Ian Clark, chef of BRU: "Whatever happened to cooks being able to execute a perfect braise?"
This is part one of my interview with Ian Clark, exec chef and head brewer of BRU Handbuilt ales & eats; part two of our chat will run in this space tomorrow.
More than a decade ago, when he was still in culinary school, Ian Clark mapped out his future career goals, one of which included vehemently adhering to the six-month plan. "I wanted to move to a different city and a different kitchen every six months so I could see and experience as much as I could," says Clark, today the chef-owner-brewer of BRU handbuilt ales & eats, a restaurant and brewery in Boulder that he opened in June.
And to his credit, the 33-year-old chef and self-described "beer snob," who was born in Maine and spent his high-school years sneaking off to the apple orchards to buy fresh-pressed cider that he would ferment into alcohol, stayed true to his quest, graduating from the New England Culinary Institute and cooking, for six months at a time, in restaurants, bed-and-breakfasts and inns in Vermont, Maine, California, Hawaii and Boulder before eventually kicking the six-month habit to settle in Boulder for the long haul.
Clark, who says that he's always been infatuated with vocations that require the use of his hands, got his first job at sixteen, making sandwiches, and while he admits that he "fell in love with the intensity of the line before falling in love with food," multiple years in different kitchens have changed his tune. "I've learned to love food more and the adrenaline less. I don't have to be the fastest guy on the planet; I like to move slow," says Clark.
But it wasn't always that way. When Clark was living in Hawaii, he had his eyeballs set on cooking in a specific kitchen: Chef Mavro, Honolulu's top-rated fine-dining restaurant. "I knew this is where I wanted to work, and for six weeks straight, I showed up every single day at the back door with a résumé. I was determined to get a job there, and I wasn't going to stop until I did," recalls Clark. Forty résumés later, George Mavrothalassitis, the chef-proprietor, finally caved and allowed Clark into his galley. "I did a stage, he hired me that same night, and I worked there for six months, because, you know, that was the plan," quips Clark, who then went on to cook at the Ritz-Carlton in Laguna Niguel, California. His tenure? Six months.
Clark had spent some time in Boulder earlier in his career, cooking at Q's in the Hotel Boulderado, and in 2002, he returned to the college town and to Q's as a p.m. line cook. And that's when his six-month subscription ran out. "I started dabbling in home brewing, and I met a girl," he says. The "girl," now his wife, is Bryce Clark, the founder of Hatch Boulder, a marketing, brand development and PR company. "Once I met her -- actually, I stalked her -- I kind of gave up on the six-month plan, plus I wanted to really focus on my career," Clark says. After Q's, he landed a sous-chef position at Jax in Boulder and then became the chef of Rhumba, now Centro, where he was the executive chef, and continued to brew beer out of his home garage. "I started taking home brewing a lot more seriously, and really saw it as an extension of cooking," says Clark.