Chef Brooke Stockwell shares her past and future

In the culinary world, you know you’ve made it when you no longer need a last name. Such is the case with Chef Brooke, aka Brooke Stockwell, who is one of the region’s fastest rising stars.

Starting her career as a private chef, Chef Brooke moved on to stints as executive chef at Terravant Wine Company, Inn at Morro Bay, and Rotta Winery. In 2013, she served as Chef de Tournant at RX Boiler Room, under the legendary Rick Moonen. From there, she eventually landed at 1880 Hotel and Saloon in Los Alamos, where she was a popular chef whom customers sought out for her unique spin on elegant, simple dishes.

click to enlarge Chef Brooke Stockwell shares her past and future
KICK IT ROOT DOWN: Known simply as “Chef Brooke,” Brooke Stockwell, 31, is a rising star in the Santa Ynez Valley culinary scene. She proudly sports tattoos of beets and Brussels sprouts, foods notoriously shunned by many.

On May 31, Stockwell left her position at the 1880 Hotel and Saloon after being asked to take a position as head chef at K’Syrah Catering in Solvang. The Sun caught up with Chef Brooke to pick her brain about local eateries, reality cooking shows, and how to survive a kitchen disaster. 

Sun: How did you get your start in the culinary world?

Chef Brooke: I grew up in a Jewish foodie family. I thought I would be a great wife and mom, cooking for my family, when I grew up. Food was always part of life. I cooked all the time, and used to show off my skills to friends in high school when they would come over. I went to UCLA at 17 and during that year, my friend told me about culinary school in Santa Barbara. I checked it out and really liked what I saw. I left and never looked back. When it came to my first midterm in culinary school, I took out my notes and suddenly realized I didn’t need it. I absorbed everything like a sponge. At that moment, it was pure affirmation that I made the right decision.

My first job was working for UCLA catering. One of the chefs recommended me for a position with a friend’s catering business. I ended up becoming her sous chef very quickly. Right after that, I got my first job as a private chef. I did that for about six years, at different estates around Montecito. I got a different start in this business than most chefs. I was a private chef, so I was always the one in charge. I was constantly testing my own skills, building my knowledge. I had the responsibility and the creative freedom, from the get-go. I didn’t work my way up in a kitchen. I had a unique experience.

Sun: Can you describe a kitchen disaster you had and how you survived it?

CB: My funniest and craziest disaster story when I was a private chef in Montecito. It was super high end, a very expensive dinner for four people. It was something like $2,000 for staff and food. I had what my client called “yabba dabba doo” steaks. They were big, thick 64-ounce porterhouse steaks, with big bones; big tomahawks. The grill was 30 to 40 feet from the indoor kitchen. I put them on and walked away for a second to check on something. Suddenly I looked and they were completely on fire. It was a roaring, nasty fire. I go to the lady of the house and explain what happened. She said it was OK and told me, “I’ll fix it.” She called a restaurant in Montecito and asked them to sell her four steaks. So we sent someone there and picked up the replacements.

Sun: Do you ever get nervous or intimidated before a big event or working with celebrities? 

CB: I’ve fed a lot of celebrities, so that doesn’t really make me nervous. The only time I get nervous is when it comes to the time crunch, when things have to go out of the kitchen. I have no doubts about my food and my cooking abilities. You can taste the love and passion. I never want to cook when I’m in a bad mood.

Sun: What local chefs and eateries do you like?

CB: I eat at a lot of hole-in-the-wall places and a lot of ethnic food. That way I’m never disappointed. As a chef, it’s difficult because you’re always noticing these little things and you just can’t help it. When I’d go out with my family, they would always make fun of me and sometimes they’d have to say, “Can you keep please keep your thoughts to yourself?”

I love Jeff Olssen at Industrial Eats, Chef Budi Kazali at Ballard Inn, and of course Chef Pink [of Bacon and Brine] is a great friend. My favorite sushi spot is Umami ya in Lompoc. They do a no-rice roll that’s basically a shrimp tempura roll with crab instead of rice, topped with spicy sashimi.

Sun: What do you think of the popularity in cooking shows?

CB: I think it’s funny, when I started getting into food at 18 or 19, it wasn’t as big as it is now. It’s a trip to see that, how people in general are appreciating food. They have a greater appreciation and respect for the lifestyle, art, and devotion a chef gives to their career. I would always watch and wonder what it is like to be on shows like that.

Sun: Will we be seeing you on any cooking shows in the future?

CB: I have been contacted three times in the past by casting producers. I will be on a show that will be shown next year. I can’t really say anything about it yet, but I can tell you it is really hot under those TV lights!

Sun: What’s a simple thing home chefs can do to amp up their home-cooked meals?

CB: If I have a style, I call it “elevated simplicity.” I like to put a fine dining spin on the comfort food we’re all used to. Starting with the freshest high quality ingredients is the best way to add that chef flair to your food. I’m all about highlighting the main ingredient and keeping things lighter and fresher.

Two cool tools I always find myself pulling out are a microplane and an Asian mandolin. Those two tools will really step up your game. If I’m making squash pasta or zucchini noodles, it’s great for slicing. It’s subtle things like that: The way you cut your vegetable; it’s thinking about how food is going to go into your mouth.

I just listen to the food and do what it tells me to do.

Arts and Lifestyle writer Rebecca Rose thinks she could win at least one round of Masterchef. Contact Rebecca at [email protected].

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