The family that cooks together certainly eats well; and in the case of the Ogden clan, work quite well together, too. Cooking, restaurants and hospitality reach back in the Ogden family bloodline for generations. Revered American chef Bradley Ogden, 60, grew up in Travers City, MI, where his parents owned a music club/restaurant called the Tanzhaus (Bob Seger got his start there in the '60s). Being around Tanzhaus gave Bradley and his twin brother, Bentley, the restaurant bug and both enrolled in CIA as young men. Though his brother left after four months, Bradley stuck it out to graduate with honors, and the Richard T. Keating award for “student most likely to succeed.” He started a bright new career at The American Restaurant in Kansas City with legends Joe Baum, Barbara Kafka and James Beard as his early mentors, before going on to open much-loved restaurants such as Lark Creek in the Bay Area; Bradley Ogden in Caesar’s Palace, Las Vegas; and San Francisco’s One Market. After cooking for four decades, Bradley Odgen is currently one of the U.S.’s most prolific chefs.
It turns out that Ogden’s apples didn’t fall far from his tree: He has two sons who are respected chefs, too. Son Chad, 38, cooks in Macau, China; and son Bryan, 35, works within the newly formed Bradley Ogden Hospitality. The venture includes the recent opening of Hops & Harvest in Las Vegas; forthcoming restaurants in Houston and Menlo Park, CA; a culinary education program for schools; and a father-and-son cooking series for TV.
Bradley and Bryan Ogden sat down with us to chat about their dynamic as chefs, and family.
Bradley Ogden: My older son, Chad, was the first one to express interest in becoming a chef. He told me he wanted to go to culinary school, and I was shocked. And then Bryan came along and decided to go into chef school too, and I was extra shocked, but also proud and excited and delighted. I tried to discourage them. I said, “You guys really want to work this hard?”
Bryan Ogden: My father never told us we had to go to chef school. That was something we did on our own. He never really encouraged us, per se. But I think we were encouraged by just naturally being around it for so many years. We learned food at a young age. We went to farmer's markets with him and spent some days in the kitchens. So, we were always around restaurants.
Bradley: I think Bryan and Chad just saw my passion and commitment to the business and to what I did. I just think they took that and grew from that. Obviously, you have to put the time and effort into anything that you do if you want to be successful, and I just tried to teach them that. I think that came more across to them than anything.
Bryan: I worked in my father’s restaurant on weekends when I was 12 through about 16. I did it solely for baseball card money. I didn't realize that I had a passion for it then. And then I went off to Cal State Fullerton to study general business courses. I started dining at Spago, and spent a lot of time eating there and talking to Wolfgang [Puck]. That’s when I realized I just loved restaurants. So I told my dad I wanted to be in the front-of-the-house and learn to do wine. So, he sent me out to work for Michel Richard at Citronelle. Instead of a manager, however, a chef met me and told me, “You're going to be my sous-chef.” And I said, “Whoa! Slow down. I haven't cooked in a little while in a professional setting in a kitchen.” He said, “Oh, don't worry. I'll teach you everything.” I was just happy to have a job and to be in the restaurant. So I said, “OK. When do I start?” I went into two feet forward and I haven't slowed down since.
Bradley: Bryan is now a partner in the development of all of our new projects, from our new restaurants to our consulting gigs to the media facet. He really came on board for me in 2003. He approached me to work for me and I was surprised. It's quite demanding, working together, because we expect certain things from each other. But now that he's part of this new company, we're a lot more in tune with our goals and in a professional manner. We just try to take the family ethics out of it. You know, because when we are in the kitchen, we sort of razz each other a little bit.
Bryan: The best part of working with my father is just the trust and knowing that he knows that I understand what he does, and we can complement each other in that way. He's able to be more interactive with guests, and I can run the kitchen. It really frees him up to be able to touch tables and to know that I'm in the kitchen and he doesn't have anything to worry about. So, he can let go and that's not easy for him to do. The hardest part I think it was really difficult at an early age to say, “I get it. I know what I'm doing. Let me do this.” Parents want to be over your shoulder every two seconds, and that's challenging and frustrating, but it's really rewarding when they finally recognize that you do know what you're doing.
Bradley: Yes, it is challenging to work together. How Bryan deals with people and how I deal with people are a little bit different, because I'm a little more patient and he isn't. I think he's growing, for sure. We sort have a balance now of give-and-take.
Bryan: I am pretty impatient. One of my faults is that sometimes I don't slow down enough to explain myself. You really have to slow down to be more nurturing and explain yourself. I've been better at it lately.
Bradley: But as different as we are in some ways, our cooking styles are very similar. Bryan believes in what I believe, and that is that you have to start off with a great, organic, natural farm-to-table product, which I've been preaching for four decades. And that came through Joe Baum and James Beard, my mentors, and I've always stuck to that. And so, Bryan believes full-heartedly that that's the way to cook.
Bryan: My father taught me the importance of seasonality and raw product and knowing what a carrot tastes like. A lot of chefs don't ever get that experience just because they're not around it. Having the Bay Area and Napa Valley as our backyard, we were privy to all that stuff. There was always a farmer's market or a roadside stand. We were able to see fish come right out of the water and taste that. So that’s what makes our cooking styles similar. I have a little bit more modern approach for plating, and technology and molecular gastronomy has played an influence in my cooking. So, I'd say it's a more modern approach to what he does.
Bradley: Getting into the business today is completely different from when I started, and probably even harder to get in and stay in today. There are thousands of culinary schools now, and there is a certain competitiveness to the business, and then there’s the multimedia aspect of it, too, that didn’t exist before. I often say you have to be crazy to be in this business. Because it becomes life and the family ethics of it is quite challenging. You give up holidays. You give up a lot of things that “normal” families would do - birthdays, etcetera.
Bryan: Well, I think chefs in general are pretty crazy. I think I've seen it with us, the Forgiones, Preston Clark - we all definitely wanted to express our own identity, but I think a lot of us have always come back to our roots with our fathers. Really, the only time that we have with our fathers is inside restaurants, because they devote so much of their time to it. So, I think in general, chef families are definitely a little bit different.