Brian Bromwell is hoping that 4 will be his lucky number.
He is, after all, the fourth executive chef to oversee the kitchen at Anton's Taproom & Restaurant since it opened 10 months ago. But if that turnover sounds a bit dramatic, Bromwell is philosophical. He knows that owner Anton Kotar has a reason for everything he does. And he's finding the gig to be a fitness booster. Since he joined the staff at Anton's two months ago, Bromwell has lost 20 pounds.
"It is a very physical job," Bromwell says, "and I'm working a lot harder than I ever have before."
Kotar, a larger-than-life personality with a snappish temper, knows what he wants and expects his staff to meet his expectations. When a previous chef failed to deliver a couple of promised additions to the menu, Kotar all but swept him out the front door.
But the 39-year-old Bromwell is a tough cookie in his own right. "I came somewhat late to the culinary profession," he says. "I didn't get caught up in a lot of the stuff that brings down young chefs."
You know: drink, drugs, women.
Bromwell graduated from the University of Kansas with degrees in French and English, and he planned to start an academic career. He kicked around Europe for a few years (four, actually), and even taught English to German stockbrokers for a while. (Bromwell says he speaks German, French "and a smattering of Italian.")
With a move to New York City in 2002, Bromwell started teaching English and cooking professionally after taking a few culinary classes. "I learned the most from working at the Modern," he says.
That upscale restaurant, located inside the Museum of Modern Art, serves chef Gabriel Kreuther's cuisine from two different menus: one in the stylish dining room overlooking the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden, the other in the more energetic Bar Room. Bromwell trained in the latter's kitchen before moving on to work for celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay at the London NYC hotel. "Gordon has great people working for him," Bromwell says. "It was very exhilarating to be a part of it."
After eight years in New York, the Olathe native was ready to move home. Back in the Kansas City area, he decompressed, then took a job with Jennifer Coniglio, the young restaurateur behind the short-lived Leawood venture Café Roux. The Cajun food was good. Business was not.
"I checked out before the restaurant closed," Bromwell says. "It was clear what direction the restaurant was headed."
After a temporary job with the Carriage Club, Bromwell took a position with chef Linda Duerr at the exclusive River Club, in downtown Kansas City, perhaps the poshest culinary gig in the metro.
"It afforded me a great lifestyle for a time," Bromwell says. "I could have time for hobbies again, including playing the piano and the guitar and teaching myself the blues harmonica. I had time to sit back and smoke a pipe and cigars."
There, he also worked with pastry chef Carter Holton, who convinced him to take a look at Anton's Taproom after Kotar's third chef abruptly departed.
"Yes, I was somewhat concerned with the chef turnover at the restaurant when I met with Anton," Bromwell says. "There are always red flags in a situation like that. But I go into a restaurant showing what I can bring to the table. And Anton was very lucid in explaining to me what he needed and what he wanted me to do. It wasn't that complicated. It's about staying organized and positive."
The first order of business was cutting down the menu - with Kotar's blessing - by at least 30 percent. "We didn't need dishes like steak fingers or pastrami tacos," Bromwell says. "I wanted to focus on the steaks. One of the reasons that I was interested in taking this job is that I like beef. I like big flavors."
Bromwell's tinkering has yielded meaty results with tomatoes, too. The ones planted in the back of the restaurant go into fresh gazpacho each day. And there are now some rotating specials (including a fine "beer can chicken") and a few Southern-influenced vegetable dishes, like collard greens.
Kotar, despite his prickly reputation, has been easy to work with, according to Bromwell: "He challenges you to be your best."
He adds, "The restaurant staff has been really supportive, too. A couple of them have told me, 'We hope you stick around.' I'm taking that as a compliment."