Brad McDonald

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After the Flood
Brad McDonald was on the rise as chef/partner of the fledgling
Governor in Brooklyn until Superstorm Sandy wiped out the
restaurant. Now, two years later, things are going swimmingly
for him in—of all places—London, where he runs the Southerninflected hit The Lockhart. Andy Lynes traces his resurrection.
Photos by Tom Parker.

THISTHIS

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M

ake no mistake: Brad McDonald has London spellbound over his Southern food. With his wife, Molly, handling marketing and PR, the Mississippi-born
McDonald has turned around the ailing fortunes of The Lockhart, in a back street off Marble Arch, since taking over the kitchen in December with a superlative take on shrimp and grits and
stand-out buttermilk fried chicken. Bloggers and critics alike
have been falling over themselves to heap praise on McDonald’s
cooking, including the Independent—“McDonald has picked up
the south-western ball and kicked it out of the park”—and the
Telegraph—“mind-blowing sauces and wow-factor moments.”
McDonald’s West End hit turned around in his own fortunes, too, which, 14 months earlier, were literally under water.
After more than a decade of hard graft in some of the world’s
most demanding kitchens, McDonald had finally achieved his
dream as executive chef of Governor in the Dumbo neighborhood of Brooklyn, close to the East River. There he ran a progressive kitchen where he could give free range to his talent and
ambition, only to have it snatched away in a matter of weeks by

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October 2014 Food Arts

Superstorm Sandy.
Ironically, McDonald notes that the last week of
October 2012 was “amazing” for him and his team
at Governor. On Thursday evening, October 25, McDonald collaborated with chef Sean Brock of McCrady’s and Husk in Charleston, South Carolina, on
a Japanese-inspired dinner for 110 people to launch
the third season of Daniel Klein’s The Perennial
Plate Internet film series. At lunch the following day,
Governor hosted a vertical tasting of 1970s Chateau
Musar with winemaker Serge Hochar in attendance.
Just as importantly, four months after launch, the
forward-looking restaurant that McDonald had been
working toward opening his entire career was taking
off, with steady business every night of the week and
a two-star review from the New York Times.
Then on Monday, Superstorm Sandy arrived.
“I didn’t even really hear about the hurricane coming until Saturday. I wasn’t paying attention, and then it
was just everything I could try to do to save the restaurant in that moment,” recalls the 34 year old McDonald,
who left Governor deluged by a foot of water but sandbagged and with all electrical equipment moved on to
counters out of harm’s way. Or so he thought. 
 “We left thinking it’s not going to be that big of a deal.
I went to bed quite calmly that night. I was the first person on-site the next morning, and it was pretty devastating. The water had surged four and half feet, so all the
electronics we’d put on the counters—we’d just delayed
their destruction rather than saving them. The coolers
were airtight, so they just lifted up in the water; they
were like boats. It was a total nightmare,” says McDonald, the pain in his voice still evident 18 months later.
McDonald and the restaurant team started the
cleanup process in a desperate attempt to head off the devastating effects of water damage. “We tried our best, but ultimately
we were doomed from the moment the storm was coming.”
 Damages to the expensively outfitted restaurant, with its
polished wood flooring, bespoke crockery, and well-equipped
open kitchen were estimated between $300,000 and $350,000.
Despite raising $55,000 through the GoFundMe crowd-funding website and events—including dinners at Eleven Madison Park in Manhattan and Coi in San Francisco—Governor
co-owners  Elise Rosenberg,  Emelie Kihlstrom, and Tamer
Hamawi decided not to reopen. “The cost of our debt was coupled with the cost of rebuilding, and with the already high cost
of build-out, the chances of recovering from that are too slim,”
Hamawi told the New York Times about the decision to close
Governor (the space was eventually reopened by a trio of DB
Bistro Moderne alumni in July 2013 as Atrium Dumbo).
“The financial difficulty of having to rebuild the restaurant
would be doubling down on my family, doubling down on time
with my children. It became a bet that I couldn’t take,” says Mc-

