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Everything You Need to Know About the New McCrady’s, According to Sean Brock

He's planning to deliver the "most intense food" of his career

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Erin Perkins is the editor of Eater Carolinas.

Sean Brock is averaging five hours of sleep a night — opening a restaurant will do that to you. On September 29, Charleston's most widely acclaimed chef will release a restaurant that encompasses his entire oeuvre: from the molecular gastronomy of his early days at McCrady's to the Southern-first Husk style that made him a household name across the nation. Brock launches the 18-seat version of McCrady's on Thursday, and it feels a bit like he's opening his life to his guests. This is the food he was meant to cook, in his own words the “most intense food” he's ever created. Here, Brock gives Eater some early insight into the dining room that's on the cusp of changing the dialogue of Charleston's dining scene.

Although Husk management wasn't ready to release images of the interior yet, Eater conducted the following interview in the nascent space and can report that it bears absolutely no resemblance to its former identity as Brock's Mexican restaurant, Minero. Instead of the former booths and tables lining the space, there's now a large counter overlooking the kitchen and a few tables up front. The pressed tin ceilings are restored, matching the shining tiled wall behind the line (pictured above). Ample space for guests create a comfort unique for a fine dining room. At the same time, the overall feeling is sleek, seductive, and yet still very Charleston. But Brock says it best in his own words:

Brock: The idea is, you don't know what to expect — you turn the corner and then — these are the details we're working through — what's the first thing you see? What we've been practicing is that we want to know and be able to help every single minute you're in here. And our goal for this place is to be fun and also as equally relaxing — a stress-free zone.

A possible dish on the in-the-works menu. | Photo: Sean Brock

And you said only 18 seats?

Yes, and it's all custom and hand made.

There will be two servers in the center, a maître d', and a server there [points to tables in the front]. Unless you're sitting at a table, all the food gets delivered from the center. The idea is that the guest sits down, and we're plating and cooking behind the line, and then the food gets dropped in front of you with a sauce and finish.

So, the chefs are running the food?

Ideally, it will be 50/50. Half of your dishes will be run by me or someone in the kitchen. Anyone in the room is allowed to run food. It's not only kitchen or front of house. Basically, we need to run it as fast as possible — so whoever has free hands!

The kitchen is all induction. No stoves or ranges with open flames. It's all very quiet, very efficient, very clean. This was previously the Minero bar, so I had only so much space and knew that we needed to be able to produce a 15 to 18 course meal, so it's challenging, very challenging.

Our idea is to feed you as many servings, I don't want to call them courses, because some things might be just a bite, as many servings as possible in a two hour and fifteen minute period. We thought about that for many hours and days, because I think once you start to approach the two-and-a-half-hour mark or the three-hour mark, you're either wasted or full and fidgety.

Another possible dish on the in-the-works menu. | Photo: Sean Brock

This experience is based on me eating around the world, me cooking around the world, and 10 years at McCrady's. We're thinking about every single possible thing and every variable to determine what will make the guest the most relaxed and give them the best time. We don't want people leaving and falling sleep. We've thought about that every minute — we're writing down what happens at four minutes, ten minutes, twelve minutes — it's that intense. It won't feel that way for the guests though. The idea is that if we can control as much of your experience as possible, then you don't have to think about anything. You walk in and you sit down and the meal starts. That's cool.

We're dedicated to taking care of you while you're here. That's what makes it special.

Is that the atmosphere you're trying to cultivate in the dining room? Like the most sophisticated, fun dinner party ever, but chill?

Yeah, but also intriguing and stimulating. The most important thing to me is for people to relax and not think about anything other than the fun you're about to have. We're trying to create an environment to take you away for a moment and allow you to really enjoy eating and drinking and in a unique way.

How often will the menu change?

Do you want to see the menu?

[Brock pulls out a menu. It's covered in hand-written notes. We couldn't get a photo, but you can see research dishes on Brock's Instagram account.]

You know you get those certain dishes in restaurants and you become so happy? Like when you eat the tomato tart at FIG, no matter how many times you've eaten it, you become the happiest, most stress-free person in the world.

You can see these 18 servings, and those change five or six times a day now. We're testing dishes 25 or 26 times. That's intense. The reason I tell you that, is because that takes an enormous amount of time, so once we get that dish right after 30 tries, it's going to stick around for a little bit. It will be here for at least a month. Once we have these where they need to be, then we'll start working on new dishes. It could take two weeks or it could take two days. Some of these dishes took a day — only two tries — but some we're still trying to figure out.

