With Brut!’s fruitful opening at the beginning of the year (read my review here), the restaurant has made a big footprint in Sai Ying Pun. It’s creative and quirky yet authentic, with a focus on natural wines and creative sharing plates, where we see seemingly unimaginable ingredients combined to great effect.
I sat down with Brut!’s founder, Camille Glass, to discuss the evolution of the restaurant, reflecting on her own culinary journey.
Your team is quite international, and it seems everybody has some type of culinary or wine-related background. How do you decide what goes on the menu?
We’re so proud to have such an international team blending together Hong Kong, America, South Africa and France. We try our best to reflect our diversity on our menu, which we taste all together and discuss as a team. We trial our new creations as our specials, which rotate frequently. If our customers love it as much as we do, then we’ll put it on for the main menu for a time.
Brut!’s food is a reflection of funky culinary techniques, creativity and nostalgia, all the while keeping elegance at the forefront of every dish that goes out. Our menu is also influenced by our wider community, which consists of our family and friends, who are a huge inspiration in our daily lives and who are constantly surprising us with flavours and traditions from their home countries.
Looking back to your culinary experience in France, what was your fondest memory and how did your interest expand into natural wines?
I have a deep-rooted affection for culinary arts, and if I hadn’t gone to school in Paris, it wouldn’t have been the same experience. My fondest memory was eating my first ramen egg in a little Japanese restaurant just outside of the Musée du Louvre. That egg pretty much single-handedly launched my decision to move to Asia! When you work in the food and beverage industry for as long as I have and you come across a new flavour or ingredient, it changes your world. This was also my experience with natural wines, which blew me away with textures and palates that were wild and unfamiliar. It was something I had never had before, and I fell deeply in love with them.
How do you find these natural wines for the restaurant?
Through a group of wine suppliers I have worked with for the past several years and researching up-to-date blogs. I’m grateful to have found like-minded, trustworthy people who share my philosophy and help me to find these wines. I’m also on the lookout for interesting finds when I travel, looking for the wow factor in drinkability and excitement.
Is it a challenge to match your menu to such unique wines? What’s exciting you in the world of wine today?
Creativity has always been at the forefront of what we do at Brut! In a space where the wines are so wild and playful, it only feels natural that the food should align. While cheeseboards are tempting to have as an option, we decided to leave them off the new menu to make room for our latest menu creations to be enjoyed.
What excites me in the world of wine today is the curiosity and forward-thinking winemakers who are paving the way for light-hearted, delicious wines. We’re seeing a lot of these bottles coming out of South Africa, Australia and America at the moment.
What is orange wine and how is it different from red, white and rosé?
An orange wine is a white wine being treated like a red wine. In the first phase of fermentation, the skin is left on the grape. This technique is known as skin contact. The skin bleeds colour and texture and gives the wine depth. It is absolutely trending all over the New World, and we’re happy to be able to pour it by the glass here at Brut!
Can you remember the moment you decided to become a chef? What inspired you and what obstacles did you have to overcome?
I don’t know that I ever wanted to be what we refer to today as a chef. It was more about the way that food brought people together. I remember loving the feeling of plating up my mom’s food on my dad’s beautiful pottery that he would make from his studio at the Virginia Museum [of Fine Arts] when I was kid. My parents used to always tease me because I would put together the strangest ingredients like my famous “anchovy paste on blueberry waffles”, and as a child, I would try to get the whole neighbourhood to eat them!
The biggest challenge that I’ve had to overcome was finding a way to be my own person in an industry that is so often quite militant and unforgiving. Brut! has given me the opportunity to bring laughter, fun and creativity to what has oftentimes felt intimidating or unapproachable.
You’ve lived in Hong Kong for six years. Which Asian ingredients inspire you the most and why?
Two ingredients: salted egg yolk and the fresh garlic and scallion sauce used for poached and drunken chicken. The salted egg yolk has a texture and consistency that is so unique. The fresh garlic and scallion sauce is versatile, and you can use it for any dish to give immediate flavour. Frankly, I would put that stuff on just about anything! I’m so grateful to have George [Kwok] as my partner. Since he’s from Hong Kong, he introduces me to new, local ingredients I’ve never had on the regular.
Tell me about your latest dishes at Brut! – what surprises do you have in store?
We’re thrilled to introduce Steve Zylbersztejn as our newest member of the Brut! family. Steve is of French-Israeli origin, and his reputation in Paris reflects his entrepreneurial nature and creative energy. He will be joining George to inject an interesting mixture of local and French techniques to our menu. Our latest addition brought to the menu by Steve is the scallop carpaccio with white chocolate shavings and sprinkled cayenne. The presentation is elegant and illustrates the breakdown of raw ingredients, which is what we pride ourselves on. We’ve also begun making kombucha in-house, with our first successful watermelon-basil batch. Lastly, we’re working on a brunch menu. We plan to launch the menu this coming fall, and we’re doing things a bit differently than before, trialling a Cajun-influenced menu.
What advice would you offer to those wanting to open a restaurant or bar?
Someone once told me, “You’re a blend of elegance and rock ‘n’ roll, so whatever you put forward into the world will resonate, as long as you stay true to that” – and I’ve stuck with it ever since. Try not to deviate too much from your strengths and do what feels natural. If you want to get into this industry, do it with your whole heart, fill your passion and don’t expect anything else, because you deserve it and Hong Kong deserves it.
Brut!, 1 Second Street, Sai Ying Pun, 3460 5863
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