Philadelphia native Chef Kristol Bryant, new executive chef at Sonesta Hotel and Art Bar in Rittenhouse Square, will oversee the entire food and beverage service while also bringing a whole new flare to the Art Bar’s menu. Chef Bryant is the first African American female executive chef within the Philadelphia hotel industry and couldn’t be happier about it.
During an interview with Chef Bryant, we learn that she is much more than an executive chef. As a young single mother, she struggled to care for her family, complete culinary training, and live out her dream of becoming a chef. Due to her assurance and perseverance to be more than what society said she would be, Chef Kristol Bryant is now a successful award winning chef, beloved mother, and resilient mentor for all women in and out of the culinary world.
PHILLYBITE: When did you first know you wanted to be a chef?
CHEF BRYANT: When I was younger I would spend time with my mom in the kitchen helping her cook. Around 12 years old, I started to experiment and cook my own food. I knew I wanted to be a Lawyer or a chef. I actually received a scholarship for schooling to become a lawyer, but I had my children at a young age and as a single mom it was difficult to handle classes while being away from the kids that much. One day I got a pamphlet in the mail from Opportunities Industrialization Center (OIC) for culinary arts, so I applied, and was accepted. I didn’t go to a traditional cooking school like Le Cordon Blue as a lot of other chefs did, but I earned my certificate in culinary arts from OIC while studying under many great chefs.
Being named the first African American female executive chef in the Philadelphia hotel industry is quite an honor, you must be thrilled. How has your background influenced this great achievement?
I am SOO excited about the new role. I started from bottom, even worked in a cafeteria, and pushed myself. I was motivated to become more than statistics said I would be; I was a young mother with 2 kid on welfare, now 4 kids, and I was determined to be more than that. I did it for my kids, they were my motivation. When times were tough trying to take classes and handle mom duties, plus taking them to sports, I just kept pushing for the kids. At that time I was young and full of energy.
PHILLYBITE: What inspires you most in the kitchen?
CHEF BRYANT: I am inspired by life and the seasons changing. I like to cook how I feel. I studied under many great chefs who cooked certain cuisine while gaining experience in French and Asian cooking. I didn’t know my identity at first, until I studied under Marc Plessis in 2006 and he told me that I didn’t have to stick to one cuisine; he was so versatile in his cooking. Colors, fall, fashion, and art inspire me the most. I like to consider who I am feeding and my environment when creating a dish.
PHILLYBITE: What is your favorite cuisine to cook for friends?
CHEF BRYANT: My favorite is American cuisine. I love pork and taking tough cuts of meats and making them tender. I also love classics dishes and turning the old into something new. I like to make a reinvented Salmon Oscar.
PHILLYBITE: Is there anyone in the food world that you view as a mentor?
CHEF BRYANT: Yes, Marc Plessis. He used to be the chef at XIX restaurant in the Hyatt at Bellevue. He started there in December of 2005 and then I came in January of 2006. I learned new techniques, about different spices, and how to make kimchee from scratch; his skill and expertise are incredible. I worked with him for about 4 to 5 years and now he is the executive chef at Pennsylvania 6 located at 114 S. 12th street.
PHILLYBITE: Throughout your career, what accomplishments are you most proud of?
CHEF BRYANT: Being named the next generation of women leaders in Philadelphia back in 2014 and being a mentor.
PHILLYBITE:How do you view the Philadelphia hotel dining scene and what do you hope to bring to it?
CHEF BRYANT: I moved to and grew up in Philly from a very young age. The dining scene is booming more so now than when I first started. Only key people were recognized in the restaurant business originally, but now Philly is known as a food city across the country. Everyone here is a foodie. I Hope to contribute to the city’s food success and be an inspiration to all young women while pushing them to strive for success.
PHILLYBITE:What are your plans for the Art Bar’s new menu?
CHEF BRYANT: Food is art, I want to bring new flavors, new techniques, a new look, and a new concept to what cuisine could be. I want it to be versatile; look good and taste good. I want the menu to have flavor profiles, something that pares with both beer and wine. The new menu will be coming out in the next month for the fall season.
PHILLYBITE: When creating a new dish, what factors do you take into account? How do you achieve harmony/balance?
CHEF BRYANT: I consider the audience and the season. It’s the Art bar, so bar food and who is coming into eat. I want people to have fun and sharable plates. I am actually not a fan of pumpkin, so I try to use squashes instead since pumpkin and butternut squash are over used; I like being unique.
PHILLYBITE: What do you feel is the most difficult part about being an executive chef?
CHEF BRYANT: Being away from home and the kids. I have missed birthdays, plays, and school events, but this is how I provide a life for them. There are moments I wish I could be there, but they are happy and always root for me. I am usually tired and sore after work, but the kids want to talk to me about their day. Actually I am really sore right now because the other day we had a dance off together.
PHILLYBITE:I see you are supporter and fellow student of the Opportunities Industrialization Center (OIC) of America. How has the organization impacted your career?
CHEF BRYANT: Oh my goodness, OIC is the foundation of everything I was able to build my career on. They have always been a part of my life, even after graduation I continue to work with OIC. I go back sometimes to learn new skills or techniques like flipping eggs. I have won several awards because of them, I am currently the face of OIC and I think the most successful student to date.
PHILLYBITE: What do you enjoy most outside of the kitchen?
CHEIF BRYANT: Fashion, I love shoes and fashion. I am always creating or designing something for the kids. We also like to dance, watch movies, and hangout. The kids are my best friends. Even through the tough times they made me feel good about what I was doing, we have an amazing relationship. I am grateful for this relationship since I was gone a lot. After work, I go home and design stuff for kids’ shoes or clothes so they can be unique and I find it relaxing.
PHILLYBITE: Do you have any future plans or goals you’d like to achieve as chef?
CHEF BRYANT: I want to go corporate; I am trying to become a TV chef. My son said I was a superstar because he saw me on the internet. Kids push you to do things you’d never think about.
Chef Bryant mentioned that being a woman in the culinary arts industry is very difficult. She used to wear clothes 5 times bigger than her size to prove she could do the job and not let her sexuality affect her reputation. After the interview, very humbled, Kristol thanked me for the opportunity and experience to tell her story, but it was my pleasure to speak with such an amazing women and chef. Her enthusiasm and vitality for success in the food industry as well as her family is truly inspiring. Keep an eye out for Chef Kristol Bryant as she will be doing big things in the near future!