Walking into the kitchen of the Brass Elephant, Mount Vernon’s romantic and historic fine-dining restaurant, and being greeted by Chris Lewis can be a bit bewildering. From his short thin frame to the shaggy hair framing his youthful face and goatee-blotted chin, it would be easy to assume that he’s a busser wandering around the kitchen or, at the most, a food prepper. A closer look at the baggy chef jacket his wiry frame is swimming in reveals his full title: Chef C. Lewis.
“I’ve come to expect people’s reactions, and it’s their problem, not mine,” Lewis says. A few months past his 27th birthday, the Carol County native has been the head chef of the Brass Elephant since he was 23, a fact that might surprise people given the restaurants old-school atmosphere and mature clientele. But Lewis is used to having to convince people that he’s not a little kid.
“My first job as a chef came right out of high school,” he says. “I worked in a place where the owner liked my work, but the head waiter was her son and he’d say to her, ‘What are you doing? This guy’s too young!’ And that used to bother me, but I’m over it now.”
He grew up in a home where dinner was “a big deal.” His mom made pasta from scratch and bread by hand. Lewis’ interest in food started early. “Even as a teenager, I would save up the little money I had and go to fine-dining places,” he says. “While my friends were at McDonald’s, I would go to Charleston. I ended up spending most of my money on eating, but it inspired me to start creating my own dishes.”
By 15 he was working in a restaurant in Carroll County as a dishwasher for after-school cash. Eventually he worked his way up through the ranks and into the kitchen. In a few short years he moved from there to a country club in the county and found that he was spending most of his free time eating and cooking. “Any cookbook I would find I’d pick it up and teach myself,” Lewis says.
After high school, he attended the Pennsylvania Culinary Institute in Pittsburgh, where he finally got some professional training. “Today I use a lot of French techniques, but I pull from a lot of influences,” he says. “My style is pretty loose and it changes often.”
Today, the young newlywed creates the menu, cooks, and handles the ordering for the Brass Elephant, a big job that carries as much responsibility as it does bragging rights. But Lewis remains unphased by his accomplishments and says he’s thankful to be successful doing something he loves.
“I know it’s not normal, I know I’m young for the job, and that’s cool,” Lewis says. “But I’ve been doing this since I was 15, fell in love with the energy and being around the different people, and just realized I wasn’t a 9 to 5 guy. I couldn’t just sit in an office behind a computer all day.”
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