An obvious talent in the kitchen was on show from an early age when Justin Gabriel Brown sold his homemade Chinese rolls in the school playground. These days, he’s creating rather grander food as head chef at the Hyatt Regency
Tell us about your cooking
My style is uncomplicated rustic, classical and bold. I like to fuse delicate flavours with attractive but not over-the-top presentation. I’ve been lucky enough to do a lot of travelling over the last 30 years, lived in different parts of the world and had some incredible experiences. This has all helped develop the style I’m very comfortable with today.
How did you become a chef?
My mom, nan and auntie are all great cooks, so there was a positive influence around me from an early age. Every Saturday morning I would wander around Wolverhampton market and loved the vibe of all the food stalls. I didn’t do very well academically at school but luckily for me, my inspiring home economics teacher Mrs Black noticed I had an ability in the kitchen and encouraged me to follow this path. I was cooking Chinese dishes, mainly pancake rolls and selling them in the playground! I went on to get fully qualified at college then gained my experience as an army chef posted in Germany for 4 years. It defined me as a man and taught me some of the qualities you need to thrive in the kitchen; discipline, empathy, hard work and humour! I’ve worked in some great places, in some fabulous parts of the world and was lucky enough to join the Hyatt as head chef 2 years ago.
What do you eat when at home?
I love a good pasta dish, roast meats, fish and soup. My partner is Polish so there’s always some great Polish food on the go too. With two ravenous small kids, wholesome freshly cooked food is the way forward. To be honest we rarely eat out but my close friend Miles and his wife love cooking, so we’ll often visit them because something awesome and tasty is always served, usually a Keralan inspired dish of some kind.
Who’s the best chef in the world and why? And who’s the best in Brum?
Without a doubt it was Joel Robuchon, a legend with 32 stars in 13 countries. I spent a month at the Fat Duck and Heston Blumenthal also personifies gastronomy. It was a proper Wonka experience, on a different level. I also really admire the late Keith Floyd. In Birmingham, Glyn Purnell is pretty special.
Is the customer always right?
No! Regardless of whether they’re right or wrong they’ll always post whatever they want on social media and you always have to respect the customer.
Share a cooking tip
Just be brave and experiment!
What was your favourite food as a kid?
Fantastic stews with fluffy dumplings. Awesome!
Food heaven and hell?
I can’t stand tinned plums – reminds me of 80’s plum crumble. You can’t beat crispy salmon skin California rolls
What’s the most unusual thing you’ve eaten?
Crispy fried locusts and salty dried maggots – you’ve got to love the bar snacks in Thailand…
If you weren’t a chef, what would you be?
I’ve spent the best part of a decade snowboarding and sailing and as a kid I loved skateboarding and my BMX, so I would definitely be involved in Extreme Sports.
What do you recommend from this evening’s menu?
The scallops with burnt cauliflower puree, chorizo crumb and crispy cavolo nero.
JUSTIN’S PAN SEARED SCALLOPS, ROAST CAULIFLOWER PUREE, CHORIZO CRUMB, CRISPY CAVOLO NERO
- 12 plump scallops, cleaned, roe removed
- 100ml double cream
- 1 cauliflower
- 1 lemon
- 100g salted butter
- 150g good Spanish chorizo
- 200g cavolo nero
- Rock salt and crushed black pepper
- Sunflower oil for frying
- Pea shoots for garnish
Remove leaves from cauliflower, rub with butter, season well and roast until soften and charred on the edges. Cool, chop into small pieces and blitz with a touch of cream, adjust seasoning. Place to one side or pop in the fridge until needed.
Remove skin from chorizo, break into small pieces and roast on a low heat, 140c for 35mins. Remove from oven, cool, then break or cut the pieces until a course crumble texture and roast for a further 10mins. Place on kitchen towel to cool.
Prep cavolo nero by removing leaves from the stalk and wash thoroughly in cold water. Cut into lengthy rustic pieces, fry until crispy. Place on kitchen towel to cool.
Pre-heat a medium-sized or sauté pan. Add a large knob of butter and splash of olive oil until hot. Place scallops into the pan, sear until lightly charred for 2 minutes. Turn scallops over, cook for a further minute. Cut lemon in half and squeeze juice into pan, season well and remove from heat.
(Tip: don’t overcook your scallops, medium rare is my recommendation.) Go for a ‘freestyle’ presentation – if you’re happy with it I’m sure your lucky guests will be too.