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Ask a Chef: Josh Brown Talks Burgers and More

Hilary Deutsch

March 16, 2016

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A shining star in the Annapolis food scene, Fox’s Den is a cozy gastropub where Josh Brown’s modern comfort fare is complemented by the innovative beverage program curated by Tommy Burns. Next week, the two will craft a hearty supper brimming with early spring flavors, Maryland brews, and inspired cocktails at the Beard House. In anticipation of this event, we spoke to Brown about his love for classic diner burgers, the best advice he's ever received, his last great meal, and more.

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What is your inspiration behind the menu for this Beard House event?

My inspiration for the menu is comfort food flavors in a more modern style. Since the Fox's Den opened, I've been trying to focus on presenting traditional flavors with little twists to create conversations at the table. Sometimes it can be plating a dish differently than what's traditionally expected; other times, it's adding or subtracting components to make something new. I think the menu we're showcasing at the Beard House really shows our thought-process.

What's a dish on your Beard House event menu that you're especially excited about or proud of, and why? 

I'm really excited about the our first course, the Cauliflower Panna Cotta with Fried Garlic, Brussels Sprout Leaves, Pickled Fiddlehead Ferns, and Vadouvan​. I love this dish because it seems so simple, but it really has a lot of complex layers. It's cool because if you eat each component alone, they're boring, but when they're all put together, they create an amazing dish.

What’s your guilty-pleasure food?

My guiltiest pleasure is definitely a good burger. I'm not talking about food geek, hipster burgers with housemade ketchup and lettuce that has been picked by unicorns. I'm talking about a good, old-fashioned, greasy-spoon diner burger with ketchup, yellow mustard, lettuce, and tomato. I can't resist them, and I normally eat them at breakfast while my wife and kids are eating omelets and pancakes. 

Tell us about the last great meal you ate.

The last great meal that I had was on January 1 at Bear Lake outside of Asheville, North Carolina. The night before was New Year's Eve and one of the busiest night to date at Level (the Fox's Den's sister restaurant). When I got home after service, we loaded the family into our car and drove 10 hours to get to Bear Lake to meet my wife's college friend and her family. When we arrived, we were met with a glass of bourbon and immediately went to their neighbor's house for dinner. It was a really simple dinner: roasted turkey, Hoppin' John, braised greens, and salad, and everything was just done right. What made it so great was how friendly and welcoming everyone was. Everyone clicked immediately. All of the kids instantly started playing and having fun and all the adults were able to let their guard down and just relax. I think a great meal is sometimes more about the experience and feeling than the actual food you're eating.

Who's been your biggest inspiration, and what dish would you cook to thank them? 

My biggest inspiration/motivator/critic, is my wife, Amy. She has an amazing ability to look at everything from a distance, so she sees ideas, activities, and projects very clearly. Often, I look at things with blinders on and can only see that single moment. She's taught me how to step back and not only be creative, but also analytical about decisions, while still trying to maintain perpetual improvement. I cook dinner with her most days, so she knows my repertoire. I think instead of cooking for her, she would be more excited if I did the dishes every night.

What are the best places to eat in your city these days? 

I don't get to go out as much as I used to, having two small kids. Lately, our go-to for special nights out is Preserve. Jeremy Hoffman is the chef and owner and he's doing some really interesting things. Everything that he serves is so well thought out and presented beautifully.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received, and who gave it to you?

The best advice I was ever given happened when I was living in Charleston, South Carolina, and was cooking at the opening night of the Charleston Food & Wine Festival. I was pretty nervous because there were a lot of big names floating around. I'm not sure who it was, but one of the other chefs came up and tasted my dish, and noticing that I was nervous, said, "Stop taking yourself so seriously, it's just food, and we all know what it turns into in 24 hours." It was brilliant. I still tell myself that whenever I do big events.

View all upcoming Beard House events and book your seat at jamesbeard.org/events.

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Hilary Deutsch is editorial assistant at the James Beard Foundation. Find her on Instagram.