Ready for takeoff: Ambitious projects have chef flying high
If Steve Brown was a pilot, all the collision alarms would be going off in the cockpit right now.
This fall, Brown plans to open restaurants in Chula Vista and Barrio Logan, a catering company and a culinary internship program — all while running his weekly fine-dining pop-up dinner series known as Cosecha.
How will he pull it off?
“Sleep is for the dead,” said Brown, who opened the first of his new ventures, Tempº by Cosecha restaurant in Chula Vista, on Sept. 19. “I have ADD, so I’m always going nonstop. It’s just the way I am. I gotta do it while I’m young. Energy-wise, it’s all downhill from here.”
Since Brown returned to his childhood hometown of Imperial Beach from L.A. last year, he’s been laying the foundation for his brand mega-launch by building relationships with local farmers, chefs, ranchers, designers and diners. Now he’s ready for takeoff and hopes the turbulence that brought him back to San Diego last year is finally behind him.
Brown, 37, is an ambitious man, but 20 years ago he was a self-described lazy “arrogant little s**thead.” Lacking inspiration after high school in San Bernardino, he joined an overseas program where he worked as a hotel housekeeper in Germany. But when his boss found him sleeping in the rooms instead of cleaning them, he was banished to the hotel’s kitchen to wash dishes.
“It was the worst day of my life and it changed my life,” he recalled. “I met my best friend in the dish pit and after a few days in the kitchen, I fell in love with it. I haven’t left since.”
When Brown describes life in the kitchen he says it’s “like pirates doing ballet.”
“You have the most crude and rude things going on but when it comes down to the food and the plate it’s very elegant. I love that contradiction,” he said.
After two years in Germany, he moved home to L.A., where by age 22 he had both a culinary degree from Le Cordon Bleu and a newborn daughter. With a family to feed, he couldn’t afford to intern in Michelin-starred restaurants, so he found a line cook job in La Quinta and gradually worked his way up the chef ladder, mostly at fine-dining restaurants in L.A.
In mid-2015, he opened his dream restaurant, Gardner Junction in West Hollywood, but it closed after just four months due to partnership troubles. Devastated, he retreated in February 2016 to Imperial Beach, where his parents had once lived and recently retired to.
“But after four months, I got the fine dining itch again and my depression went away,” he said, adding that he needed to find way to make fine dining pencil out financially. The answer was high-end, one-night pop-ups in borrowed restaurant space.
In July 2016, he launched Cosecha, offering prix-fixe multicourse pop-ups from San Diego to San Francisco. Cosecha means “harvest” in Spanish, chosen because Brown harvests all of his own produce, mostly at Wild Willow Farm & Education Center in Imperial Beach.
The concept was an instant smash in dining-centric L.A. and San Francisco, but it has taken time to build a following in San Diego. Winning the culinary competition in 2016 at KAABOO Del Mar helped (he returned as a judge in 2017). So has a recent partnership with Japan’s Wagyu beef farmers, who hand-picked him as a culinary representative and importer for their prized meat.
“I’m the only guy doing Japanese Wagyu in San Diego at this level. I’m going all in,” he said.
Brown’s first restaurant venture, Tempº by Cosecha, opened last month in Chula Vista. It serves dinner and weekend brunch and is the permanent home for Cosecha’s local pop-ups as well as the soon-to-open Cosecha Catering Co. At the end of this year, he’ll open Bar Logan by Cosecha, a restaurant/bar in Barrio Logan designed by Tecture.
To control labor costs, Brown is also co-developing with Wild Willow Farm a stage program. The six-week “soil to plate” internships will not only teach young chefs cooking and plating techniques, but also farming and harvesting.
What else is on Brown’s plate? One priority is weekend time with his now-15-year-old daughter, who lives with her mom in Chino Hills. Another is feeding the insatiable appetite of his 9,500 Instagram followers with fresh food photos.
Although Brown may be brand ambassador for Cosecha, he stresses that he’s just the leader of a strong team.
“A chef wants to do everything himself, but I’ve learned that you have to delegate and surround yourself with good people. I’ve got some of the best,” he said.
Up, up and away
Cosecha: Hosts weekly pop-up multicourse dinners of eight to 22 courses for $160-$300 from Chula Vista to San Francisco.
Tempº by Cosecha: Newly opened 40-seat “farm-driven modern American” restaurant at 277 Third Ave. in Chula Vista. Serves dinner Tuesdays-Saturdays and “boozy” brunch on weekends. Small plates menu ranges from $18-$30.
Cosecha Catering: Headquartered at Tempº by Cosecha in Chula Vista, this company will specialize in seasonal produce and specialty meats.
Bar Logan by Cosecha: This 60-seat restaurant/bar designed by Tecture will open at the end of 2017 at 2163 Logan Ave. in Barrio Logan.
Wild Willow Farm stage program: This fall, Cosecha will partner with nonprofit Wild Willow Farm & Education Center in Imperial Beach on a chef-training/internship program. Participants in the six-week, unpaid program will learn how to plant, grow and harvest produce and then how to prepare, cook and serve it at Brown’s restaurants.
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