Chef Brad Albers is charged with keeping everyone fat and happy at Eddie V's in Dallas, a job at which he seems to excel. Originally from Dallas, he attended the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco followed by an unplanned German-language immersion program in Switzerland, where he learned about French cuisine, kick-ass vacation schedules and Dutch ladies. He's the subject of this week's three-part interview. Check back tomorrow and Friday for more.
How did you initially get into cooking? Growing up in Dallas, my parents were really busy. My dad worked all the time and my mom would burn water. And so I learned to cook out of necessity. It was, "Here's five bucks, now go to McDonalds," or go cook something. I had to fend for myself, so I learned to cook.
What led you to culinary school in San Francisco? I was living here in Dallas and worked as a bus boy at the Hard Rock Cafe when it first opened. I was in a band and we all lived together. It was one of the greatest times of my life.
What was the name of the band? "It." It rocks. Dig it. Chicks dig it. That was it. Haven't you heard of it?
Yeah, I've heard of it. Exactly. You get the idea. It can go on forever.
Back to culinary school ... I was in a terrible car accident here and my band broke up. About that time, my current sous chef, Kelly Cameron, who I've known since I was 12 years old, swung through town after spending time cooking in Hawaii, and he was on his way to culinary school. Basically, I just wanted to get out of town and San Francisco was a lot of fun.
How was life in San Francisco as a burgeoning chef? In my mind San Francisco was, and still is, the best food city in the nation. There's always been so much going on there. It's right in the heartland of the best seafood and produce. All these ethnic diversities are going on everywhere.
And from there, how did you land your first job as a chef in Switzerland? Literally the day I graduated from culinary school, I went to a couple of parties and then I went to see Joanne Lockley, who runs a professional chef placement agency in San Francisco -- she's still there actually -- and I interviewed with her. I had just got out of a long-term relationship and was just done. I told her I wanted to move to Japan, Australia or somewhere in Europe. She said, "How about Switzerland?" A couple of weeks later I had the paperwork done and was on my way.
I read that the job was in Islisberg, Switzerland. I looked it up and... Did you find it?
Yeah, it has a small Wikipedia page, but, only 500 people live there. Was it a big tourist town? No. (Laughing)
Then who did you cook for? It was a hotel restaurant run by Rainer Stutz, who at the time was the youngest Master Chef in Switzerland. He was a great guy, loved everything American. Drove a Harley and Chevy Blazer. So I worked for him at his hotel that had three restaurants. I was the vegetable guy. I peeled a lot of carrots and potatoes.
Were you homesick? Terribly. I missed things like barbeque and Mexican food, silly things. And no one there spoke English -- no one in the kitchen, not even the family I stayed with. I signed up for a year and after a few months I told them, "If you don't think I'm doing a good job, I can leave."
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How long before you learned to speak German? After nine months it really started to click -- I started to dream in German. By the time I left three years later, I was fluent.
Did you travel around Europe while there? In Switzerland you get five weeks paid vacation per year, two in the winter and three in the summer. And Swiss girls were stuck up, but the Dutch girls were a little more loose. So, I went up there and started dating a Dutch girl. I also went to the Greek Isles, but, I loved Barcelona. It's awesome. The food and the energy. Everything shuts down at 2 p.m. and everyone goes home and takes a nap. Then everything stays open until 4 a.m. Barcelona was an awesome city.
Switching gears: Last week it was in the news that the Darden Group, whom is the world's largest full-service restaurant company and owns Red Lobster, Olive Garden, The Capital Grille and LongHorn Steakhouse, bought Eddie V's for $59 million. Do you think this will have much of an impact on this particular restaurant? I don't think so. The deal started here in Dallas. The Darden Group had been looking for three years for a new seafood brand. They couldn't find the right fit. They were in town about eight weeks ago and came in here for a meal on a Wednesday night. The place was packed, looked great. The food was off the charts and the next day they called our corporate office. For $59 million they could have developed their own seafood restaurant, but the reason they liked us was because of the way we do things and our culture. It's very in-line with their mandate. They don't buy struggling companies. They buy companies that are successful and profitable.
Do you think your customers will notice any differences? No, our motto has always been "Best today, better tomorrow." The only thing that is going to change is that we're going to be better. The infrastructure has always been unsurpassed. Our president and CEO Jim VanDercook has stayed on; he's going to lead the company. And John Carver, who originally hired me, he's also moving to their corporate headquarters and nothing changes unless it gets by him first.