Nashville's Audrey Explores Appalachian Cuisine By Way Of Japan

People knowledgeable about the Southern food scene likely associate Chef Sean Brock with Charleston. Robb Report says he was Husk's executive chef and founder for nearly a decade (via Charleston City Paper), a place often credited with introducing a larger audience to Southern cuisine.

While at Husk, Brock won numerous awards, including the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southeast for his elevated take on Southern staples, per Eater Atlanta. CBS News reports that he expanded the restaurant to four different locations, wrote two cookbooks, and then started to feel burnt out. The stress of running multiple restaurants overwhelmed Brock, and drinking became a problem.

After becoming sober and taking a step back from the kitchen for a little bit, Brock turned the page on a new chapter in his culinary history: He opened Audrey in Nashville. In addition to earning a place on The New York Times' "The Restaurant List," the joint is also Brock's attempt at creating a healthier restaurant — for himself and his employees.

Where Appalachian food meets Japanese design

While Sean Brock spent many years cooking in Charleston, South Carolina, he's actually from a small town in rural Virginia (per Audrey). Growing up in Appalachia, Brock's culinary icon was his grandmother, an amateur beekeeper who cooked out of her home garden. When stepping back from Husk, Brock decided he wanted to focus his next culinary step on his roots, and the idea for Audrey, named after his grandmother, was born. "The restaurant that I am creating will be the one I plan to someday retire in and pass onto my children," Brock said of Audrey on his Instagram.

The restaurant's menu builds on Brock's repertoire of Southern dishes, but the design has a potentially surprising influence: Japan (via Metropolis). Though the restaurant is chock full of elements created by Applachian makers — including wooden furniture and ceramics designed in Nashville, the interior and exterior employs Japanese methods, according to the restaurant's website. Take said wooden furniture: Metropolis explains it is crafted in a Japanese lounge style.

Katie Vance, who worked with Brock on Audrey's design, told The Lick that the restaurant leans on three Japanese principles: Kanso, meaning "simplicity," Shizen, meaning "natural over artificial," and Seijaku, meaning "bring stillness inside." She explains, "The architecture is simple and functional with clean lines and a modern take on the Appalachian tobacco barn."

Changing the high-stress restaurant culture

Chef Sean Brock thought about how he could reconfigure the restaurant environment as well and take away some of the stress for which the industry is known (via CBS). Brock says people who work in restaurants do everything they can to cater to guests, and this over-the-top generosity can cause you to lose sight of your purpose. With that in mind, Audrey offers a changing tasting menu, which causes less stress on the kitchen staff to cook because there are fewer options. The menu is built around simple ingredients sourced locally and prepared exceptionally, NFocus Magazine explains. 

To create a better workplace, Brock built a meditation room on the second floor of Audrey where employees can take a breather. His staff also works only four days a week to ensure they have plenty of time to recharge between shifts. "To sit here in Audrey and look back over my career — all the tough times, all the great times — I'm reassured that everything is exactly the way it's supposed to be and that's what got me here," Brock wrote on Audrey's website. "I was inspired to create a place that's better for the environment, better for the team, and to create an experience for our guests that will hopefully be a memory that lasts forever."