Monticello HS grad Travis Brust, formerly of White Lake, is shown in Las Vegas, where he recently won the Chef Challenge category at the inaugural World Food Championships. he credited his mom, Tara, who still lives in White Lake, with inspiring his culinary career. “When I was a kid she would make banana bread that all the kids at school wanted to trade me their lunches for,” Brust said.
White Lake's Travis embraces challenges as Chef
By Jon Dinan
January 11 Culinary expert Travis Brust, originally from White Lake, took first place in the Chef Challenge category at the inaugural World Food Championships held in Las Vegas.
Brust was awarded $16,500 and a crystal trophy for his enticing edibles. It also advanced him to the Final Table Competition, a round reserved for the first prize winners of the various challenges within the Food Championship, where he placed third out of seven contenders.
Brust’s winning dish: Fennel-dusted rockfish with sauteed bitter greens, oyster mushrooms, oyster ragout, roasted pearl potatoes, orange-scented beurre blanc and fresh carrot cardamom gel. It was inspired by cooking from the Chesapeake region.
Brust was invited to the annual competition by Chef Patrick Evans-Hylton, senior food and wine editor of Hampton Roads magazine. He also served as a judge for the event that included seven cooking categories and the Final Table competition.
TV Personality Adam Richman served as host of the two-day event that was sponsored by several major food brands such as Philadelphia cream cheese, A1 steak sauce, and Tyson chicken. Richman guided event participants and the general audience through each level of the competitive action.
Contestants were given ingredients and a 35 minute time frame to work with. Chefs were allowed to bring their own ingredients but Brustman opted not to.
“I saw some chefs had brought entire refrigerators full of ingredients, so I figured they would have a huge advantage because all I had were my knives,” Brust revealed.
As it turned out that’s all he would need to win the competition in which 14 of the nation’s top chefs participated.
The road to Williamsburg
At the age of 15 Brust landed a job washing pots at Russini’s Family Restaurant in Forestburgh.
When the appetizer cook broke his leg Brust stepped in and shined as a substitute.
Quickly Brust graduated to the sauté station and soon he, and those around him, began to realize his natural talent.
“When I was a freshman at Monticello High School I made one of my teachers who came in to the restaurant a balsamic mushroom appetizer. The next day she told me it was the best thing she had ever eaten. That was the first time I was recognized for my cooking.” said Brust, who has been in the kitchen ever since.
His next stop was Gaetano’s Café in Mongaup Valley.
Brust earned his culinary certification from the Balsams Apprenticeship Program in Dixville Notch, NH, and an associate degree in culinary arts from New Hampshire Community Technical College in Berlin, NH. He is now classically trained in French cuisine, but he says his style is more American Regional.
“I have cooked all over the country so I have a strong background in American Regional cuisine. You could put me almost anywhere in the U.S. and I’d be able to cook most of the local dishes,” said Brust.
Inspired by mother
“My mom [Tara] inspired me to utilize every opportunity handed to me. She always said that when a door opens you should enter because you might end up regretting what you missed,” Brust stated.
Brust joined the Williamsburg Inn culinary staff in 2002 during an apprenticeship working as a cook in night production and returned to the Inn in 2004 as a lead line cook until he was named sous chef in 2005. He was promoted to executive sous chef in 2008, chef du cuisine in 2009, and executive chef in 2011 at the tender age of 29.
Although Brust has moved out of Sullivan County he comes back as often as possible to visit his family. Brust says he inherited his ability from his mom.
“My mom is an incredible baker. When I was a kid she would make banana bread that all the kids at school wanted to trade me their lunches for,” Brust remarked.
Despite his rise to prominence Brust has not forgotten his humble small town beginnings.
“Sullivan County has some wonderful restaurants such as Yiasou, a Greek restaurant in Liberty, and the (now closed) Altitude Cafe in Mongaup Valley,” said Brust. “It’s nice to see Sullivan County making a bigger impression on the food world. More restaurants are opening, and I think it’s great that the area is starting to express itself with better cuisine.”
The Travis Brust file
Was named executive chef for the Williamsburg Inn part of Colonial Williamsburg in March 2011. Was instrumental in the creation of Regency Room and Terrace Room menus and worked with the culinary staff in creating meals for visiting dignitaries and royalty during his career at the Inn. He joined the Williamsburg Inn culinary staff in 2002 during an apprenticeship working as a cook in night production and returned to the Inn in 2004 as a lead line cook until he was named sous chef in 2005. He was promoted to executive sous chef in 2008, chef du cuisine in 2009 and executive chef at the age of 29.
Under his leadership, the Inn has introduced special dining events and he excels in the preparation of such classics as rack of lamb and chateaubriand as well as innovative pairings of regional foods from local purveyors. In October of 2012, he led a Williamsburg Inn culinary team in the preparation and presentation of a six-course Regency Room-inspired reception and dinner at the James Beard House in New York City.
His career has taken him from apprenticeships and internships in nearly every position in the kitchens of the Balsams Grand Resort Hotel in Dixville Notch, NH, the American Club in Kohler, WI, the Gasparilla Inn in Gasparilla, FL, Jupiter Island Club in Jupiter Island, FL, Wigwam Resort in Phoenix and the Williamsburg Inn.
In April 2003, Travis was one of the first four chefs to complete and pass the Pro Chef Level One exam given at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. He received the Johnson and Wales Grand Award for Professionalism in 2003 and in 2004 was named Chapter Chef of the Year of the ACF Chapter of Northern New Hampshire. He has received multiple gold and silver medals in state and regional culinary competitions. He is the chairman of the Culinary Apprenticeship Board of the Virginia Chefs Association.
A 1999 graduate of Monticello High School, he is the son of Tara and the late Jack Brust. He has a brother, Devin, and two sisters, Courtney and Kylie.