A chef is a study in passion
Like a lot of people in the industry, Brown’s love for food developed at an early age. As soon as he learned to read, he was digging through his mother’s Betty Crocker cookbook from which he made a variety of adventurous dishes for his family. He got his first restaurant job at the age of 12, worked for his family’s lumber company at 16, then studied business administration and international economics in college where he also spent time working in a kitchen. Before moving on to graduate school, Brown decided to bike across the country and evaluate his life goals.
“I decided to write a list about what I wanted from work. I didn’t know what I wanted to do for work, but I wanted to know what I wanted from work. What do I expect to get from my job,” he said. “I wrote that I wanted to work with my hands. I wrote that I wanted something with a career trajectory. I also wanted to be able to sustain myself, I wasn’t necessarily looking to make a lot of money, and I wanted it to be something that if I was successful at that I could be a mentor to other people.”
Realizing that life as a chef offered all of that, Brown decided that graduate school wasn’t right for him. Instead, he went on to work at and lead some of the most prestigious kitchens in the Twin Cities. At the now closed Porter & Frye, Brown ran a kitchen that featured some of the best known culinary names in the Twin Cities, including the likes of James Winberg (Travail), Erik Anderson (Sea Change, Nashville’s The Catbird Seat, Brut), Josh Habiger (Sea Change, The Catbird Seat), Jamie Malone (Sea Change, Brut), and Doug Flicker (Piccolo, Esker Grove) to name a few.
It was at Porter & Fry that Steven Brown first met Mike Brown (Travail). After moving home from Arizona (where he worked the famous Binkley’s), Mike Brown found it hard to find work. “When I came back to town 9 years ago there were no jobs, especially for an out-of-towner. [Steven Brown] gave me a job he didn't really have open to give,” Mike said.
Mike got a permanent spot on Chef Brown’s line a few weeks later, but was still “broke as a joke” after being out of work for more than a month. Brown asked Mike how much cash he needed. “I said like $300 to make rent. We then walked to Wells Fargo downtown and he pulled $300 out of his own account and said, ‘Pay me back when you can.’ I worked for him every day he'd let me and eventually paid it back over a month or so.”
That was easily the best $300 loan, Brown said, because he considers Mike to be more of a close friend than he does a mentee -- which is how he talks about many of the people who claim him as their mentor.