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Interview: Tom Brandt Film Buff and Foodie (Part II of II)

Thursday, May 3, 2012


Oaxaca Kitchen on Urbanspoon

I hope you had an opportunity to read Part I of Tinsel & Tine's interview with movie theater turned restaurant owner Tom Brandt. If not, here's the link: Brandt Part I.

The focus of the first post was on Tom's career and family history owning movie theaters and his love of film and the cinema. Part II focuses on Brandt's passion for his newest venture, Oaxaca Kitchen (New Haven, CT), the restaurant he co-owns with chef Prasad Chirnomula.

T & T: What makes Oaxaca Kitchen unique besides Chef Prasad?

Pato a la Brasos
TB: We are not the normal Tex Mex style of cuisine found in this part of the country.  Our cuisine is all about the traditional home style Mexican Cuisine. Like our Beef Barbacoa, served in parchment paper, so tender the meat just falls apart. And our Fire Grilled Duck with Pistachio Mole, the Ceviche Veracruz topped with tomato lime sorbet and I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the Mole Rojo which is a chocolate chili red mole with fire grilled chicken.

We also feature a selection of designer Tacos filled with choices such as: Baha Red Snapper, Pork Belly and Duck Confit. And we create our own hot sauces in the kitchen ranging from not so hot to “Ouch”. The deserts are also spectacular featuring the Ultra Moist Tres Leches and The Pepita scented Caramel custard.

T & T:  I'm salivating! I'd have to order all three tacos. Were you wild about Mexican Cuisine before Oaxaca Kitchen?

Gaucamole in Oaxaca Kitchen
TB: I really got into the Mexican cuisine when I lived in Santa Fe, NM but had not had the opportunity to really experience the traditional style of Oacxaca cuisine until I met Chef Prasad. I immediately fell in love with it and all its complexities.

To this day, I always have a supply of green Hatch chilis in my fridge ready to be served with just about everything. Yes, I am addicted to the heat.

Brandt's friend and partner, Prasad is an award winning chef with recognition from the James Beard Foundation. The New York Times recently rated Prasad's Indian Restaurants, Thali India "Best Indian restaurant in the New York area". Brandt is also now a part of the Thali chain and together they have opened a second Oacxaca Kitchen.
Prasad and Tom in Oaxaca Kitchen with Plantains and Roasted pork belly

T &T: So even though Prasad is the Executive Chef, you also like to cook, right?

TB: I love to cook and take cooking classes. My wife Sue and I just participated in a class in Santa Fe, NM focusing on Local New Mexican food.

Tom's wife Sue is a ceramic artist and photography teacher at the Wilton, Connecticut high school. I envy them their companionship and the fun they have traveling, mountain biking, camping, skiing, wine tasting, attending music festivals, etc... Brandt says together they share a love for great art and food!

Sue with Chef Prasad at James Beard Dinner hosted by  Prasads Thali restaurant

T &T: You seem to be hands on at Oaxaca, what do you like about the restaurant industry?

TB: It’s all about the interaction between the waitstaff, kitchen and customers; and the madness that ensues each day as the place gets humming with people and the Mexican music builds in the background while the aromas of freshly roasted spices fill the air. It’s quite a rush to see all these pieces come together with the ultimate goal being the great reviews of our satisfied customers.

T &T: The name Oaxaca (which I looked up on Wikipedia, is a town or district in Mexico) is very hard to pronounce - did you worry this could be a detraction for the success of the place?

TB: Not for a minute. It’s a great conversation topic. Only 1 in 50 pronounce it right the first time. It sounds like Wa-Ha-Ca.

T &T: You told me you see the similarities between the theater and restaurant business; that mainly at the core they are both about entertaining the public outside of their home. But what hadn't you thought about before embarking on restaurant ownership?

TB: The hours. It is the most time consuming endeavor that I have ever experienced, but also the most rewarding!

T &T: Would you consider investing in another restaurant? And if so, what type of cuisine or theme? Or would it depend on meeting another amazing chef?

TB: For the time being, I am focused on the existing chain of 4 Thali Indian restaurants and 2 Oaxaca Kitchen Mexican restaurants. I would definitely consider investing in another restaurant in the future. We are currently looking into NYC for our next signature location. As far as working with another chef, -- probably not. I am lucky to be able to work with someone who is a great friend first and a business partner second. I am not sure that I would want to press my luck.

Tom's favorite dish at Oaxaca is the Mole Rojo (previously mentioned). And at Thali, he can't get enough of the Konkan Crab appetizer, which is lump crab meat mixed with coconut milk, ginger, garlic, mustard seeds and Serrano Chilis.

One of the Thali restaurant is located on Yale University's campus and the students really go for the Dean's Dosa, a 5 foot long ultra thin crispy crepe filled with curried potatoes.  "When it is served, it resembles a piece of folk art.", says Brandt.

6' long Deans Dosa crepe with curried potato filling at Thali Too in New haven, CT

There are some people in this world who are just too talented and accomplished and Tom seems to be one of them. (said jokingly). When I asked him about his libation preference, I found out he helped to create the specialty cocktails for the restaurant. On top of which, he and Sue have an extensive wine cellar, mostly collecting bottles from boutique vineyards in CA.

TB: My absolute favorite is the Oaxaca Margarita aka the “OMG” which is made with fresh squeezed lime juice, El Jimador Anejo Tequilla, Tuaca, Agave Syrup and a splash of OJ. Rocks and salt. "Bring it on!"
Oaxaca Kitchen Bar

Thank you Tom so much for visiting with me and my readers.  It truly meant a lot that you reached out to say my food and film / food in film concept struck a chord with you; give me your assessment of the symbiosis of film and food?

TB: I love your concept and what you are all about. You have single-handedly combined all my interests into one blog. It inspired me to reach out to you in hopes of further developing the possibilities of throwing food and film events that not only involve recreating the food from the movie, but also to include the actors, writers and critics into the mix as well.

TB cont: There are many movies with memorable food scenes. It would be a fantasy for many people to experience the re-creation of those meals by professional chefs in addition to screening the movie in advance of the meal. You inspired me to work on this kind of event. I am considering starting with the food from the movie “Like Water for Chocolat” and continuing from there.

Needless to say, this concept is a fantasy for me!  I love the idea of lending my passion, energy and blog in some capacity to help create these food and film events.

So stay tuned readers, this could be Tinsel & Tine's big break!

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is about discovering what I find pleasing in screening & eating - in case you missed it, the name is a play on Tinseltown using the Tines of a Fork.

Feel free to send me info on a film or new restaurant you'd like me to highlight.
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Will there ever be a cap on movie prices?

Will we one day pay $20 a pop?

Why don't we pay on a scale?

A crap movie like everything Adam Sandler has ever done should cost about $4.50.
Big action movies like"Lord of the Rings", "Iron Man," "Transformers" are worth $10.
Woody Allen movie or something like "Silver Linings Playbook" $6-$7.
A chick flick or light comedy $5.75 and most Indie Films $5.25.

You could even do it by seasons - all summer block busters from May to August - $10
Sept - November 15th $3.50 - $4
Back to $10 for Thanksgiving and Christmas etc...

Or you can do it by A Actors ($9 - $10), B Actors ($6 - $7) TV actors on the big screen ($3.50 - $4)

Surely I'm not the first person to realize this makes sense. Has it been voted on in the Motion Picture Industry and then vetoed? If so, why?

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