Chef Bram Fowler of Sanford's Old Jailhouse says his South African upbringing inspires him to cook world cuisine

South African-born chef Bram Fowler is no stranger to our dining scene, having wowed guests at his Longwood restaurant Journeys well before helming the kitchen at Sanford's Old Jailhouse, a stunning restaurant specializing in "Sun Belt Cuisine."

As a chef, there are obvious challenges when you run the kitchen but don't own the restaurant. How do you navigate your relationship with an owner? My owners give me the freedom to run the kitchen and menu as I see fit. I've had other owners at different establishments that liked to micro-manage. There was a restaurant whose owner wanted to tell me what menu items should appear on the menu because, he said, "people love that dish." Well, that restaurant is no longer in business. I run the Old Jailhouse as if it were my own restaurant and, so far, it's working out and my owners are very supportive.

click to enlarge Bram Fowler of Sanford's Old Jailhouse says his South African upbringing inspires him to cook world cuisine
Photo by Rob Bartlett

What effect has your immigrant experience had on the restaurant's evolution? My mom is such a great cook, so my love of cooking came from her. I was fascinated that she could create anything from any restaurant and make it better, so I guess I started playing with dishes and plating food at an early age. I believe my background coming from South Africa has helped me in my cooking career. I was brought up with so many different cultures who all "stayed in their own lane," as it were, so when you ate at a Greek or Indian or even French restaurant, it was as authentic as it was in the home country. That's what inspired me to cook world cuisine. I enjoyed blending the cuisines of different cultures that were so separated where I came from.

How are you reducing food waste? What are you doing to make the restaurant more sustainable? Using the right vendors who can get sustainable fish and local produce and meat is the key. We try using every part of the animals and or vegetables we get. I'm working with a local pig farmer and will be sending them some of our plate waste. The beef we use comes from Florida, the shrimp comes from the Gulf and so on. I like to use the Seafood Watch app and only get green or yellow options. I get my tomatoes from Waterkist Farm in Sanford. I believe that as a community we can work together on reuse and recycling.

What was your first food addiction? Curry. I love it and ate it on a weekly basis growing up. (▲