Cooking isn’t an applied science to most. But for Megan Brown, the restaurant serves as their lab. Brown is the executive chef at the Graduate Hotel Roosevelt Island’s chic eateries Anything at All (think casual yet sophisticated university library) and the Panorama Room (a posh rooftop retreat).
At the establishments, which are located on the Cornell Tech campus in New York City’s Roosevelt Island, Brown experiments with menus that combine a range of influences. “It’s a lot of science and technique. I mean that’s the difference between good food and great food,” Brown explains. “I spent a good amount of my time doing research and development around recipes.”
Even though they had a mother who was a caterer in Chicago and a grandmother in Arkansas from which they learned Southern cooking, it didn’t occur to Brown to pursue a culinary career. “The South Side [of Chicago] is not an easy place to navigate and survive,” Brown explains, reflecting on falling prey to the streets as a teen. After dropping out of high school and becoming homeless, Brown eventually earned a GED and decided to enroll in culinary school. “Food saved my life,” says Brown.
Today, Brown has appeared on the Food Network and is a top chef in a notoriously white-male-dominated culinary mecca. Brown’s creations are born of a personal journey. “African diasporic cuisine” is what Brown terms it, and it truly reflects their roots as an Arkansas-born, Chicago-raised, and Culinary Institute of America–trained Black chef. That means Brown’s menus can feature duck wings as well as lamb ribs, alongside eggs Benedict. Showcasing that unique take on food “in an environment where you wouldn’t [ordinarily] see it” is a great opportunity, Brown feels.
Imparting the confidence gained from working with Marcus Samuelsson at Red Rooster in Harlem to others is important to Brown: “Just like Marcus was a Black chef who I saw and it empowered me to think that I, too, could be a successful Black chef, I feel the same [responsibility] as a cisgender woman; I feel the same [responsibility] as someone who is nonbinary in my pronouns, someone who is of color, someone who has a history of being in an impoverished or food desert space, and then being put in a position of leadership [to inspire others].”
For more information on Anything at All and the Panorama Room, visit graduatehotels.com/roosevelt-island.