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Veterans from Acclaimed Restaurants Noma and Eleven Madison Park Will Help Bring Sean Brock’s Audrey to Nashville

Meet the people behind the scenes at Brock’s latest venture

Audrey [Official Photo]

Audrey, the first of now Nashville-based celebrity chef Sean Brock’s four (yes, we’re now at four) Nashville restaurants is ready to start hiring, according to posts on Brock’s Instagram account. His flagship restaurants and complex in the East Nashville’s McFerrin Park neighborhood are currently under construction, and making steady progress.

Audrey [Official Photo]

Already in place: a few big-name hires for the restaurants, coming to Nashville in the last year from Noma and Eleven Madison Park.

Sean’s core team for the project on the East side includes Audrey General Manager Matthew Daeley and Audrey Head of Research & Development Jason White. Eater recently chatted with both to learn more about how they’ll work with Brock, what they’re loving eating in Nashville so far, and what they’re most excited about Audrey bringing to Music City.

Audrey General Manager Matthew Daeley

Matthew Daeley will oversee teams for both destinations within Audrey — downstairs, where an American Southern comfort food menu changes daily (while highlighting heirloom varieties and breeds), and upstairs in the tasting-menu-only room that uses those rare and regional ingredients in a modern context. Prior to moving to Nashville, Daeley developed his industry knowledge in some of the finest restaurants in New York City, eventually spending seven years at the internationally renowned Eleven Madison Park.

During his tenure with the three-Michelin-starred restaurant, Daeley found and fueled his passion for hospitality. His career with Eleven Madison Park began in 2013, when he started as a kitchen server, and eventually rose through the ranks to captain and then dining room manager at the New York City restaurant before being promoted to assistant general manager of the Eleven Madison Park Summer and Winter Houses in 2018. Daeley was part of the 2016 team that won both the James Beard Award for Outstanding Service as well as the inaugural Ferrari Trento Art of Hospitality Award, presented by The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. In 2017, he saw the restaurant awarded the number one spot on the prestigious (if problematic) The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list.

How did you first meet Sean Brock?

M: I first met Sean while I was working at EMP. He was the guest chef at the Kentucky Derby party in 2016. That first interaction was mostly me trying not to get caught stealing his fried chicken.

About a year ago, I decided to move to Nashville and it just so happened that he posted about the new project on Instagram. I immediately reached out and am now fortunate to call these restaurants home.

What made you decide to move to Nashville?

M: Last year I worked at two pop-up restaurants – EMP Summer House in East Hampton, NY and EMP Winter House in Aspen, CO. When the pop-up season ended and it was time to move back to New York City, my girlfriend and I decided it was time for a change. She grew up here in Nashville and, after debating other cities, we realized Nashville checked all the boxes for us.

How will your extensive hospitality experience at EMP translate to Audrey?

M: Working at EMP really showed me what a group of people can do when they collectively decide to accomplish something great. Will and Daniel bred a culture that fully embraced creativity, and I believe that’s what set our restaurant group apart from all the others. When people feel empowered, have a sense of ownership, and are encouraged to think outside the box, that’s really when a guest’s experience can be taken to the next level. I think by taking that mindset and adding the Southern hospitality that pulses through Nashville, we can make these restaurants something our city is truly proud of.

What are you most excited about, with opening Audrey?

M: The most exciting thing to me is the ability to give back to the community that I am now a part of. There is nothing more rewarding than inviting people into your home and serving them a delicious meal.

You’ve obviously recently spent time in much larger cities - how has the transition been to Nashville?

M: The transition has been far more seamless than I expected. I feel the main reason for that is just how nice everyone is. There is a sense of community here that is really unique. It seems like everyone is watching out for each other, rooting for each other to succeed, and it is all truly genuine. It is such an accepting and inviting city which makes it easy to feel at home.

Best meal/dish you’ve had in Nashville so far?

M: The most memorable meal I’ve had since moving here was at Arnold’s. Sean took me there on my first day. I was so overwhelmed that I messed up my order - talk about a fish out of water! Luckily, they let us try everything else on the menu that we didn’t order.

Some of my go-tos are Folk, Rolf and Daughters, Henrietta Red, and Peninsula. You can also find me at City House at least once a week.

Favorite thing about living in Nashville?

M: I have two answers to this question:

  1. The outdoor green spaces. I love taking our dog to the amazing parks, lakes, and hiking trails here in Nashville.
  2. Robert’s Western World.