Donald. “Unfortunately, I had to step away from it for my family. It was a really tough decision, but I think we’re all in a better
place now for it.” 
And so ended the short but successful partnership that began
in June 2011 when McDonald took over the kitchen of Rosenberg, Kihlstrom, and Hamawi’s Colonie restaurant in Brooklyn
Heights. “They were great young owners, first-time restaurateurs, and we just hit a home run. We were at the leading edge of
how great restaurants work and run. I took over there and tried
really to work more from the market, tried to find my footing,
trying to understand what new American cuisine is.”
 In March 2012, McDonald and the trio opened Gran Electrica, a Mexican cafe serving tacos, quesadillas, and mariscos
(shellfish platters), but the positive reception from critics and
customers alike for both projects didn’t distract McDonald’s
eyes from the main prize. “All the while in the back of my mind,
I was preparing myself for Governor, knowing that was coming.”
 And when the moment came, McDonald was well-prepared. Since beginning his career in 2000, the Mississippi born
McDonald has worked in Burgundy and Alsace, for Bruno Menard at the The Dining Room in The Ritz-Carlton Buckhead
in Atlanta, Alain Ducasse at ADNY in the Essex House and at
Per Se, both in New York City, and Noma in Copenhagen. McDonald says the big thing he took away from Noma was the notorious Projects Night, the post-service session facilitated by
chef/owner  René Redzepi, where the cooks are expected to
present new dishes and ideas that are peer reviewed on the
spot. “At the end of your 80 hour week, when you’re dying to get
home to your wife, you spend an extra two hours at work creating something that no one but your team will see. It’s an indication of what a crazy genius Redzepi is, because it became a phenomenon that kitchens around the world have reproduced. He
gives you the ability to think differently and the ability to say
no. He’s a culinary genius, but he’s best at provocation.”    
 McDonald poured all that experience and expertise into
Governor, where the dozen menu items could be ordered à la
carte or complete as a tasting. “We had a massive kitchen with
a beautiful custom-made Jade stove in the center of it, and we
had freedom to do what we wanted. We took some chances, and
I know that we were greatly looked up to in the chef community.
What we were doing was seen as quite new. It was before everybody was making their own butter. It was before everybody was
fermenting sourdough for 48 hours, in Brooklyn at least.”
 One of McDonald’s most out-there creations was a snack
of caviar with brown butter/caramel ice cream and a sunchoke crumble made from Jerusalem artichokes, first minced,
blanched, and dehydrated, and then deep-fried. “You got this
salty earthy crumb and then caviar and a little lemon zest. It
was a ‘trust me’ dish, but it was an explosion of great flavors,
and everyone who tasted it loved it.”  
 Other creative highs included fermenting and aging soy
sauce in-house for a pork neck dish served with elderflower,
peaches, and a puree and vinaigrette made from nasturtiums; a

dessert of apple cider vinegar soufflé served with cherry kernel
crème anglais; and cucumber sorbet, sour cherries, and thyme
oil. “You read that on the menu, and you think, ‘WTF is this guy
smoking?’ But it was just delicious.”
 McDonald remains proud of his achievements during the
short life of Governor and is unabashed about the emotional impact of its sudden closure. “Those four months were the best of
my life, followed by four of the worst months. I probably spent the
first six to eight weeks just hobbling about with my family with
my tail between my legs, just wondering what to do and how to do
it. I would go for the occasional job interview just to go through
the motions. It took me about three months to pick myself back
up.”
 He spent part of that time in Kansas City with family, interviewing and fielding tasting requests but not cooking professionally, until March 2013 when London-based restaurateur Will Ricker made contact through a long-time friend of
McDonald’s who was a headhunter in New York City and who
also knew Serge Becker, one of Ricker’s business partners.
Wicker invited McDonald to consult on his fashionable Mexican-themed Casa Negra bar and restaurant in Shoreditch. The
offer put McDonald back on his feet, allowing him to put his experience at Gran Electrica to good use. Ultimately, it led to his

Redzepi, where the cooks are expected to present new dishes and ideas that are peer
reviewed on the spot. “At the end of your 80 Redzepi, where the cooks are expected to
present new dishes and ideas that are peer reviewed on the spot. “At the end of your 80
Food Arts October 2014

