What's NOT on My Resume: Sean Brock

By Kathleen Squires  |  November 7, 2013

No one starts out on top, especially in the food business. In this weekly column, chefs and restaurateurs across the country share the stories of their humble beginnings.

The modern master of Lowcountry cuisine, chef Sean Brock caused a Southern sensation at his restaurants Husk and McCrady’s in Charleston when he first came on the culinary scene. Recently featured on the PBS series The Mind of a Chef, Brock, a good old boy from Virginia who studied at Johnson & Wales, says he has been driven by something very simple, from his very early days in the restaurant world: hard work.

“For years I was a dishwasher all through high school. I would spend the shifts staring at the kitchen crew slinging food out. I was obsessed with it,” the James Beard Award-winner says, adding that watching that crew is what sold him on his future career. But it wasn’t an easy climb to chefdom for Sean. “I did it the old fashioned way. I was a dishwasher and I did prep and then I did garde manger and then I worked the grill. Then I went to school and started all over again as a dishwasher. There were days when I would wash dishes from 9 AM to until 2 PM and then I would go wash dishes at another restaurant from 3 PM until midnight, and then work at a rock and roll club from midnight to 4 AM. So I have always had an insane desire to work non-stop. I think it is sort of an illness that is hard to cure.”

Working long hours washing dishes, even after he attended culinary school, was the only way he could get into a kitchen at the time, Brock says. “But I think that should be a requirement. I don’t think anyone should be able to touch a knife until you scrape pots and pans, and deal with burnt cheese on plates and platters, and get stuff thrown at you, and have your hands in a dish sink all night. That makes you appreciate the opportunity more. When I was finally making food, it was such a relief.”

Brock says he’s constantly sharing that plain and simple advice with up-and-comers in his kitchens today. “Hard work puts opportunities in front of you. You work hard. You keep your head down, and those opportunities will come.”