Cuisine is truly an art, created from the hands of people who give their heart and soul to their work. At Keenan’s at the Pier in Bellingham, dedication and artistry come to life in ways sure to delight any palette or pair of eyes — and learning more about the chef behind the plate makes everything taste all the richer. Tony Brent, sous chef at Keenan’s, recently sat down with WhatcomTalk to chat about his story and the journey to his current leadership position.
Joining Keenan’s at the Pier
This year marks Brent’s fifth at Keenan’s and since the beginning, he has worked extraordinarily hard to achieve sous chef status in such a short time.
“I worked at Bob’s Burgers before, kind of in and out of restaurants in shorter stints,” says Brent. “I had a friend who was the banquet manager at the Chrysalis, and she was trying to get me to come over to Keenan’s for about a year, but I was just so comfortable at Bob’s.”
With the closing of that particular Bob’s Burgers looming, Brent made his way over to the Chrysalis to hand over his resume. “They ended up hiring me and, at the time, I was a server,” says Brent. “I worked my way up to pretty much every position in the restaurant. I’ve hosted, I’ve bartended, worked events, I have training on the front desk, and I’ve even done maintenance.”
Brent was working as the front of house manager about two years ago when the kitchen developed a crucial need for help. “I ended up making the swap to the kitchen,” he says. “I was a line cook for a little bit and worked my way up to lead cook, then, eventually, I became the sous chef, so I’ve pretty much done every position in the building.”
Having a gift for hard work and dedication has served Brent well at Keenan’s, and he understands the necessity to perform where he is needed most. “Whoever needs help, I always try to drop anything and jump on it,” he says. “I pride myself in being present and wanting to always help, no matter what position it is.”
Life as a Sous Chef
Some of Brent’s main tasks as sous chef are supporting Keenan’s executive chef, contributing to the menu, and keeping the kitchen running smoothly.
“Before I became sous chef, we didn’t have one for about a year and a half, so Chef had a lot on her plate and was doing everything herself,” says Brent. “Now, I help her design menus and help come up with the specials every day.”
Keenan’s is focusing more than ever on celebrating its home next to the sea, striving to incorporate more fish and Mediterranean flavors to its menus. “We bring in beautiful fish — break it down, whole — and design our specials tailored to whatever we have in our kitchen,” says Brent.
He also facilitates reaching out to vendors to talk about available ingredients, helps plan kitchen staff schedules, and aids in implementing various programs to improve organization and efficient operation in the kitchen.
“We always have our hands in pretty much all the events and banquets,” Brent says. “We have a cook to help for the event, but are usually involved, as well. Chef designs the menu for banquets and events, and we help get all the food out.”
Presentation and Work Ethic
Focusing on quality and presentation, Brent is attuned to the many nuances of elevated cuisine. “We like to put out beautiful food,” he says. “People spend good money when they come in, so we make sure that every guest leaves with a smile. I like to give them a homey experience and I believe the guest should always be taken care of. It’s about always going above and beyond to make sure everyone’s happy.”
Brent also thrives on working together with his team, making sure everyone is taken care of and the job is done right.
“Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice, and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning,” he says. “I am always there for my team when they need me, and I will go to war with them. I’ll work 12-plus hour days next to my people to make sure we succeed as a team.”
As Brent fully steps into his new role he will take on more responsibilities and add his own unique flair to the menu, especially as it changes every season.
“I became sous chef right after our last menu release, so this upcoming menu will be the first one my name will be on,” he says. “It will be almost entirely me and Chef.”
With his varied experience and dedication to making customers — and his team members — happy, Tony Brent’s first foray into helping create a memorable menu is sure to please. Drop by Keenan’s at the Pier soon and enjoy some of the very best fare Bellingham has to offer.