story by LIESEL SCHMIDT | photography by LUCIA SMITH
Like most chefs of a certain age who have seen Burnt or Kitchen Confidential, Brian Rowe would have Bradley Cooper play him in the movie of his life, because—well, it’s Bradley Cooper. Is there really an explanation needed? Admittedly, it would be an interesting watch, regardless of who was playing him. Rowe grew up spending summers in the kitchens of his family’s restaurants in and around Annapolis, then spent six years as an Army Ranger. Now, his life may no longer have the high-pressure situations of Army missions, but he’s found excitement in the place he loves most: the kitchen. As Executive Chef of Junction Bakery, he shows his incredible skill and innate talent with every plate he puts out.
VIP: How long have you been a chef?
BR: I’ve been cooking my whole life, but professionally about 12 years as a chef.
VIP: What first interested you in food and working in restaurants?
BR: My great-grandmother used to cook constantly: chicken pot pie, beef stew, vegetable crab soup... I would sit next to her in a chair and she would explain everything she was doing. As I grew older, I found that I love the “kitchen culture.” It’s a place where everyone gets a shot and you’re judged on your tangible skills, not a piece of paper that says you test well.
VIP: When did you become the chef at Junction Bakery?
BR: I came into the Rex Management/Landini Group in December of 2019 to help with the opening of our Capitol Hill location and the subsequent expansion of the Junction brand.
VIP: Who were the biggest influences on your career?
BR: Anthony Bourdain. I’ve always loved his energy. Reading Kitchen Confidential really brought my love of the kitchen culture out as a young man.
VIP: Who’s your favorite chef on TV?
BR: Marcus Samuelson. He always has kept true to himself and has never bent to the mainstream.
VIP: Who would you most want to cook for (dead or alive, historical figure, celebrity, personal acquaintance, etc)?
BR: I like to cook for anyone that will let me; it’s my love language. But to choose one person, I’d have to say Anthony Bourdain. Anthony inspired my generation of cooks to embrace the “degenerate” label placed on most cooks and chefs at that time. He came through the trenches and gave a generation of cooks the pride that we all now take in our culture. Even throughout his rise to stardom, he always kept that respect.
VIP: What’s your favorite food?
BR: Pizza. I love all pizza, but my current favorite is Detroit style.
VIP: What is your favorite kitchen tool?
BR: Knives. There are so many different types and each one has a very specific purpose. I love their practicality. However, my favorite is my first kitchen knife—and it’s nothing fancy, just an old Wusthof eight-inch chef knife.
VIP: What is your least favorite thing to make?
BR: Whole roasted fish over an open fire. When we were camping about a year and a half ago, Noe Landini and I wanted to do something fun and cool for our group, so we decided to get these giant branzini and roast them over open fire. It was a terrible idea! They took over an hour to cook halfway, and then they still wouldn’t cook without burning the skin. It was a disaster!
VIP: What do you feel was your hardest thing to master?
BR: Myself. Discipline is paramount in our industry, and you need to be able to conduct yourself and your staff in a very disciplined fashion. It can be extremely difficult to master that degree of discipline.
VIP: If you were trapped on a desert island, what three things would you take?
BR: My Kindle and Kindle Unlimited subscription, a sharp knife and my dogs.
VIP: If there was one piece of advice that you could give to a younger version of yourself, what would it be?
BR: Keep going and never give up. The juice is worth the squeeze.
VIP: If you could work at any restaurant in the world for one week, where would it be and why?
BR: Nowhere specific, but I've always wanted to work at one of the small mussel bars in Bruges, Belgium. I just love those places, but it's hard to put into words why I love them so much. There’s a simplicity to them that I doubt you could find here in the US.