‘My favorite bite’: Hamming it up with Jon Bray

Jon Bray. Photo: Amy Jackson Jon Bray. Photo: Amy Jackson

While Jon Bray says he can’t pinpoint which particular dish got him into the food industry, he can specify a time (he was 14), a reason (“my parents repealed the Weekly Allowance Act”) and a place (Bellair Market). It was the beginning of a nearly 20-year career in Charlottesville kitchens, bars and dining rooms (you’ve likely seen him at places like Ten, Oakhart Social and Brasserie Saison). Now he runs the recently opened kitchen at Champion Brewing Company, so we asked him to recount what gave him his food focus.

“It was 2000, and they had a sign posted in their bathroom that said, ‘Part-time/full-time positions starting at $6.50 an hour, plus a free sandwich per shift.’ Say WHAT? Clearly, these ding-dongs didn’t realize how wild of a deal they were offering. Soon enough, I was making Ednams with no bacon for Dave Matthews and tuna salad sandwiches for Tatyana Ali.

One sandwich in particular, the Keswick, taught me that in the right context, you can love something you normally hate. I had never been a fan of country ham (which is kind of blasphemous having been raised in Virginia), but that gnarly meat tastes like the smell of a bunch of dirty dudes eating blue cheese in a sauna. That being said, you add some sweet and spicy honey mustard, some mayo with fresh herbs, Swiss cheese and fresh lettuce and tomato, then those dirty dudes are now rendered clean, eating mountain Gorgonzola in a flotation chamber.”