Chef Brian Dunbar heads Rams Head Savage Mill’s Culinary Team
Sep 15, 2018 12:00AM
● By Brian Saucedo
By Mary Lou Baker Photography by Stephen Buchanan
Brian Dunbar, Sr. makes it clear he loves his kitchen.
The executive chef at Rams Head Tavern in historic Savage Mill was energized to get back after a three-day retreat with other members of the Rams Head Group’s leadership team. The restaurant opened in 1999 as a popular tourist destination in Howard County, and is a key contributor to the success of the five restaurants owned by Bill Muelhauser.
Our conversation with Dunbar, who also serves as culinary director for the organization, ranged over many topics, but remained food-centric. Chef Dunbar is spontaneous and serendipitous, much like his distinctive style of cooking.
Tell us how your love affair with food began and your experience in the restaurant business.
My earliest childhood memories are of spending time in the kitchens of my mother and my grandmother. One loved to bake and the other had a fondness for pastis—small turnovers filled with meat, potatoes, and vegetables. I was just four years old when I became fascinated with food and my interest just increased over the years. As an adult, I have worked for 30 years in restaurants—Only the Best in Ellicott City, Picolo’s in Columbia—and I’ve been here at Savage Mill for over four years.
If you could make one change in your job, what would it be?
The hours. We are open 365 days a year, and on some of these days, I wish I could be with my wife and children. Otherwise, I love my job. One of the things I like to do is come out of the kitchen and greet the guests, many of whom are regulars. If they are in the mood for something off-menu, I try to oblige.
Have you had any mentors along the way? Do you enjoy that role, too?
Besides my family, there have been many people who encouraged me along the way. As for mentoring, that is something I have always tried to do with my staff. For instance, I have a very talented sous chef—Jolunda Leake. She has been with me for less than a year and has already earned a promotion. I have many talented people who work with me in the kitchen and I like to see them grow.
Do you have any advice for young people who want to become chefs?
Advice that I give—not just to young people but anybody who wants to be a good or great cook—is to follow your dreams and don’t let anyone take them from you. I always say “think out of the box” and create food that your imagination comes up with. Put ingredients together that you might think would never work together and create a masterpiece that you are proud of. Cooking is my canvas for the world to see and enjoy eating.
Can you give us an example of one of your specialties that came from your “thinking out of the box?”
I have guests tell me all the time about my “fantabulous doughnuts.” They are sweet, savory, or stuffed and I run them as specials two or three times a month. One of my favorites is my grilled cheese stuffed doughnuts with fresh herbs from our on-site garden, five different cheeses, and topped with a smoked gouda cheese sauce. I also like to use the locally brewed Fordham Copperhead Ale as an ingredient in our Brats and Mash and Belgian Steak Frites. I love going to farmers’ markets and buying locally whenever I can– meats from Hoffman, as well as locally grown produce and seafood in season. Of course, I get lobsters from Maine—our Monday specials are a big hit.
What do you do for fun?
I go to the gym almost every day, run in marathons, cook at home—and occasionally enjoy a
meal out at Ananda, a good vegetarian restaurant nearby.
Earlier in our conversation you referred to yourself as “The Mozart of Food.” Can you elaborate on that delightful notion?
Mozart was a prolific and influential composer of the classical era. My style of food and how I am able to create what comes to my mind without tasting any of it (being a vegetarian for 20-plus years) was truly a gift from God. I cook with my senses—especially my sense of smell. I love sharing my knowledge of food and talent with others, seeing their joy and passion when learning at any level. Running a kitchen is like being the conductor of a symphony orchestra. There are so many parts of the world to see and enjoy eating special foods.
Chef Brian Dunbar’s Seafood Cioppino
8 Prince Edwards Isle mussels
2 large shrimp (16-20 per pound)
5 ounces Atlantic salmon
1 ear corn on the cob
2 cups marinara sauce
1 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon tumeric seasoning
¼ teaspoon chopped garlic
¼ teaspoon kosher salt/black pepper blend
1 ounce fresh spinach
fresh basil leaves, parsley and lemon wedges for garnish
Heat olive oil and garlic in saute pan.
Cut salmon into 1-inch cubes and add salmon and shrimp to pan. Saute 2-3 minutes over medium heat.
Add mussels, corn on the cob, white wine and seasonings.
Add marinara sauce and spinach.
Cover sautee pan and simmer for 2-3 minutes over medium heat.
To serve, position two slices of baguette near top of pasta bowl.
Place mussels around outer edge of bowl.
Put corn cob in the middle with rest of ingredients, except shrimp.
Place shrimp on top of sauce, garnish with basil, parsley sprig and lemon wedges.
Serve in pasta bowl, accompanied by cocktail fork.
Note: This recipe serves one. Multiply ingredients by number of dinner guests and serve with wine used in the recipe.
Rams head Fondue Burger
16 ounces ground beef
4 slices provolone cheese
4 ounces smoked Gouda cheese sauce, melted
1-2 slices bacon, cooked and chopped into small pieces
4 ounces arugula
4 ounces French fries
½ cup finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 brioche bun
Use the proper ring to make a hole in the middle of two 8-ounce burgers.
Season each side with four shakes of Montreal seasoning and grill to desired degree of doneness.
Remove from grill and place two slices provolone cheese in middle of cooked burgers.
Toss fresh fries in a bowl with olive oil and fine chopped fresh rosemary.
Arrange arugula on dinner plate then place the bottom brioche bun on top of greens.
Stack each burger on top of bottom brioche bun.
Fill the middle of stacked burgers with rosemary fries, put top of brioche bun on burger and crown with rest of fries.
Pour smoked Gouda cheese sauce on top of fries and let it run down the sides.
Sprinkle chopped bacon over cheese sauce and garnish with pickle spear.
Place black handled knife in top of bun and stick through the middle of the burger.