cooking at home, I'm usually playing with some dish. I've got an idea I want to mess around with. Jenry is my harshest critic. She'll call me out on stuff. It's great.