Like many professional and home cooks, Brian Ward started cooking in the kitchen with his momma.
"She's the one who pushed me to follow my passion," he says.
Following graduation from Sullivan University's culinary program in Louisville, Kentucky, Ward went to work at several Nashville hotels before joining The Westin brand. He came to Chattanooga as executive chef of the new Westin hotel property shortly after its opening in the summer of 2017.
Q: What was your first restaurant job?
A: I was a buffet cook at Shoney's.
Q: Why did you decide to work in the hotel industry rather than a standalone restaurant?
A: The hotel industry brings a package deal with it: Excellent pay, benefits and also hotel perks if you travel or stay within the brand. And the opportunity for growth is truly endless if you have the drive to make it.
Q: What's the toughest part about working in hotel food service?
A: It's being able to oversee multiple outlets at one time. If it wasn't for my executive sous chef, Joseph Beasley, and our sous chef, Akila Battana, there truly wouldn't be enough hours in the day to get the job done — and done correctly. These two gentlemen have helped me establish a great culinary team leading to endless possibilities.
Q: What culinary figure do you consider your mentor?
A: I've had two chefs pour a lot of time into me over the years that stand out — Greg Nay and Hector Herrera. Greg was my executive chef and food and beverage director at the Sheraton in downtown Nashville. He's now the food and beverage director at the Grand Sierra Resort overseeing more than 500 associates. Hector was my executive chef at the Sheraton Music City Hotel and Resort.
Q: What's the craziest meal a guest has ever asked you to cook?
A: Nowadays, nothing is crazy; everyone is vegetarian/celiac/vegan/pescetarian/etc. or at least knows someone who is. To be successful you have to train and be willing to meet the consumers' expectations.
Q: What kitchen tool can you not live without?
A: You can never replace a great chef knife — it never breaks down right before service and treats you as well as you treat it.
Q: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
A: I'm 30 years old, and within the next 10 years, I hope to have continued to grow within Maximum Hospitality, as I would like to stay in the hotel industry and one day manage my own property.
Q: You're in charge of dining, room service and catering. What do you like to do in your spare time if you have any?
A: With the spare time that I have, I like to spend the bulk of it with my family — my wife, three daughters and my son — whether we are fishing, hunting or just sitting on the couch watching a movie.
Q: What's your favorite style of cooking at home?
A: I enjoy grilling out when at home. My wife and oldest daughter handle the kitchen for the most part — even when I'm home.
Q: How did you develop the menu at The Westin?
A: Devising the menu we have here consisted of Joe, Akila and myself sitting down and literally bouncing ideas off one another. It always starts out as a serious topic, but with these guys you can't help but have fun while working at the same time.
Q: What's one of your favorite recipes for spring entertaining?
A: Spinach and Artichoke Dip. It's a classic favorite of many and is one of my wife's go-to dips for any occasion. I personally like to add a couple dashes of Tabasco and Worcestershire sauce when I make this dip. Grilled pita chips go great with it and are easy to prepare.
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 medium-size shallot, minced
2 tablespoons butter
2 ounces white wine, as needed
1 quart heavy cream
1 (8-ounce) package of cream cheese, large dice or just break apart
1 (5.2-ounce) package of Boursin cheese with garlic and herbs
1 (14-ounce) can of artichoke hearts, drained
1 (10-ounce) bag of fresh spinach, roughly chopped
3 ounces shredded parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper, to taste
Freshly baked bread or pita chips, fried, baked or grilled
Saute garlic and shallots in the 2 tablespoons of butter. If garlic starts to stick to your pan, deglaze with a splash of white wine. Add cream, cream cheese and Boursin; stir over medium heat until broken down. Add artichokes and spinach, bringing to a simmer. Add parmesan, and stir until incorporated. Allow to simmer until it's thick enough for your liking. Add salt and pepper, to taste.
Tip: If time is not on your side, make a quick slurry of a little cornstarch and water and slowly add in until desired texture is reached.
Note: If preparing a day ahead, cut off heat once parmesan is added to keep from reducing the cream. This will make it easier to warm up without having to add additional milk/cream to the dip.
Email Anne Braly at firstname.lastname@example.org.