Brad Leone: Chef, author, food adventurer
We recently linked up with Brad for a seafood extravaganza in Freeport, Maine. After sharing some food and some laughs, we connected with Brad to hear what he's got going on ahead of his book launch.
Hey Brad, Thanks for taking the time to sit down with the DECKED team. We are stoked to have you as a pro team member and thought that this would be a great time to introduce you to the rest of the DECKED crew.
You've made quite the name for yourself in the cooking world, how did you get into it? Was it something you learned from your parents? Did you go to school for it?
A little bit of both, actually. Both of my parents were really good cooks and I had some great meals growing up. The problem back then, however, was that we didn’t have much money or access to great ingredients. My dad was a fisherman and a hunter so we were lucky that we came across good meat that way but my mom had to use whatever she found at the grocery store on sale. This is what really got me interested in gardening and growing my own food and eventually learning to forage, and hunting and fishing remains an important part of my life.
When did you first start working in the culinary world and what was your first big break in the industry?
I started out by working at local delis, catering companies and greasy spoons and then decided to move to New York City when I was 27. I got a loan, found an apartment on Craigslist, lived with 7 roommates that were strangers, you know, the classic NYC shit. Shortly after I moved I ended up getting an internship with Bon Appétit and eventually a job as a kitchen assistant. I know this sounds glamorous but I was basically just a glorified dishwasher. Either way, that was my in.
Since you started, how has your style evolved? If you have to pigeon hole yourself, how would you describe your cooking?
Constant evolution is a super important part of my process, if you aren’t evolving you aren’t learning. I’ve taken a lot of influence from Asian cuisine, it’s hard not to as they have massive flavor profiles, techniques and outlooks on food.
I formulated some confidence in certain techniques where I can just cook, take risks and explore. I’d like to believe it’s like playing the guitar, where you can get the foundation by learning to play a few chords and then from there you can just start ripping.
Is there a certain foreign cuisine that appeals to you most?
Japanese cuisine, hands down. It’s beautiful in both its simplicity and complexity. They have great respect for sourcing ingredients and it produces amazing flavors. I am also drawn to old styles, before refrigeration and FDA guidelines were a thing. They developed these styles, techniques and flavor profiles by just using raw ingredients that were probably better, or less adulterated back then.
You’ve probably eaten some pretty amazing meals in your life, what is the best meal you've ever had?
I struggle with "best," it’s so subjective. It really depends on so much, like who you were with, the atmosphere and the context of the day really make an impression of a best meal. BUT, if you’re putting me on the spot here…but I’ll tell you what man, those lobsters we cooked up in Maine, they were pretty fucking awesome. I’ve had a lot of lobster and they aren’t always that way, that was an exceptional haul, they were incredible.
Well, here’s another one for you, not necessarily best, but more in the unique category. I did smoke a coyote recently and it was delicious.
Yeah man, I think that’s going to be my next essay or short book, about the coyote and how it’s abused and one of the most underappreciated proteins in North America. I get sick of people hunting them and dumping them in a ditch saying "you can’t eat this." Well, yeah, that’s because you’re treating it like you’re just going to throw it in a ditch!
Now don’t get me wrong, there’s some coyotes out there that you wouldn’t want to eat but if you shoot a primo one they can be delicious, I mean the meat on this thing was gorgeous! I could make you tacos or stew and no one would ever know. I think I’d describe it as a mildly greasy beef.
Apart from writing a coyote cooking book, what are your next big moves in the culinary world?
I want to do more work with a focus on agriculture, like where your food comes from and how important it is for people to get involved, learn the process and take care of shit.
In addition to cooking, your interest in the outdoors can’t be ignored. What outdoor activities to you do?
When it comes to supporting my culinary life, I love hunting, fishing, crabbing, turkey hunting, gardening. Sourcing your own food is so important.
You shot your first elk recently, congrats! Any big culinary plans for that?
Well yes, it was a cow elk, but I had issues traveling with it. I brought the big ham back with me on the plane and I’m warning you, if you go on American Airlines, they won’t let you take anything over 100 lbs. My cooler with meat was 111 lbs and they wouldn’t let me take it on. I had to go out in the parking lot and throw away raw meat. People were looking at me like I killed someone. The ham leg is hanging and dry aging right now, I can’t wait to try it.
Now that that one is out of the way, is there another type of game that tops your list of things to hunt?
I’m hooked now! I have to, I need to get a big bull. Not for the antlers but I want one of these foaming-in-the-mouth, dick dragging, screaming bulls to come in close so I can smoke it with my bow.
In terms of other wild game or locally harvested/foraged food, what is your favorite?
I do love a good oyster. I also love foraging for mushrooms, the chicken of the woods mushrooms are delicious.
If someone wants to up their tailgate cooking game, what advice can you share with them?
Less is more. Do as much at home preparation as you can so you can focus on the tailgate. You have to pack lightly while on the road so cooking your tools wisely is important. I fucking love the Snowpeak grill, it packs up flat and it’s amazing, I cook a lot on it. The Traeger Scout grill is also amazing, it’s a lot of fun to cook with and packs up nicely into the truck.
Speaking of tailgates, your Tacoma bed has a DECKED Drawer System inside, what is your favorite thing about it?
I love it! It’s so nice to conceal things and still maintain use of the truck bed. I love the security, I can put my bow in there and not worry about. I use one of the D-Boxes to dedicate to a little ‘bug out kit’ which emergency related items. I do want to get one of those Uncharted Supply kits, they have everything you need including those jump starter devices which I’d really like to have.
Well thanks for your time Brad, we hope to share a tailgate again with you soon!
Good chatting, speak soon!
Brad Leone's new book, Field Notes for Food Adventure is available Nov. 23 everywhere books are sold.