Free Times spoke with Gordon Langston, executive chef of Bourbon, a Cajun-Creole restaurant that opened recently on Main Street in Columbia.
Langston, formerly of the Fat Hen in Charleston, was born in Braintree, Massachusetts, and grew up in Columbia, graduating from Heathwood Hall in 2002 and the Culinary Institute of America in 2009.
FT: How did you get started working in restaurants?
GL: I started as a food runner for [Bourbon owner] Kristian [Niemi] at Gervais & Vine one summer in 2003. I would come in early and talk to the guys in the kitchen, pick parsley. I remember the first time I took a couple plates to a table and put the food down. The recognition and excitement that I saw in the customers’ eyes really excited me.
FT: How old were you then?
GL: I was 19. I’m 29 now, so I guess it’s been about 10 years. I didn’t have a specific passion for food before then, but it really overtook me from that point on. And then some guy in the kitchen didn’t come back from Bonnaroo. [Laughs]
FT: Was that your first kitchen job?
GL: That was my first kitchen position, yes. I started doing the spreads and pizzas at Gervais and Vine, then moved up to the main line, and worked there and was promoted to sous chef. I worked out at Solstice and at Rosso when they were first opening … I pretty much just stayed with Kristian and his restaurant group. Eventually I decided I wanted to learn at a more rapid rate of speed, so I applied and was accepted to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y.
FT: Did you have an externship while you were at CIA?
GL: Yes, my externship was at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, N.C. I worked in all the restaurants there; the high volume places, the five-star restaurant and the catering company.
FT: What came next in your career?
I moved to Charleston. I had originally planned to work in Louisiana for chef John Besh. I talked to Chef Besh about a new restaurant they were opening at the time, but as we know here at Bourbon, there are often delays in opening a new restaurant. They didn’t have a position for me there, so they were trying to move me to a brasserie, but I wasn’t as interested in cooking there. I declined that position and decided to move to Charleston because I knew there was a great food scene that was really coming up and starting to explode, and I had friends down there.
FT: What did you do at the Fat Hen?
GL: I started there on the bottom rung, working hot apps and cold apps, then moved over to the grill. Then I managed the cheese and charcuterie program, making all the charcuterie in house. Eventually I was promoted to executive sous chef, and held that position for a year and a half. A lot of what chef Fred Neuville taught me shines through here at Bourbon. I’m completely indebted to him.
FT: What are some of the things you learned from him?
GL: It’s in the way I have the hot cooking line set up, the way I prepare food. He taught me a lot in how to create really good à la minute food in a fast, consistent manner, with a depth of flavor and roundness that makes you want to eat more and more. And that when you come to work, you need to come to work.
FT: You mentioned you were in charge of charcuterie at Fat Hen. Will we see a charcuterie program at Bourbon?
GL: Yes. All our andouille is made in house, and it’s currently all over the menu, for adding to the gumbo, the boudin and the stuffed quail. Eventually I’ll do more, but right now I’m focused on making sure my staff is strong and can execute all the food on the menu properly, efficiently and quickly.
FT: What’s one of your comfort foods?
My family was from Pennsylvania, so we would bring back a pound or two of Taylor Pork Roll when we would visit. Taylor Pork Roll, egg and cheese on a bagel.
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