What we're trying to do, is that if it's on this menu, it needs to be beyond extraordinary. You have to push yourself that far to not allow yourself any sort of wiggle room on anything. Every plate has to be like, "whoa." You know you get those certain dishes in restaurants and you become so happy? Like when you eat the tomato tart at FIG, no matter how many times you've eaten it, you become the happiest, most stress-free person in the world. That's the emotion I'm chasing. You get that all over the world, even if it's a cheeseburger or a perfect french fry. When you taste something that's powerful and moving — we're trying to do that 15 to 18 times in a meal. It's a lot of thinking, it's a lot of pressure, but that's why we are doing it, because we enjoy that.

This menu feels a little more Southern influenced than the last menu at McCrady's, like the leather britches.

That dish got nixed.

Well, the watermelon, shrimp, paw paw, and green peanuts.

This menu is me. These are things that I enjoy cooking, handling, and sharing. Those are my favorite things. These ingredients mean a lot to me. Once you start involving that in cooking and serving guests, there's this positivity that's really fantastic. The theory is to collect all the things that we love when they are perfect and do as little as possible to it and let the guest see that ingredient and appreciate that ingredient the way we love it and try to convince them to love it as much as we love it — and still be creative, interesting and forward-thinking.

This menu is me. These are things that I enjoy cooking, handling, and sharing. Those are my favorite things.

Music plays a large part in your restaurants, what will that sound like?

You're listening to it. [Wild Cub, The XX, and Massive Attack play during the interview] I've spent just as much time on the playlist as I have some of the dishes [Brock laughs]. I redid it this morning, and I'll keep redoing it every day until it's right. I've been to restaurants where music has ruined the experience for me. I've been to restaurants where the music has enhanced the experience. So, to me, that's very important.

When I go home at night, I spend an hour working on the playlist. When I wake up in the morning I spend an hour working on the playlist. It will take time. Songs are complex. They have highs and lows and all that has to fit. The energy has to be just right. You can't fall asleep like you're at a spa, but you can't be distracted by the music.

What will your servers be wearing?

We don't want the people who are serving you to feel like servers. No aprons. No server uniforms. Because, this is more than just a restaurant. We have your attention for this amount of time and we want you to be as comfortable as possible. We purposely said we don't want the servers to feel, act, or look like servers. And it's the same thing with the cooks in the kitchen — we're just hosting a dinner party.

We have these cool custom seersucker pants and vests. It's stylish, simple, very Billy Reid-ish. It's not too much. It's not a suit. It's not a server uniform.

Sean Brock Provided

I ask that question because I feel it dictates what the guests wear and the experience.

If everyone is in suits, that's ok. Personally, I like that, but not everyone does. We met it in the middle. You can wear whatever you want. I would come in here, and I might take my ball cap off [Brock laughs], but I wouldn't feel uncomfortable wearing it. I don't want people to worry about that, because then it becomes too much of a special occasion. I mean it should be a special occasion, but not a special occasion that you only do once a year. And that's why we are making it so affordable.

We really should be charging a lot more for this meal, but we want everyone to come. The more people we get to share this with, the happier we are. We made the conscious decision to make this as cheap as we could without going out of business. Most meals like this are double the price. If you look at similar menus, we're basically half price.

Why did you go with ticket service Tock?

It's attractive for the same reason Uber is attractive. Like, now when I go somewhere and have to pay for a taxi, it's a pain. We're turning into that sort of society. We shouldn't have to worry about so many things, we should have people taking care of us, and we should have people worrying about those things for us. We all work very, very hard, and when it's time to relax, it's time to relax. That's my favorite thing about Tock — you walk in and then you leave. That relieves stress for me and that's one of our main focuses, so it made sense.

The meal is going to cost the same, whether you pay before or after. It makes sense to me to pay before and not worry about. The transaction of having to look at the bill and worrying about it, and reacting, we don't want any of that. I love the idea of finishing your meal, getting your gift bag, and leaving — that's very relaxing to me.

Also, what's cool about Tock, is that everyone has a fair chance at those 18 seats. I can't have six friends come into town unexpectedly and plop them down. I actually can't do that. I think it's very fair to everyone. Right now, we're releasing seats a month in advance, but we're still looking at that. I think a month is good, but we may change that.

McCrady's accepts 18 reservations an evening right now, Wednesday through Sunday. Brock thinks they will potentially move up to two turns an evening. Check Tock for available seats.

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