Meg Brent takes over at White Oak Kitchen & Cocktails
In just a few short years, the young chef has risen through the industry ranks, from culinary student to extern; line cook to pastry chef; sous to exec. She took over the executive chef role from Christian Perez, who replaced Todd Richards when he left the restaurant earlier this year but recently moved to New York City to work at a sleek Flatiron District eatery called Cosme. "The owners of White Oak understood my desire to evolve my role and take over the savory program," Brent says. "It felt like it was the right time to make the move. It was as if I had been working the entire time in the past for this moment with all my previous experiences, always still having my hands in the savory world."
Shortly after graduating from culinary school, Brent had an epiphany when chef Aaron Russell at Restaurant Eugene made a curried carrot financier with parsley sorbet. "It was a pinnacle moment for me," she recalls. "I was obsessed from that point forward with learning new techniques, discovering flavor profiles and refining my work."
Since then, Brent has been invited to cook at the prestigious James Beard House along with fellow chef Holly Chute of the Georgia Grown program. But she says it hasn't been an easy road. "With this industry as well as other industries, women have it hard," she says. "Anyone who says otherwise is blind to it. It's even harder being a young female moving from pastry to savory. Breaking through stereotypes and skeptics has definitely had its growing pains but really, it fuels me to grow and be more of a leader each day. We are building our tribe and empowering each other."
A native of North Georgia, Brent steers toward the cuisine of the Appalachian foothills, with its seasonal reverence and ingredients from both forest and farm. She works hard to build and strengthen her relationship with local farmers and purveyors, building on previous roles at Sprig in Decatur, Empire State South, the Shed, the Pig and the Pearl and JP Atlanta. When it comes to favorite ingredients, she looks forward to the spring season, talking of strawberries and fava beans at their peak. Her goal is always to introduce unexpected flavors and textures. A recent summer cremeux dense, soft pudding often used to fill pastries featured a silky blend of sweet corn and blueberries, the crunch of corn kernel butter and a blueberry-thyme sorbet.
When writing menus for the restaurant, Brent takes advice from her mentors to heart. "Todd Richards, Julio Delgado and Gerry Klaskala have said the same thing to me. 'Don't overdo it.' This helped me in many ways. It taught me to highlight the ingredients as opposed to covering it up or over-complicating a dish. If the product and technique is properly executed, the dish will stand alone."
As an executive chef now, Brent is working to expand her technique as well as White Oak's charcuterie program. But she still focuses on the same things she did in her pastry days: ingredients, technique, flavor, texture and appearance. "Only now," she says, "I use more proteins."