Interview with Chris Chowaniec (Culinary Arts'13)
ICC California alum Chris Chowaniec (left) and his brother Mark have turned their lifelong relationship with food into an exciting new business. The Chow Brothers “are committed to always being a fun and responsible food brand delivering unique flavors as accouterments, appetizers, and main dishes to good food fans everywhere!”
– How and when did you know you wanted to work with food?
My mom grew up on a farm. I grew up starting dinner prep for the family because my parents worked late. We never went out to eat, and family parties were really food festivals. Post college – my brother and I enjoyed throwing dinner parties back in Chicago, which turned into fundraisers. Shortly after, one of my friends started a private cheffing and pop-up dinner business in NYC back in 2008 and I went to help with him in the kitchen. When I got back, I realized I wanted to take our events to the next level – and formed The Chow Brothers. The culinary school bug was always in me, even though I have always worked in tech and photography. In 2013, before I turned 35 – I knew if I did not make the move to California and just do it, it would never happened. I committed to aligning all my work to focus on food, the food system, and cooking. It’s been my passion since I was young, and The Chow Brothers has allowed me to turn it into something bigger than myself.
– Tell us a bit about your photography – how did that start? Were you always interested in food photography or did that develop over time? What do you love about it?
My grandpa and dad taught me how to use medium format and 35mm film cameras when I was 9. I haven’t stopped carrying a camera around ever since. In 2007, after constantly taking photos, posting, learning, attending seminars and classes – one of my close friends asked me to shoot his wedding. So then I started my own photography business in 2009, and pivoted to food once The Chow Brothers came together. One of my mentors and friends who worked for Food and Wine Magazine brought me deeper into the world of food photography back in 2012, and when I moved to California for the ICC – I knew I wanted to work for a food magazine, so I knocked a lot on the doors of Edible Magazine. I love combining my knowledge and respect for cooking, plating, and serving into my photography. I guess what I like most about it is the ability to express my creativity and passion in a physical medium. That release of mental and creative energy into a solid form gives me purpose and allows me to communicate about food in ways that my words cannot.
– What inspired The Chow Bros? What’s next for them?
– Already discussed above – but we are definitely motivated to leave a legacy, celebrate our traditions, and responsibly grow a business we can rely on in the future. At a more simple level, it is about having fun and bringing people together with food.
What’s next? We are going to be producing gourmet pierogi like short rib and port, duck confit, and bourbon maple pork. Raw Carrot and Coriander Sauerkraut is already in progress and on sale in the Bay Area, and we are looking to outsource some of our production with partners. We are also trying to obtain our official organic certification for all of our products this year, redo our website, and break into some more bar and retail locations.
– What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
I had to think about this one, because I have received a lot of it in my life from incredible people. But I guess the one that keeps on coming into my head is what my parents constantly told me growing up: study, study, study. I am the first generation in the US, and my parents are both from Poland. Their hard work ethic rubbed off on me for sure – but they insisted I do well in school, and go to college since they never had the opportunity. The advice I got out of it was to always learn new things. Challenge yourself intellectually and practically to be curious and learn how things work. Ever since I was a kid, I have been taking things apart, taking classes and workshops, and trying to things whether in kitchen or in life the better or right way. Curiosity is essential in the kitchen and it turns out it is some great advice in life.
– How did your ICC experience influence your career path?
The ICC gave me more confidence in my abilities and to appreciate the importance of not only a sustainable food system, but efficiency and excellence in the kitchen. At the end of the day – I have to run a business, the food has to be incredible, and the chef instructors at the ICC are passionate, experienced, and a great source of inspiration.
– What’s your favorite memory of your time at the ICC?
Charcuterie class, learning how to bake bread, and our farm to table field trips. Respecting the whole animal and respecting our farmers, food, and food system are important values for The Chow Brothers.
Chris Chowaniec graduated from the International Culinary Center (ICC), founded as The French Culinary Institute (FCI). In 2020, ICE and ICC came together on one strong and dynamic national platform at ICE's campuses in New York City and Los Angeles. ICC’s culinary education legacy lives on at ICE, where you can explore your own future in food.