If you’re like us, you enjoy the episodes where chefs return to Chopped for a chance to learn from past mistakes and have another opportunity to be named Chopped Champion. After a recent entertaining episode, we caught up with Chef Brandon Frohne, Executive Chef at Mason’s in Nashville, to learn more about him and his chance at redemption.
FP: How did you get your start with cooking?
BF: My Oma owns a European restaurant named La Cote Basque in St. Petersburg, FL. As a child we would go there to visit her and all our Frohne family who also worked in the restaurant. From the time that my brothers and I were small children my Mom would bring us there to visit everyone. I remember us hauling produce in our little wagons, layering escargot with herb compound butter for my Oma, and watching my Aunt Simone behind the stove making the perfect schnitzel Holstein.
I also remember when my father taught me how to make a roux and sauce béchamel. These were my childhood memories and have heavily influenced my choice to preserve our family’s food heritage. I think I was around the age of 16. This was our families’ business so in order to spend time with one another you had to work. Our family has a long history with food and hospitality as my grandparents have owned restaurants in Florida, Al Ronco B & B in Toceno Switzerland, and my great grandfather owned Restaurant Unter den Linden in Berlin in the 30’s.
I really found my passion in culinary at 17 after some rocky teenage years and dropping out of high school. I started an apprenticeship, which ignited my passion and help provide me with structure, which kept me out of trouble. I slowly started turning my life around, finished my GED, finished my apprenticeship, started teaching myself how to cook, and working my way through kitchens in the South. Ten years later, our team opened Mason’s inside the Loews Vanderbilt Hotel in Nashville which has garnered lots of local and national press. I’ve launched my food brand Forage South and just received a second invite to cook at the James Beard House in NYC on February 21st.
FP: Sounds like you were born to be in the kitchen. Congrats on being invited to cook at the James Beard House again!
What is the one item in the kitchen you can’t live without?
BF: I can’t live without a good sharp chef knife. Ever tried to cut an apple with a plastic butter knife? Yeah, me neither and you don’t want to! Trust me. It’s dangerous and will make you want to bang your head against a wall.
FP: Knives are critical for sure!
What did you learn from your first experience that you tried to incorporate the second time around?
BF: I think the biggest thing I learned from Chopped to Redemption was to pace yourself and focus on your dish, the taste, and the execution. Words cannot describe how stressful it is to work against the clock, let alone in an unfamiliar kitchen. Also…I should go on the record and say this. You should never run with a knife. My first go around on Chopped, I made it to the second round and cut myself pretty bad. Had to get 6 stitches. I was beyond stressed and buckled under pressure. I was running behind on my dish so I ran to the sink to wash my knife. Not thinking, I started running back to my station. I ended up putting the knife behind my back with the blade pointed toward the floor while I was going through the chef’s line. When I got to my station I pulled out the knife, the tip of it hit the table, and cut me really good. I ended up finishing the round with a glove full of blood and being Chopped. I was highly disappointed in myself.
FP: We can only imagine the pressure you’re under in the Chopped kitchen.
Tell us about your experience on Chopped the second time around.
BF: For Redemption I really focused on staying in a pretty chill state of mind and having fun with it. I also told myself if I made it to the dessert round, I didn’t want to take the easy way out. I wanted to make biscuits and I wanted to take a risk. Hell, under my chef coat I was even wearing my lucky International Biscuit Festival shirt for good luck. Everyone gave me the advice of just going in and doing what I do on a daily basis in my kitchen at Mason’s, cook your ass off and have fun doing it! I did and it worked. I made it to the final round. I was so excited and ready to Risk It for the Biscuit. I was feeling the momentum. I ended making a Chocolate Hazelnut Biscuit Galette with Sweet Potatoes & Blueberries. I paired it with a nice floral basil ice cream that worked really well with the flavor sequence of the dish. My ice cream was over churned and I know I shouldn’t have used it, so I took a risk because I felt that the flavor profiles of the dish wouldn’t be complete without the basil. I was completely shocked that I was chopped despite my competitors dessert also not properly executed. That was the luck of the draw and I’m appreciative of the opportunity.
FP: We loved your phrase “risk it for the biscuit!”
Name three people you would like to cook in the same kitchen with and tell us why.
BF: Some of these are kind of off the beaten path but things that strike curiosity for me.
