Interview: Chef Brian Cantrell Gets the 10

Ever met Brian Cantrell, A Fish Called Avalon's executive chef and general manager? He's no stranger to South Florida, though he grew up hunting and fishing in the Blue Ridge Mountains near his farm home in Hendersonville, North Carolina. [Editor's Note: He still claims Lexington barbecue is the bomb diggety.]

At age 14, Cantrell made his kitchen debut as a dishwasher at a country club and filled in one day for an M.I.A. line cook. Soon he became apprentice to the chef, and later decided to study at the Asheville Buncombe Technical College's School of Culinary Arts, returning after graduation (at 19 years old) as the restaurant's youngest executive chef.

He eventually fired up kitchens at The Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, Mark's at the Park in Boca, and also at Nemo for five years where, in 2007, Cantrell's work caught the attention of AFCA's owner. Now he cranks out what he calls "non-confusion cuisine" there, incorporating his cooking mantra: "What grows together, goes together." 

By the way, if you want a taste of Cantrell's creations, from February 24-28, AFCA is offering South Beach Wine & Food Festival ticket holders $9 apps and $9 off all bottles of wine to commemorate the festival's ninth successful year.

Since we're coming up on Valentine's Day, we thought perhaps Mr. Bang Bang should give us the dish.

New Times: If you came back in your next life as a food item, what would it be and how would you like to be served?

Brian Cantrell: A jalapeno, prepared as a popper. I like the element of surprise when you bite into one and hot, cheesy goodness gushes into your mouth.

NT: If you could serve a meal to any famous person, alive or dead, who would it be and what would you cook for him/her?

BC: Al Pacino. I'd serve him our Bang Bang Shrimp.

NT: What food/utensil/technique still confounds you?

BC: Espuma, also known as a foam dispenser.  It never wants to work when I need to use it.

NT: Which chef, alive or dead, would you like to challenge in Iron Chef fashion? Why do you believe you could kick his or her ass in the kitchen?

BC: Paula Deen. She is hilarious and I love to cook Southern comfort foods, but have you seen her doughnut burgers? Those things are scary!

NT: If your significant other gave you a pass, what celebrity chef would you most like to enjoy a naked cooking session with and why?

BC: Cat Cora. But I'm not sure I've got the right equipment for her to want to naked cook with me.

NT: What's your favorite soundtrack/song to cook to?

BC: I like all types of music and my song of choice changes daily dependent on what I am cooking. I like anything from The Beatles to Bossa Nova, mostly songs that are a little more upbeat since things in the kitchen are fast paced.

NT: What is your dream culinary trip? 

BC: Fishing in the Pyrenees and truffle hunting in the South of France

NT: What's the hottest thing a date could whip up for you in the kitchen and why?

BC: It's pretty hot to see a woman who knows how to fire up a grill and cook a steak properly.

NT: What's your favorite junk food and where do you get it?

BC: Corn dogs at the county fair

NT: Please complete this sentence: Never trust a chef who/that...?

BC: Is a vegetarian and works in a steakhouse.

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Riki Altman