An all-brunch competition helps to highlight those who give back.
“The Big Brunch” is a new HBO Max cooking competition show hosted by “Schitt’s Creek” star Dan Levy. Premiering on November 10, ten chefs are competing to win a $300,000 cash prize, and it highlights entrepreneurs who are doing big things in their respective communities. After completing a series of Zoom interviews to showcase his cooking skills, chef Antwon Brinson secured his spot as a contestant.
Like most reality shows, the contestants were isolated from the world during production. “We filmed in Hollywood,” Brinson says. “No outside communication during our month of filming.
Unless stated explicitly in its show title, such as “Top Chef: Just Desserts” or “The Great British Bake Off,” most reality culinary competitions don’t have a singular focus.
So why brunch?
“Brunch is an underrated meal,” Brinson says. “No one really thinks about it the way they do lunch and dinner. The competition was all about brunch items, and everyone brought their own style of cooking.”
However, the competition itself sets “The Big Brunch” apart from other cooking shows. Brinson says it wasn’t a cutthroat, by-any-means-necessary mindset, and he and the other contestants developed a shared camaraderie.
At the Heart is Community
For Brinson, he learned about the importance of community during his formative years. He was raised by his mother, a foster parent who fostered 250+children throughout her life. She instilled her compassion and love into Brinson, who, as an adult, decided to give back to his community by creating Culinary Concepts AB (CCAB) based in Charlottesville, Virginia.
CCAB is a culinary center focusing on culinary education, but it’s not a culinary school. “Our training programs educate and provide the community with chefs that help people achieve their goals, learn new cuisine, culture, anything to help ignite their passion.” CCAB is only one out of four programs available in the United States.
Brinson is a classically trained chef, turning a culinary interest into a hobby before enrolling and graduating from the Culinary Institute of America. Afterward, he says he continued his career with a three-year apprenticeship at Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia before traveling and cooking across the U.S. and the world. While successful in his career, Brinson felt something was missing and noted the lack of connection to a community after traveling and moving around for years.
He also realized another thing that needed to be added within the culinary industry; cross-training. People only knew one kitchen station despite years in their craft. “I’ve talked about how the traditional model in culinary education is broken. You can get chefs classically trained in French cuisine, but when’s the last time you went to a French restaurant?” Necessity is the mother of invention, leading to CCAB’s creation.
Brinson says that CCAB incorporates basic principles and tricks of the trade. “We have knife mastery classes, and students learn [about] all the culinary knives. We walk through all of them; we teach what type of metal the knives are, how to use it, how it affects cooking, etc.”
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CCAB also helps with basic skills, something Brinson also noticed was absent among the masses. “People weren’t concerned with things like punctuality, communication and that created a barrier. CCAB helps people get that upward mobility towards success.”
Once students have graduated from CCAB, they are encouraged to return and pass it forward. “Alumni come back as trainers, creating an ecosystem of educational classes for people. We have guest speakers who help students. For example, a student with no training in sushi ended up as an executive chef at another [sushi restaurant].”
Teasing the competition outcome, the New York native says, “If I win, the funds will be for capacity building. Allowing us to fulfill our mission by reaching more communities around the country. Now, more than ever, the hospitality industry desperately needs a program like this.”
Brinson says CCAB’s goal is to connect people to employment. “We only take 10-12 students at a time out of 60-70 applicants and classes are for five weeks. We ensure employment for our students, starting with a guaranteed living wage.” In doing this, he shares they have had a 100% student graduation success rate over the years.
“Leadership starts at the top. The vision, what you want it to be, it starts there. ‘The Big Brunch’ was a platform to highlight our work and the amazing hospitality industry people doing things for respective communities. During our time there, we all forged amazing relationships. It's really beautiful.”
Does that mean there might be some collaboration in the future? Brinson says, “Let's just say we have big plans for 2023! The messaging spoke to me and my company directly and felt I had to do this. There’s never been a show like this one.”
Brinson, CCAB, Discover Black Cville and Heathen Wines will host a free watch party for the first episode on Tuesday, November 15, at Vinegar Hill Theater at 5:30 pm ET. After the showing, the audience can ask questions in a live Q&A. Chef Brinson will also moderate a panel of local changemakers who will discuss how they are creating opportunities to empower people to change their lives.