My grandfather Ernest, He died when I was really young. He was a great man and phenomenal chef that traveled the world. It was said that his sauces and dumplings were too die for.
Homo Erectus: Yeah, I know, kind of weird. I would love to have been there when fire was discovered, and to be in whatever they considered a kitchen for a taste of that first cooked meal. Furthermore I think it would have been fascinating to take part in deciding what to cook, how to cook it, what did they use as seasoning, and how this process completely changed the way they lived.
John Lederer: I am very much intrigued by the early history of the Appalachian Mountains and the settlers that inhabited the region as I spent most of my childhood in the mountains of East TN, by the way of a small town named Sevierville. From a culinary standpoint, this region is rich in cultural influences with food, all influences by African American, Native American, Polish, German, Swiss, Spanish, Scotch, and Irish. John Lederer was a German settler and the first to lead a series of expeditions that he and his brigade through Appalachia, Blue Ridge Mountains, & Shenandoah Valley in the 1600’s. I’d love to have hunted a Wild European Boar Hound, build a pit, cured some ham, and cook dinner while hearing about John’s discoveries.
FP: An unique and interesting list for sure!
What are some of your favorite meals to cook at home for yourself?
BF: My house serves as my test kitchen for dishes at my restaurant Mason’s, as well as our food brand, Forage South. Therefore, I’m always cooking. My wife and I both share the same passion for food. We have two small children, our son Greyson, who we call Gravy and our daughter Bluebird. They both have big appetites! I am very much intrigued by other cultures and the connection to Southern Cuisine. Needless to say we like to explore food. Here’s some of our most recent meals we’ve cooked.
Spaghetti 2.0, which is this insanely delicious dish I created. It is stuffed spaghetti squash with kale, fennel, chorizo sausage, and smoked black pepper ricotta.
My wife makes this unbelievable Butternut Squash & Black Bean Soup w/ Goat Feta & Coconut Milk.
We love making Polpettes with Peperonata for ourselves and our friends.
For breakfast, Egg White Tortas with Braised Pork & Salsa Verde or Persian Beet Green & Quinoa Frittatas w/ Cured Salmon & Spicy Cucumber Dressing.
FP: Yum! Can we come over sometime? 🙂
We hear Nashville is a great food town. When you go out to eat, name some of your favorite places in town or other cities you’ve visited.
BF: It’s really hard to pick a favorite because we like to try anything new and aren’t a frequent at most places because I’m pretty much tied up between the restaurant, business, and family. Spare time is hard to come by. Nashville food scene and culture has seen an unbelievable amount of growth and there are so many amazing people doing amazing things with food in our city.
Some of our most recent meals that we really enjoyed were at Café Margot, Prima, Josephine, The Farm House, Viet Deli, Desano’s, Moto, to name a few. We also recently had a fabulous meal from The Refinery in Tampa when we were visiting family there.
FP: When we visit Nashville, we’ll have to check out some of those places!
What are some of your guilty pleasures? We like to call them foodie pleasures, hence the name. 🙂
BF: Well… I’ve been on this diet since the New Year and trying to eat really clean… although I sneak Cadbury Chocolate every night. A little chocolate never hurt anyone right?
People who know me best know that I am a fool for a sunny egg on top of anything-brussels, braised short-rib, on top of another sunny egg, burgers, tarte flambe…if there’s a sunny egg you can count me in!
My friend Brian’s Chocolate Cremeux Milkshakes. They are heavenly with a hint of peanut butter. Catch him on a good day and he’ll make you one with banana jam.
Last but not least…this one my kitchen crew helped create. Kobe Beef Hot Dog Poutine Nachos with Trailor Park Cheese, Cotija, and Chiles. Make sure to spiral cut the dog for optimal flavor before layering the flavor. This one is dirty.
FP: Sounds dirty yet so delicious!
What are some of your non-cooking/food related interests and hobbies?
BF: Family, friends, Travel, skateboard, music, entertaining.
FP: If you could jump on an airplane tomorrow, which country/city/region would you visit just for its food?
BF: My wife’s family are from the Philippines so I’ve been lucky to experience and learn a lot about their culture and cuisine. Right now my ultimate trip is to go to the Philippines and study under the best lechon makers in the country so I could master the most perfect crispy skin lechon.
FP: Visiting the Philippines sounds like a awesome trip!
Thank you, Chef Brandon, for your time. We can’t wait to see what the future has in store for you!