Audrey Head of Research & Development Jason White

Jason White leads the ambitious, first-of-its-kind food research lab at Audrey. Created to harness James Beard Award-winning Chef Sean Brock’s experiences from cooking and researching food culture of the South, the lab intends to push the boundaries of what the world knows to be Southern American food. White melds the past and future of food by exploring lost traditions, introducing new technologies previously never used in restaurants, and teaming up with academic and scientific experts from around the world.

White spent his childhood in Albuquerque split between the city and living with family in New Mexico’s Sandia mountains. His family in the mountains did fermentation projects, which, along with his exposure to nature and preservation from a young age, fueled his desire to learn more about the process, technique, and science behind the method. Later during his childhood, White’s family developed 100 square acres of farmland in New Mexico and filled the property with cows, chickens, and goats, where White spent much of his time with the animals and in nature. This all made an important impact on White’s relationship with food, farming, and the environment.

White began his career in kitchens in San Antonio and Austin, eventually traveling as a fermentation resource and consultant for restaurants, distilleries, and more across Texas.Before joining the team at Audrey, White was a member of the research and development and fermentation team at Noma, the world-renowned two-Michelin-star restaurant run by Chef René Redzepi in Copenhagen, Denmark. Over the two and a half years spent as a member of Redzepi’s staff, he worked with the creative team in the lab at Noma 2.0 on the culinary direction of five seasonal menus.

How will all your past years of experience play into your new role at Audrey?

J: For the last decade I have been accumulating a wealth of techniques and experiences from both the scientific and culinary communities through collaboration and investigation. The R&D space here will be the sum total of my work, focusing on the spirit of shared data, fermentation research, and cutting edge food-processing techniques, all of which will be funneled into a focused and collaborative food lab built to contribute to the future of food for many years to come.

Besides the obvious draw of collaborating with Sean Brock, what made you decide to move to Nashville?

J: The incredible story of seed saving and agriculture in the South and the diversity of culinary traditions region to region. With all the history here there is still so much to learn and a huge responsibility to teach.

Favorite thing about living in Nashville?

J: Southern hospitality

You’ve obviously recently spent time in much larger cities - how has the transition been to Nashville?

J: Great, I am a father of three so exposing my kids to the world is important to me. Nashville is quiet yet progressive and the community here is pretty special.

The lab is the first of its kind - tell us a little more about the space design and equipment involved here.

J: Flavor and aroma are vital when experiencing a meal or tasting ingredients. When working with R&D in a lab or kitchen, harnessing the beautiful and satisfying qualities of ingredients becomes valuable, be it through cooking, or some form of obscure technology, the end game is deliciousness as-well as tuning people into the experience. This R&D space will be a cross between a kitchen and a laboratory with a selection of powerful machines capable of cultivating microbes for fermentation, growing algae, shuffling the composition of ingredients around with ultrasonic waves or extracting aromas/flavors out completely with microwaves or distillation. Some of the equipment we will be utilizing is extremely powerful, but even in its most extreme, it is still simply focusing on capturing moments. The same way a chef blanches a vegetable to lock in its flavor, we will be utilizing cooking, science, and microbes to lock in flavor. Many of these devices like the microwave essential oil extractor and the bioreactor typically have no place in a traditional kitchen, but by crossing industries you can bring more growth and value to all the industries that inspired you.

Tell us a little more about your expertise in research and data collection.

J: Long before there was a book by every fermentor or chef I respected, data sharing was minimal in the culinary world. Because of this I used my social media platform as a way to share science papers or tested recipes in order to pursue the idea of sharing research. My interest in science and digging through mountains of science papers inspired me to share a 50 gigabyte database that I compiled. This (now dead) database has been used across the world and is exactly the kind of database I hope to fill and share in the future, filled with discoveries from this lab.

Brock is making mindfulness and employee mental health a focus when planning his newest projects — a game changer for a grueling industry. The chef says they’re already seeing great interest, but they are continuing to look for the right candidates for the team. “We are committed to trying our best to create a workplace centered around the idea that we are all learning together..It’s a mindful approach to hospitality that has already attracted amazing people who are ready to work towards change in our industry. People are writing essays about why they want to work with us and what they can contribute to our ideas. It’s so exciting to see everyone’s interest and we are so grateful.”

Note: A few name changes have taken place since the original announcement last year. For now, all that is known is that the downstairs, more casual restaurant, is named Audrey, after Brock’s grandmother. The upstairs tasting restaurant’s name is still being finalized. Both were originally intended to open later this year.

Joyland, another East Nashville project inspired by Brock’s love for rural Southern gas station food, is on schedule to open in early spring.

The fourth restaurant, a throwback to dining of yesteryear at the Grand Hyatt, is on tap for fall of 2020.

Sean Brock [More EATER coverage]