Chef profile: Brickyard Grill owner got his start with French cuisine

May 29, 2012|By CHRIS COPLEY |
  • Chris Grossnickle, chef at Brickyard Grill in downtown Hagerstown, says his restaurant is designed to appeal to people who work in the area.
Photo by Yvette May/Staff Photographer

Chris Grossnickle opened Brickyard Grill in downtown Hagerstown in November of 2010, providing sandwiches and soups for downtown workers.

The restaurant faces West Washington Street and, outside the west wall, on a brick-paved walkway bordered with English ivy and roses.

Grossnickle, 34, of Hagerstown, is a local chef who trained and worked within an hour's drive of Hagerstown. He grew up just over South Mountain in Middletown, Md., attended culinary school in Gaithersburg, and worked for several high-end restaurants in western Frederick County.

Last week, Grossnickle sat down with The Herald-Mail to talk about his career.

Where did you go to culinary school?

I went to L'Academie de Cuisine in Gaithersburg. Graduated in 1996. It was a one-year program — full-time, every day. It was a privately owned, French school.

So they taught in the French-style cooking?

Absolutely. Two French brothers, originally, and they took a lot of pride that everyone (who) came out of their school would be ready to go. They had that reputation with employers and peers in the industry. You know, "If we hire someone from your school, we know what (level of expertise) we're going to get." So that was part of why I wanted to go to that school.

How do you distinguish French-style cooking from contemporary American?

Classical French is very strict on technique and ingredients used, whereas contemporary American probably will take a lot of those dishes, put a modern spin and bring in lighter, fresher ingredients.

What was your experience with food before the school?

I worked in a couple different restaurants — washing dishes, prepping. I was young, a teenager. I worked under some great chefs who took the time, showed me things. I knew I wanted to go to school and pursue a little more.

The second chef I worked under was John Walla. He's now at Black-Eyed Susan. Trained with him for a year. I was graduating from high school, trying to figure out what I wanted to do. Obviously, culinary school was the next step for me.

So you worked in the Middletown area?

The first place I worked at Parson's Table, which was on Braddock Heights (Md.). Then Stone Manor (near Middletown).

So you applied to L'Academie de Cuisine because you wanted to learn French technique? Or was there something else?

I think the location, and that the program was intense, but also it was accelerated. It wasn't long, drawn out where you go to class for three days a week for four years or three years. It was get it done, get it over with, get back to work. Because that's when you really learn — when you're actually doing it. That's what appealed to me. And the school was hard to get into. That also appealed to me.

Did they have grade requirements in addition to experience?

Yes. There was a whole interview process, in addition to the experience. I was one of the youngest people they ever let in the school at that time. They really wanted people who have been cooking for quite some time, and were serious about it. So I had to prove I was serious about it just to get in.

And after school, you worked at Stone Manor?

Before and after school, I worked to Stone Manor. It was a high-end bed and breakfast and restaurant. Fine dining. Five-course, prix-fixe menus, things like that. It's been awhile since it was open. I was there for a year before (going to culinary school). When I came back, I was executive sous chef.


I did that for six, seven years, and saw that end of it. And then transitioned into (a) higher education (setting), more of a corporate-type dining.

And then my most recent employer was Aramark here in Hagerstown, a global contract-management company. Anywhere from universities, health-care, business, industry. You name it — across the board. It was a great company and I was executive chef for them. I worked at a site in Frederick County.

How does your classical French training figure into your food at Brickyard Grill?

It suited the style and direction I wanted to go. It's the market of the area. You know, if I was in (Washington,) D.C., I could open a fine-dining restaurant. But here, a sandwich shop.

Why open a restaurant in Hagerstown instead of D.C.?

My friends and family are here. This was home. And I saw a great opportunity to be here. Believe it or not there will be a revitalization in downtown Hagerstown. And this is a great location.

Where did the name Brickyard Grill come from?

My dad helped me with that. I knew I wanted to incorporate "brick" in the name. There's brick inside. There's brick in the courtyard outside. My dad and I were kicking around ideas one day and he came up with this.

Brickyard's concept is basically a sandwich shop.

Yes, a small downtown restaurant in the business district. So you would expect sandwiches, soups and salads, things like that. Lunchtime fare. Obviously, I wanted it to be quick service. People have a short lunch period. They don't have time to sit down. But everything's still made to order. The menu was designed to be produced fast, using fresh, quality ingredients. Everything that I can make in house, I do, from roasting my own meats, (cooking) vegetables — everything as fresh as possible. Trying to get away from deli-processed, brine-injected (meats), things like that. Everything's 100-percent natural, when it can be.

What are the easy parts of running this restaurant?

The easy part is the cooking. That's the part that's fun. I mean, it's all fun, but the part where I can just be in my element ... It's the paperwork, the business part, that's a challenge.

How do you keep yourself fresh? Books? Cooking shows on TV?

Mostly reading books, magazines. Food Arts is a great magazine.

So when you come up with a new special, something you know you want to put in the menu, how do you develop that?

Just a concept in my head, and I'll start playing around with it in my head, until it tastes right in my head. And then I'll start putting it together, for real. It's just an evolving process until I'm happy with it.

Do you test it on employees here?

Absolutely. And family members. They'll taste something. It's a collaboration. We'll talk about it, and maybe they'll have an idea and I'll take that and run with it.

Your family is still in Middletown?

Yes, I couldn't have done this without the support of the family.

When you're on your own, cooking for yourself, what do you do?

I won't lie to you. I don't really cook much for myself. I do it all day. It's just me at home.

I'm a saltwater fisherman, so I'll bring some fish home from a trip, do something special with that.

Back to school for a minute — what did you want to learn there?

I wanted that firm background and technique. Some of what I was doing before (attending culinary school) was based around the classical French food. So that was a nice transition into that school.

Some of the chefs I've talked to haven't gone to school.

And absolutely I've learned a lot from other chefs, The schooling provided the foundation, the technique, and just that sort of accelerant, the speed. But really, I learned from just doing what other chefs did.

I think culinary school would be fun to do. There are times when I have a eureka moment in a kitchen, like when I was doing a story on cooking asparagus. I was trying to find spices to add to sugar-salt mixture. I used my nose and found something that worked.

There's no wrong answer. Every chef has made some things they didn't like. It happens. But that's part of the fun. You experiment and see what you come up with. And that's something I love about savory food. There's no wrong answers. Making pastry is kind of confined. Measurements and proportions (have to be precise). But savory food is wide open.

So what would your advice be to a home cook. Someone like myself, who likes to get in the kitchen occasionally.

Basically, don't be afraid to try. Don't be afraid to fail. Everything is a learning experience. Just because it's not right the first time doesn't mean it won't turn out the next time. I've learned a lot of things. Made a lot of mistakes. But you learn more by doing something wrong than by making it right the first time.

That would be my advice: Keep trying.

If you go ...

Brickyard Grill

15 W. Washington St., downtown Hagerstown


Open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays

Sandwiches from $5.95 to $6.75

A bowl of soup for $3.99

Salad bar for $5.29

By Yvette May/Staff Photographer

Chris Grossnickle, chef at Brickyard Grill in downtown Hagerstown, says his restaurant is designed to appeal to people who work in the area.

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