CHEF PROFILE: Terrance Brennan, Executive Chef/Owner, Picholine and Artisanal

By The Where To Dine Staff

If indeed New York is the restaurant capital of the world (and it most certainly is), the tendency is to start listing all the great restaurants in this incredible city. The list is staggering and ever-changing. They come and they go, but the greatness always remains.

I choose not to think of New York in terms of restaurants – they are simply places where people dine. I see the real greatness in the chefs of New York because when you think about it, the chef is the soul of the restaurant. In my mind, everything revolves around the passion and talent of the man or woman in the kitchen. The designation of chef/owner makes this even more important.

New York is on top because of an unparalleled community of top-notch chefs and cooks. Some chefs are more successful than others, but ultimately they are all dependent on the folks that represent the judge and jury when it comes to rating restaurants. The New York Times, the Zagat Guide, the Michelin Guide, and so many others, exert their power telling us who and what is the best while their real agenda is selling more books and papers. The truth is that the people who work in the business know where the greatness lies, and the number of stars attached to a name are only interesting. The cream does rise to the top, and the truly great chefs get their share of accolades and awards. Having said that, the best award possible is one of respect from the chef community, and when it comes to respect, Chef Terrance Brennan is somewhere at the top of the list, and is one of those chefs that keeps the Big Apple on top of the entire culinary world.

The chef/owner of two classic Manhattan restaurants (Picholine and Artisanal) was born and raised in Virginia and began his career in several Washington, DC restaurants and hotels. Like so many talented chefs, he found his way to New York. His first job in Manhattan was as a saucier under Alain Sailhac at Le Cirque. He then honed his skills in a variety of great restaurants in Europe including an opportunity to work under the legendary Chef Roger Vergˇ at Le Moulin de Mougins in the south of France.

The good chef eventually returned to New York and made his mark as the chef at Annabelle’s, the Hotel Westbury’s Polo restaurant, and Prix Fixe. In 1993, he opened Picholine and this aspiring chef/owner enjoyed immediate success with a Three-Star review in the aforementioned New York Times. Chef Terrance Brennan was off and running.

Picholine remained a Manhattan’s favorite for some thirteen years, and Terrance knew that it was time to make some changes. Most were cosmetic in nature as he invested in a major overhaul of the bar and dining area, but there were also critical and even subtle changes in the menu. Of course, his emphasis on cheese was not about to change, and Picholine and everything that Terrance Brennan does will include cheese as a major part of the presentation with the city’s premier maitre fromager, Max McCalman.

In a recent meeting with Chef Brennan, I was most impressed with his obvious feeling of confidence and apparent self actualization. In an industry with so much insecurity, Terrance Brennan spoke quietly and confidently about his “new” Picholine. He was certain that the restaurant was at its all time best, and I believe he knew instinctively that Picholine could compete one-on-one with any restaurant in New York. He knew what he had, and you don’t always get that feeling talking to owners about their own restaurant.

His love and respect for cheese resulted in the opening of Artisanal in 2001 – his bistro-fromagerie-wine bar that gained immediate prominence, and was awarded Best Brasserie Cuisine in the 2002 Zagat Survey. New York Magazine’s Adam Platt included both Picholine and Artisanal in his Best of New York restaurant list. He also had this to say… “If cheese is a religion, this is its bustling, Balthazar-gone-midtown house of worship. I thought Terrance Brennan’s cheese-centric brasserie was contrived when I first reviewed it. Since then, Brennan and his cheese nerds have conquered the world, so I’ve made my peace”.

Terrance Brennan hasn’t “conquered the world” and undoubtedly never will. A great chef can’t even conquer New York, but he can play with the best of them, and this chef is certainly doing this. In 2003, he launched the Artisanal Premium Cheese Center- a10,000-square foot facility dedicated to the selection, maturation and distribution of the world’s finest artisanal cheeses. In addition to educational classes (consumer and professional) restaurants and cheese aficionados from all over the world can order his expert-selected cheeses …

Life is good for Chef Brennan. He recently published a cookbook – “Artisanal Cooking: A Chef Shares His Passion For Handcrafted Great Meals At Home”. He is doing what he loves to do, and also doing his part in maintaining that ongoing New York “greatness” that we talked about. It doesn’t get any better than this.

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