Cook and learn: Chef Antwon Brinson forges community through food

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Photo: Jeffrey Gleason Photo: Jeffrey Gleason

If the goal of Common House, the city’s private social club, is to help convene like-minded creatives, then it’s no wonder Antwon Brinson had been in its kitchen since the opening last spring.

“Food for me has always been something that brought people together,” says the club’s executive chef.

Originally from Niagara Falls, New York, Brinson can remember the smell of sweet potato pie, apple cobbler and pound cake hitting him as soon as he got to his grandmother’s house for the holidays (“The dessert table was right by the side door,” he says). It was those gatherings—bringing family together across the table—that he says made him want to become a chef, and what took him from the Culinary Institute of America to kitchens in the Virgin Islands, Hawaii, Palm Springs, San Francisco and, eventually, Charlottesville.

At Common House, Brinson was able to showcase his penchant for farm to table cuisine, but recently shifted his focus to teaching. He’s currently working with the city of Charlottesville to start a microprogram to teach life skills through the disciplines learned in the kitchen.

“My goal is simple: to help people set a foundation in life and learn a trade while doing it,” he says. “If there is one thing I’ve learned over the years, that has stood true with every new location, it is that sometimes people don’t need direction, they just need guidance.”

Always on the bar: Bulleit, rye or Pyrat Rum
Special-occasion drink: Moët & Chandon or Veuve Clicquot
Energy source: Family and positive people
Breakfast: Savory: sweet potato hash, smoked gouda, scrambled. Sweet: brioche French toast, salted caramel
Chinese restaurant order: Chicken lo mein, shrimp fried rice
Go-to comfort food: Buffalo wings
Sandwich: Fresh focaccia, Duke’s mayo, soppressata and smoked gouda
Unusual ingredient: Finger limes, jaboticaba
Healthy snack: Skin-on almonds
Unhealthy snack: Kettle-cooked salt and vinegar chips
First food memory: My grandmother’s 7UP pound cake (see below).
Condiment: Spicy mustard, calypso hot sauce
Chocolate: Valrhona or Lindt
Grocery-store cookie: Girl Scout cookies
Dessert: Sticky toffee pudding
Ice cream flavor: Brown butter vanilla
Brunch: sweet or savory? Savory all day
Beer: Not really a beer guy, but if I had to choose, I would say Kona Brewing Co. Hanalei Island IPA.
Kitchen aroma: Stocks!
Always in the home fridge: Banana peppers (hot)
Always in the pantry: Aged balsamic
Bodo’s order: Everything bagel, ham, bacon, pepper jack
Salad bar toppings: Tomato, olives, banana peppers, onions
Cut of meat: Bone-in ribeye
Fish: Swordfish (grilled)
Vegetable: Roasted cauliflower
Midnight snack: Chips. I love chips.
Knife: Damascus steel, Santoku style, Togiharu brand
Appliance: Gas range
Cookbooks: The Escoffier Cookbook and Guide to the Fine Art of Cookery, The Silver Spoon, The Soul of a New Cuisine
Mentors: Peter Timmins and Rich Rosendale
Dream trip: Ethiopia
Favorite food city: New York City, hands down
Cooking clothes: Hedley & Bennett aprons, Mozo shoes, Gramercy chef coat
Cooking music: Flamenco guitar or reggae
Best meal ever: Kihachi Japanese Restaurant in Ohio (15-course tasting).
Favorite cheesy dish: I’m lactose-intolerant, but if I had to choose, I would say Point Reyes blue cheese dip with salt and vinegar chips.

Mama’s 7UP Pound Cake

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Using a mixer, cream together 1 cup shortening, 1 cup butter and 2 1/2 cups sugar. Add four eggs, one at a time, to the mixture. Add 1 tablespoon lemon juice and 2 teaspoons vanilla extract to the bowl and mix. Alternate mixing in 3 cups flour and 1/2 cup 7UP. Butter a bundt pan, then dust it with sugar and flour and pour in mixture. Bake for 1 1/2 hours, check with a toothpick to make sure it’s cooked. Then remove and cool.

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