5

Redzepi, where the cooks are expected to present new dishes and ideas that are peer

current position as head chef of the struggling Lockhart in London, owned by Gwen and Chris Wren and Shelby and Dunny
Wanstrath, all originally from Texas.
”I met with them to speak about some woes that they were having because Lockhart took off when it opened and then fell kind
of flat. I think that was a mixture location—it might have been different if they set up shop in Soho—and first-time restaurateurs
making small mistakes that turned into big mistakes. They were
on a very hard learning curve all around, things were unhealthy
here, and I viewed that with a great sense of compassion.” 
 Having grown up in the South, McDonald was perfectly
placed to deliver an authentic version of the sort of food Londoners were fast developing a taste for as evidence by the popularity
of such places as Jackson + Rye in Soho and Q Grill in Camden.
“I grew up on the edge of the delta in a town called Yazoo City,
about half an hour from Belzoni, which considers itself to be the
catfish capital of the world. We would go to the catfish festival,
and nearly every weekend we would eat at the catfish fry house
just outside of town. So I saw an opportunity to actually cook
food from my childhood, food that I could literally cook from
memory and not necessarily have to be too creative about. It
flowed very naturally and very organically, and it just felt right.”
 At The Lockhart, McDonald serves both catfish goujons
with a Creole rémoulade and a catfish gumbo with house-made
andouille over Carolina Gold rice. In addition to childhood
memories, McDonald’s time working with leading Southern
chef  John Currence at City Grocery in Oxford, Mississippi, is a big influence on Lockhart’s menu. “It was there that I
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October 2014 Food Arts

saw Creole and worldly influences in the cuisine. In the ‘90s,
when John started cooking, a lot of people were latching on to
French/Asian fusion, so it was my first experience with Japanese cuisine. We did a crawfish tempura roll as an appetizer.
What we decided to do with the cooking here is to make it PanSouthern, so it could be Cajun or Creole or Carolina barbecue,
down to Florida or the southern part of Mississippi.”
The one item above all that has really caught London’s attention is McDonald’s cornbread. Blogged about numerous times,
the loaf, served warm in its cast-iron baking tray, was described
by Guardian restaurant critic Marina O’Loughlin as “outrageously lovely, the stuff of sticky dreams and abandoned diets.” 
“We always knew we wanted to serve it fresh and hot, but it
had that extra flare to it when we took it out of the oven and it
was bubbling and we took it straight to the table. It was so dramatic that we knew we had to do it that way every single time.”
The McDonald family seems settled in London and are even
selling doughnuts under the moniker of 1235 Donuts (named
by accident by daughter, Maren, who, when asked how many
doughnuts she’d like, one, two, or, three, replied, “five”) on Sunday mornings from the door of their home on Columbia Road in
East London. But McDonald will be resting on his laurels for too
long. “There will be other restaurants, for sure. A large source of
my passion comes from openings, taking talent that’s ready to
have its own place that needs a format to plug into and being able
to guide them to success. Not to produce 100 Lockharts, I think

Dispersed by Sandy
It’s no wonder Governor was drawing attention and kudos. Just consider the talent executive chef Brad MacDonald gathered in the kitchen there. Windblown by the
storm, many of them have planted solid roots elsewhere:
· Jonathan Black (chef de cuisine): chef de cuisine,
Quince, San Francisco
· Greg Kuzia-Carmel (sous chef): chef, Outerlands, San
Francisco
· David Goody (hired as Governor sous chef, he instead
became sous chef and then chef at Gran Electrica):
sous chef, Alta, San Francisco
· Michael Gibney (line cook): author of Sous Chef; executive chef, URBO, New York City
· Andres Fernandez (line cook): sous chef, Spring, Paris
· Morgan Schofield (line cook): TKTK TITLE, Cow & Clover, Brooklyn
· Chase Agee (line cook) line cook, Franny’s, Brooklyn
· Monique Bourgea (garde-manger): captain, Quince,
San Francisco (engaged to Black)
· Kelly White (pastry chef): pastry chef, The Catbird
Seat, Nashville

we will remain singular for each location and each chef. We have
a good resource of people and we’re looking at spaces, but London’s a difficult city. It’s where were based, but it won’t be the last
place we end up. It could be New York City, Texas, California, who
knows. But we’ll definitely see some growth with this group.”

Photo credit

Andy Lynes lives in Brighton, England, and writes about restaurants and travel for Independent on Sunday and the BBC’s
olive magazine.

Food Arts October 2014

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