By Aashna Shah / Photography by John Michael Simpson
For years, Michelin-rated chef Brandon Sharp worked and learned in kitchens all over the world. In April of 2019, he opened his own restaurant, Hawthorne & Wood, which offers an eclectic, California-inspired menu.
What has your culinary journey been like?
I’m from Greensboro and grew up there. I went to school at UNC, where I studied philosophy and worked in kitchens in my spare time. While I was in school, I worked at Southern Season and their restaurant, Weathervane. After graduating, I went to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park for culinary school and continued working in restaurants. I then went on to work in Napa Valley at The French Laundry and made my way to New Orleans to work in Restaurant August. I got married to my wife, Elizabeth, and then we went and spent one summer in Spain where I worked at a top restaurant. When we returned from Spain, we moved to San Francisco, where I worked at Gary Danko. After a few years, I went to Napa Valley and worked at Solbar for nine years and then made my way back to Chapel Hill in 2016. I worked at The Carolina Inn for two years and then realized it was time for me to open my place.
What’s one of the biggest lessons you learned while cooking all over the globe?
It is a bit of a cliche, but in the world of food and restaurants, you are always a student, and there is still more to learn. The culinary world is continuously evolving, and that is what keeps it exciting.
What was culinary school like?
Culinary school was a crash course in everything from product identification to culinary math to cuisines from all around the world. By that time, I had spent a year in a really good kitchen for a serious chef. I realized that this was the profession that I wanted to pursue. Culinary school was a springboard for me.
What was your biggest takeaway from culinary school?
It was mostly just to keep your mouth shut, stay humble and stay hungry.
What does Chapel Hill mean to you?
My mom grew up half a mile from Chapel Hill, and my grandparents lived there for 40 years, so Chapel Hill was a second home to me from a very young age. It was just a very safe, insular and wonderful place to me. It has been wonderful to bring my wife and kids back here to experience it the same way. It is a bit elusive to encapsulate that in words because it’s a feeling more than anything else. One of my most distinct memories is when I lived out west, my mom sent me a postcard of the Franklin Street sign, and I put it up in every office or department I ever worked in.
What made you want to open your restaurant?
I was blessed to work with enough experts in every operation area to get a good understanding of financials, legal, HR, management, wine, cocktails and more. I hit the ceiling in a couple of hotels and was ready to do my own thing. I was prepared to call the shots.
Where did the name “Hawthorne & Wood” come from?
We wanted the restaurant to reflect our time in California and the Californian influence on the cuisine. Elizabeth’s parents are from California. Her dad is from Hawthorne, down in [Los Angeles] County, and her mom is from St. Francis Wood on the peninsula by San Francisco, so that’s how we came up with the name.
What was the design process in creating the ambiance?
My wife came up with the color palette, and we also worked with a designer named Amy Howard, who picked out the finishes. I left the design and aesthetic to the two of them. I would interject an opinion now and then and realize I was immediately wrong.
What is the cuisine of Hawthorne & Wood?
The cuisine is eclectic, and I would describe it as “the things we want to eat.” There is usually a three-course menu that is always changing and has flavors from all around the world. We try to highlight the California taste in many dishes, but you will also see Persian dishes and southern French flavors.
What is something you want everyone to know about you?
I want everyone to know that there is no such thing as a solitary genius. It is a team effort, and I entirely and gratefully realize that. I am lucky to have the team and support I have behind me. I also hope to open another restaurant sometime in the future.