Readers have told us that they enjoy our periodic in-depth stories on Brookland businesses, so we plan on continuing our interviews on a regular basis and hopefully develop them into an ongoing series. To kick off the series,we spoke with a young lady who most of know from her delicious offerings at Brookland’s Finest. Chef Shannan for sure has left her mark in the expanding Brookland culinary scene. Her menu represents a successful combination of comfort food, paired with creativity and innovation, all based on seasonal ingredients. We asked Shannan a few questions to give us and you the opportunity to learn a little bit more about her:
1) Chef Shannan, tell us a little bit about yourself, and what inspired you in your culinary career.
I was born in to a large Italian-American family in Kansas City, MO, and gravitated to the culinary arts as a very young child when I would cook alongside my grandmother. During grade-school, my family relocated to Valdosta, GA, a small town just north of the Florida border. It was there that I first became exposed to an appreciation for food that inspired me to pursue a career as a chef. Although I do not consider myself a ‘southern chef,’ growing up in the south undoubtedly informs my approach to cooking.
After high school, I moved to Athens, GA and obtained a Bachelors of Science in Community Health and Wellness. This degree allowed me to study nutrition and the affects food have on our bodies. Athens’ progressive culinary scene enabled me to gain important experience in a variety of kitchens while pursuing my undergraduate degree.
After graduation, I moved to Colorado to attend the Culinary Arts School at the Art Institute of Colorado. I focused my course of study on the theory and technical execution of classic and modern French techniques. While in school, I worked at a number of restaurants, ranging from fine dining to fast casual. Upon completing my culinary degree, I settled in as a Sous Chef at AIX, a fine dining French restaurant in Denver, CO. In a few short months, I was promoted to Chef de Cuisine.
In 2009, I was hired by the Matchbox Food Group to help open the Capitol Hill location. Since joining Matchbox, I became integral to the operation. I helped open and design the menu for Ted’s Bulletin, and I was promoted to the Culinary Board within the Matchbox Food Group.
I left the Matchbox food group in January 2014 to pursue my goal in opening/owning her own restaurant. With partners, Tony Tomelden and John Solomon, this dream has come to fruition. Brookland’s Finest Bar and Kitchen is a neighborhood restaurant based on classic American cuisine.
Brookland’s Finest has become one of the busiest casual eateries in The Brookland neighborhood of Washington DC, but we pride ourselves on the fact that our volume does not undermine our commitment to quality. Through my 15+ years in the restaurant industry, I have worked with many different Chefs and am able to take these experiences and develop my own style of cooking. I am happy to have a career that I actually consider more of a hobby and passion rather than a daily grind. I show this enthusiasm and experience through my food every day.
2) What initiated the collaboration between yourself and the Brookland’s Finest Proprietors?
I have been friends with Tony T. for years. When my husband and I first moved to DC in 2008 we lived off of H St. we didn’t know many people. So we probably spent more time and money than was healthy hanging out at The Pug. As with many great collaborations, I guess you could say that the idea to start Brookland’s Finest was inspired by whiskey! We first started talking seriously about the idea of opening a restaurant together about 4 years ago. Tony grew up in and still lives in Brookland, so he was the driving force behind the location. It’s always been a dream of his to open up a restaurant in the neighborhood, and now that I’ve spent more time in Brookland I completely understand why.
3) What convinced you to join the BF Team?
Like most chefs, I’ve always dreamed of opening my own restaurant. When I was presented with an opportunity to step out of a corporate structured kitchen and into a space that I could help design from the ground up I couldn’t turn it down. Getting to do it with such experienced and respected partners and friends made the decision that much easier.
4) What was your approach when creating the menu?
When I’m creating the menu for Brookland’s Finest I think about what my friends and I like to eat when we’re out for a low key evening. I like to keep the menu seasonal and simple using traditional techniques that allow the ingredients to shine through by not over complicating the dish.
5) What is your personal favorite dish?
My favorite dishes are the cannolis and the spaghetti and meatballs which are both based on my grandmother’s recipes. When I taste those dishes, I’m immediately reminded of being 7 years old and sitting with my older sister at my grandparent’s kitchen table.
6) Is there anything else that you would like to share with our readers?
I would like to thank the neighborhood for being so welcoming and supportive of what we’re trying to do. Getting to come to work every day and serve such awesome neighbors is really gratifying.