Top Chef: Texas Contestant Molly Brandt Talks About Working on a Ship
Top Chef: Texas premiered last week with a gigantic cast of cheftestants, including three chefs with local ties, Lindsay Autry, executive chef at Michelle Bernstein's restaurant at the Omphoy Palm Beach Resort, Bernice Dearaujo, head chef at Sra. Martinez, and Maureen "Molly" Brandt, executive chef at Royal Caribbean's 150 Central Park restaurant on its Allure of the Seas mega-ship.
Recently, chef Brandt has been working with chef Michael Schwartz as he recreates the menu for Allure's sister ship Oasis of the Seas.
We chatted with Molly, who last week was left on the "bubble", her Top Chef fate, hanging in mid-air, about life on board the Allure, her goals, and what's it like to be a cheftestant.
New Times: What made you decide to work on the Allure of the Seas?
Molly Brandt: Royal Caribbean International partnered with The CIA alumni association
to find the chef for their completely chef-driven, tasting menu-concept
restaurant, 150 Central Park onboard Allure of the Seas. They presented
it as a competition, and listed all of the all the bullet points that
winning the competition would entail. It checked all the boxes for me,
and I have a difficult time resisting a competition anyway. RCI has
really lived up to all of it's promises, and I have carte blanche over
my restaurant. I run two each six-course tasting menus on each voyage
and change them over completely every three months. It's a pretty dope job!
What are the challenges of working on a ship?
The biggest challenge of working on the ship is the inventory. It's obvious that I can't run to the store to get a few extra sweet potatoes or whatever, but what may not be obvious are the logistics involved in actually supplying the ship with what ingredients I do want. It's a process to be sure that starts about a month and a half before I intend to launch a new menu. First, I identify any new specialty ingredients that I want, and then try to source them if it's something specific. After that the shore-side purchasing team chases it and ensures that our distributors pick it up at the best possible price. At that point it's entered in to our inventory system, assigned a number, and contracted to the Miami market. Then the onboard inventory team must place the item on our master order list at least 2 weeks in advance when the item is needed.
Do you have any time at any of the ports?
We work every single day that we're on the ship, so I know that if tomorrow I want to go breathe some fresh air, that today I need to do a little bit more. I have my favorite ports, and favorite things to do there. Whenever we're in Labadee, Haiti I always try to get off the ship. I walk to the farthest spot on the beach, purchase some horribly fruity island cocktail and plop down half in the water and half on the sand. It's definitely a perk!
How does working on the ship affect your social life?
What is this social life that you speak of? I'm not sure I even know how to spell that! No, we have a good time on the ship, but you definitely give up your social life on land. It's a very artificial lifestyle and while it can be a great time, I definitely miss Tuesday night just being Tuesday night. I long for the days of a commute, the time to unwind, and to get away from the people that I've been working with all day long.
What are your goals as a chef?
I have lots of pipe dreams! Pretty sure the desire to run your own restaurant is ingrained in every chef out there. Of course I don't just want one place, I'd like to have a few. Diversity is really the key, and variety is what keeps life interesting, but all in good time.
Some of the bigger goals are to cook at the James Beard house in NYC. Compete for the opportunity to be the USA competitor for the Bocuse D'Or. Write a cookbook. Get reviewed by the Michelin Guide, with preferably a star attached. I could go on and on....
And Top Chef. Why did you decide to go on Top Chef?
Why on earth would I pass up the challenge of Top Chef? The possibility to hotwire my career was irresistible. If you could lower your chance of winning the lottery to the odds of 1 in 29, I think you would do that as well.
What's it like on the set?
It's tense on the set. You never know what's going to happen and when. They do a fantastic job of keeping you in the dark. Just thinking about it gives me heartburn!
What are Tom, Padma, and Gail like to work with?
The whole experience is just surreal. It's kind of an out of body experience. There they are right in front of you, talking to you, asking you questions. It's exactly what you would expect... Intimidating with a capital "I". Although the adrenaline is pretty intense so it kept me on my toes, and hopefully prevented me from sounding like a complete star-struck idiot.
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