An Exclusive First Look at Sean Brock’s Experimental Restaurant in Nashville

Upstairs from his hit restaurant Audrey, the chef is turning out a choreographed tasting menu experience at the 32-seat June that pushes Southern cuisine into uncharted territory.

Carrot, wheatgrass, and green peanut oil. Photography by John Troxel.

In 2021, chef Sean Brock tapped into his Appalachian roots with the debut of the art-filled Audrey in East Nashville’s McFerrin Park. Named for his grandmother who taught him regional cooking techniques, Brock teamed with interior designer Katie Vance and Powell Architecture to imbue the restaurant with a rustic sensibility, outfitting the space with Brock’s own Southern folk art collection and original photography.  

Accompanying Audrey is an on-site research and development lab where Brock’s team play with flavor extraction and concentration, and an ambitious ground-to-glass cocktail bar where bar director Jon Howard sources local produce like pawpaw and Jimmy Red corn to anchor the three-ingredient drinks on an inventive menu that changes daily. Now the final piece of the multi-phase project has landed: the 32-seat tasting menu experience June. A known Japanophile, Brock puts a southern spin on a traditional multi-course kaiseki dinner, a procession the builds from artfully plated one-bite canapes to heartier dishes from the land.   

Below, Brock gives us a preview of the new experimental venture that he says will be the last restaurant he ever launches. 

June is billed as the more experimental tasting-menu experience that builds on Audrey, its neighbor down below. What can people expect to see at June that they wouldn’t encounter at Audrey?

My goal is to serve as many different courses as possible in a 2.5-3 hour time period. I think the purpose of a tasting menu is to highlight the best products available and showcase interesting or new cooking techniques.

When you first started, you were focused on Lowcountry cuisine. You’ve since pivoted to the lesser-known Appalachian traditions of food and the South as a whole. What drove you to expand the scope? Was it a desire to return to your roots?

I feel like I’m somewhere close to the halfway point of my career. I spent the first half focused on trying to understand and contribute to the Foodways of the Lowcountry. It was an extraordinary experience. I realized that the second half of my career needs to be focused on the food of my family.

Photography by Emily Dorio.
Photography by Emily Dorio.

For the uninitiated, what are some of the differences between Lowcountry and Appalachian cuisine?

The South has so many micro cuisines. Cultural influences and geography play an important role – in the Lowcountry you see West African flavors with amazing products from the ocean. In Appalachia you see a lot of preservation influenced by indigenous practices mixed with German. Picture a sauerkraut of sweet corn, that’s what I grew up eating.

A through-line that connects many of your restaurants, from my point of view, is a residential atmosphere. Why do you gravitate toward that style of design?

I want the space where you are eating to be as stress free and relaxing as possible. I want you to feel like you are visiting a home.

What are some of the special design elements at June?

I have become obsessed with the work of George Nakashima. He looked at trees and furniture making the way we look at our food products and cooking.

Photography by Emily Dorio.

Is the design approach different from Audrey?

I wanted Audrey and June to feel totally different. Audrey is filled with nearly 70 pieces of folk art all over the place. June has around 10 pieces. June is much more Zen.

Has your own photography always been a fixture in your restaurants or is that a recent development with Audrey and now June? When did you get into photography?

I started shooting film when I found out my wife was pregnant with our son. He is 3 so I am still a beginner. I love it so much; I shoot every day. I put a series of photos from a trip to Japan in the private dining room at The Continental. There is a small area on the stairwell of Audrey and June where I rotate photos of mine.

Does your creativity in the kitchen translate to when you’re behind the lens in a similar fashion or are they two totally different mediums for you?

They inform each other. Photography has taught me how to make something beautiful out of something boring or overlooked. That helps my cooking tremendously.

How are they different? 

I have a lot of control over my plates. I love that I have zero control over what’s going to come in and out of a frame.

Who are some of your biggest influences in the food world?

Michel Bras has always blown my mind. One of the most modern restaurants in the middle of nowhere. That takes a lot of courage.

Pine rosin potatoes. (RIGHT) Savory beignet with smoked hollandaise and caviar. Photography by John Troxel.

Do other figures—from the worlds of art, design, music, technology, and beyond—inspire your work with food?

I have taught myself to look for things in other art forms that I am attracted to and then be curious about what the creator was thinking or what may have inspired them.

When you’re creating a new concept or a menu, what’s your creative process look like?

We always start with the products, then creativity and then execution. We call it the PIE theory; Products Ideas Execution.

How has the food scene changed since you first came to Nashville?

The landscape has changed so drastically. It really should be studied. All of a sudden, we have so many amazing options!

Snow crab, freeze dried buttermilk, and parsnip pudding. Photography by John Troxel.
Photography by Emily Dorio.

Would a concept like Audrey, and now June, have been possible at that time? If not, what was missing that is available now?

I think it would have been possible. Nashville has always been full of open-minded and creative people.

In the past decade and more, you’ve racked up James Beard Awards, written books, hosted television shows, and become one of America’s most respected chefs. It certainly seems like you’re moving into the next chapter. Whatare one or two of the biggest lessons you’ve learned along the way and what is your hope for the next decade of your career?

A couple of the biggest lessons I have learned along the way are to always hire people more talented than you are and never stop being curious. Over the next decade or two I hope to continue to refine the experiences at Audrey and June. I have to continue to evolve.

You’ve said you want to take a minimalistic approach to southern cooking. What do you mean by that?

Focus on the best products, while also putting an emphasis on extracting as much flavor as possible from those products.

What do you envision the future of southern cooking as? 

I think that we are at the beginning of a new chapter in Southern Cooking. We have only just begun to refine the micro regions.

What are you working on in the lab currently?

We focus on extraction and concentration. Our goal is to take every seasonal ingredient that walks through the door and explore ways to unlock hidden flavors of sweet, sour, umami, salt, and acidity.

You’ve stated that Audrey, and its sister June, are essentially your final projects. Help me break some news here! What are the chances you venture out again at some point and do something different?

Audrey and June are it for me. I want to grow old in these restaurants and spend as much time here as possible. I’m sure I’ll open more casual places throughout my life, but right now all I can think about is what these two restaurants will be like when I’m 70.

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