By Alison Bailin Batz | April 8, 2021
Brent Menke is the co-founder and executive chef of The Mick, a modern French brasserie featuring small plates inspired from regions once part of the French colonial empire. But back in the early late 1980s, he was just another Firebird.
“I grew up in Paradise Valley and graduated from Chaparral High School, home of the Firebirds, in 1988,” says Menke, who lived for fishing in Mexico as a teen.
After high school, Menke stayed in Arizona, studying at the UA, where he graduated with a degree in marketing in 1992.
“After college, the thought of a desk job made me a little queasy. But you know what didn’t? The idea of living on a boat,” Menke says.
And while most people dream about life on the open seas, Menke applied to work on a motor yacht, much like one you might see on Bravo’s Below Deck. Among his primary routes was from the Caribbean to the French Riviera.
“I started at the literally bottom, as in scrubbing the bottom of the boat,” Menke says. “Over time, however, I worked my way up the chain of command, eventually earning my way to the boson role on a private yacht.”
To put into layman’s terms, the boson more or less serves as the manager of all deck operations and personnel and is the eyes and ears of the captain. This includes overseeing the maintenance of the exterior of the yacht, all deckhands and conflict resolution among team members, water toys, supplies and even small tenders attached to the yacht.
“When I tell folks of my adventures on the water, they often ask how I ended up a chef and not a boat captain,” Menke says. “I actually got my start in cooking while on board a ship.”
Menke, who always enjoyed cooking, made his way into the kitchen — or galley — of a yacht in the late 1990s. The chef on board was due a vacation, and the captain needed volunteers to cook for the crew while he was away. Menke stepped up.
“That fateful volunteer job helping in the kitchen changed the course of my entire life,” Menke says. “After just a few days in the kitchen, I never wanted to leave.”
Soon, Menke moved from the deck to the kitchen, first as a sous chef.
“In 1999, I decided to make the official job change and was accepted to the Culinary Institute of America,” Menke says. “The journey from there was as wild as the flavors I liked to combine, including connecting with the then-owner of Yankee Candle and becoming his head chef.”
After serving as the head chef for several of the owner’s entities, homes and even his private jet, the two became great friends and decided to go into business together. In 2010, the duo opened The Farm Table at Kringle Candle in Massachusetts, an immediate success.
“By 2015, I was a husband and father to a 10- and 12-year-old, and I wanted them to experience a little of the adventure I had, but at a younger age,” Menke says. “So, our family packed up and spent a full calendar year exploring the world.”
The family traversed through France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Australia, Fiji, Dubai, Ecuador and Peru, just to name a few stops. During this time, Menke served as a consultant to concepts around the world. Family brought Menke and his clan back to his native Scottsdale in 2016.
“My father, who still lived here, had fallen ill,” Menke says. “I wanted to be the one to care for him, so we packed up and planted our roots here five years ago.”
While caring for his father, Menke enjoyed reconnecting and catching up with old friends, including John Krause. Krause immediately began bending Menke’s ear about starting a restaurant together in their hometown.
“By 2019, when a space near McCormick Ranch opened up, he had my interest piqued,” Menke says. “But on the condition we bring something new to Scottsdale.”
The “something new” eventually became The Mick. Opened in 2020, the modern take on the French brasserie concept is inspired by regions once under the French Colonial Empire.
“For us, it means regions that were under French rule anytime from the 1600s to present. Think Creole New Orleans, Africa, India and Southeast Asia as well as France itself,” Menke says.
The restaurant is an homage to his early days working on a boat in the French Riviera and his wife, who is French.
The dishes often have just a touch of Southwest spice in them as well. As an example, Menke’s pork belly bahn mi slider has Southeast Asian char sui glazed pork belly and kimchi slaw but is served on French brioche. And the topping? Sriracha mayo.
“We also have some straight modern interpretations of classic French dishes, like our gratin dauphinoise, by way of example,” Menke says.
“This is a French dish made using sliced potatoes baked in milk or cream, using the gratin technique that was first invented in the Dauphiné region in southeastern France.”
According to Menke, sharing the flavors from his travels around the world and on the high seas is made even more special because he is able to do it in his hometown.
“To see my kids grow up where I did, while still providing them and the community at large a global adventure through my food, is a dream come true,” Menke says. ν
The Mick Brasserie
9719 N. Hayden Road, Scottsdale