As The Brown Hotel‘s new executive chef, 43-year-old Josh Bettis has a multi-part plan: contemporize the menu at The English Grill; maximize local food resources; and leave the Hot Brown exactly as it is.
That might not sound terribly ambitious, but the devil truly resides in the details. Maneuvering the foodservice program at a historic hotel on even a modestly different course is a challenge when the last guy at the tiller, Laurent Geroli, was a solid captain.
Bettis, who has been on the job since Nov. 25, will have to win over his staff, teach them his ways, and establish new standards that may or may not build on those Geroli had insisted on during his six years here.
The good news is Bettis relishes that challenge and has been through it before, cooking for 18 years in hotels as far away as Ireland, Miami and, most recently Scottsdale, Ariz., where he was at Montelucia Resort and Spa, a stunner of a joint. (Click here to see fancy photos.)
On a recent afternoon, when snow was falling outside, I asked Bettis if he regretted moving from warmer climes to undertake a new job at the Brown.
Josh Bettis: I grew up outside of Chicago, so this isn’t unusual to me. But it’s been a long time since I’ve lived with it. I’m sure I’ll adjust.
Insider Louisville: Don’t expect that of our local drivers. They don’t like snow in any amount.
JB: You just take it easy. It’s not hard.
IL: Speaking of taking it easy, which is something you’ll not get to do anytime soon, talk about what you want to do as the new executive chef at The Brown Hotel.
JB: One of the good thing about this job is that the hotel is doing great. It’s going in the right direction. This is a tough business, but this place is doing well.
As far as the food, I want to tighten up the cuisine a little bit, give it a brush up.
IL: Does that mean tweak it with your own twists or takes on it?
JB: Yeah, but it also means I want to see the English Grill become something else, a more inviting restaurant that’s not just for special occasions only. I want customers to come here for the cuisine. I know that’s kind of vague, but I have a good idea of what I’d like.
IL: Will that be hard to do?
JB: It’ll take time, but I think we can achieve that because we’ve got a good, young, ambitious team. My job is to steer everyone in the right direction.
IL: How did you get into cooking in restaurants?
JB: It’s a long story that wasn’t too pleasing to my parents at first. I got a bachelor’s from the University of the Ozarks in Clarksville, Ark., and I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. Restaurants sounded interesting, so with a bachelor degree in hand, I took a job washing dishes.
JB: Yes, and like I said, my parents weren’t excited. But I’d always been interested in food and restaurants. I always wanted to know what was going on behind those doors. So it made sense that I might try it. So I went to the Scottsdale Culinary Institute, focused on my studies and worked. Then I started traveling a lot and working different hotels. My time in Ireland, man, that was great.
IL: So what made you pick Louisville out of other jobs you looked for?
JB: A big reason is because Louisville has become a foodie town. It’s more and more progressive every year, and I thought, “I’d like to contribute to that, to be a part of it.” It’s a very exciting time here culinary-wise; it’s making its mark nationally, and I want to be part of that.
IL: Had a chance to try any restaurants?
JB: Believe it or not, no, not yet. I’ve only been here a few weeks. Right now my days are simple: I come here and I work, and then I go home. My wife, Summer, cooks for me, which is the best meal I get to have, the greatest company I can ever have at dinner. She really can cook.
But I’ve heard about a lot of restaurants I want to try, so I’ll definitely be eating out more the longer I’m here. I’m looking forward to that.