Brian Malarkey: An Inside Peek at what this Top Chef is Cooking Up Next

Chef, TV Personality and Entrepreneur
Photography by Ken Alcazar
He has inspired young chefs all over the world with his fiery personality and cooking skills on a plethora of TV shows and now he is getting ready to take over the retail world with his newest venture Chef’s Life. We noticed his spunk and good vibes immediately as we sat down one on one with the culinary rockstar. Even when covid started to slow things down his work ethic didn’t change, instead he pivoted his business after hearing a few wise words about thinking differently and working smarter not harder. This funny and super energetic tv personality and chef won’t be stopped and we couldn’t admire him more for his positive outlook on life and determination to go bigger and bolder during a pandemic.
When he’s not judging up and coming chefs on shows like Guy’s Grocery Games and ABC’s The Taste you can find him in Koreatown enjoying the foodie scene or escaping to Costa Rica for a good surf session. Having already narrowed down his plans and goals for 2022 we can all rest assured this is certainly going to be his biggest and best year yet!
LATM: Tell us your best or worst travel experience/memory.
BM: I have been in love with Tulum for a very long time, I’ve gone three times. Absolutely love it. Tulum is an action-packed adventure with yoga and fresh-squeezed juices and fish on the beach. It’s just very, very nice. I also love exotic fun trips like Costa Rica, for surfing. I’ve done the whole Italy, Spain, France by car experience and I love those destinations.

I would have to say one of the best trips and craziest was when we were in Egypt with my friend Ahmed. We got caught in rival soccer riots that were going on and our driver was like, “I have to get you out of here. I fear for your lives.” So anytime the driver is trying to hide “Apple Pie Americana’s,” you know you’re in a bad situation. No matter how many times we told him we were from Canada, he knew we were American.

LATM: How did that trip turn out to be your best?

BM: Well, it’s like the beginning of civilization, as far as I’m concerned: Egypt, the pyramids, the beauty, it’s just over the top. To think that those pyramids were built before the map, I’m positive that’s where the aliens landed. That’s the first contact with aliens – the pharaohs and the aliens, alright? Haha

LATM: Where are your favorite spots to hit up in SoCal when you are not working?

BM: I’m very fortunate, I have a boat so anytime we can we get on the water. The kids are into surfing right now so we’re just out as much as possible. My kids are infatuated with the Wedge in Newport. They love the breaks up in Laguna also. I’m trying to get them off those shore breaks because I’m scared. I like the longer, more relaxed breaks. I like the sunsets cliffs down in San Diego so that we’re not hitting the beach every time we land. I have a hard time going East – everything I do is on the coast, from Santa Barbara to Malibu to Orange County all the way down to the border.

For restaurants, I just had an epic meal at Bourbon Steak by Michael Mina, and I’m not typically a hotel restaurant kind of guy, but it was on point. The service was so good. That was fantastic.  We always love to go and support our friend Amar Santana in OC. In LA I can’t get enough of K-Town right now for Korean food. I also love to go check out Majordōmo, David Chang’s new place. I haven’t been to Girl and the Goat yet, but I love Stephanie Izard. She just opened her first restaurant outside of Chicago which I am a long-time fan of. République is my go-to favorite restaurant of all time, by Walter Manzke. I was sad to see MTN by Travis Letts restaurant go, but I always loved that one.  In San Diego – I love Jeune, Jolie and Campfire.  Anything in the Trust Group down here in San Diego is always incredible if I must talk about restaurants that are not my own. Travis Swikard just opened a restaurant called Callie down here which is next level. Those are my favorites. I love going up into the convoys and the different ethnic areas and just eating a bowl of ramen and dumplings and having a few ice-cold beers. One more restaurant I want to throw in here is Brooke Williamson, a Top Chef fave! She has an incredible restaurant south of LA.  Brooke Williamson is a very talented chef and I love her incredible food.

LATM: What has been your most proud achievement over the course of your career?

BM: The highlight of my career – you know I kind of just keep going for them. The fabric brands were incredible that we launched. The pure joy that Herb and Wood brings to me. It’s doing 600 covers a night now and is just a beautiful, fantastic restaurant. You know what my biggest accomplishment really is, it honestly having the next generation of chefs who I taught and mentored now leading the charge. They are taking the pressure off me, the talent is immense, the passion is huge, I’m just so thrilled for what the future holds for these young chefs coming up right now. I’ve gotten to train and work with so many of them – I love that.  Of course, also launching a nationwide line for Chef‘s Life Oils is pretty big on the list. It’s really blowing my mind that we are in 1800 stores nationwide right now.

LATM: Where is one country or culture you would like to explore or learn more about?

BM: I’m dying to get to Thailand and Vietnam – Southeast Asia.  It’s the only food I want to eat right now – it’s bright, it’s hot, it’s acidic, it’s fresh, it’s all I crave and daydream about. I love it.

LATM: What are a few of your go-to travel items you must have on a trip?

BM: I like to go with an empty bag and fill it up when I get there. I love buying everything from local handmade clothes to high-end items, from secret spoons and knives to different spices. I really don’t try to take anything with me. I want to take an empty bag and fill it with the treasures I find while traveling.

LATM: Where is your ideal destination for a local weekend getaway?

BM: In wintertime, we love to run off to Palm Springs. For a trip to the mountains, I love Mammoth, Park City, Bend, Oregon and in my hometown Mt. Bachelor. All are easy flights to get to. I have a trip planned to Big Sky, Montana this winter and it will be my first time visiting the area. Snowboarding and skiing are always very high on the list for the whole Malarkey Family. When I need a warm escape, I love to fly down to Cabo. I think Cabo is the easiest and greatest place ever. We stayed at Nobu on the last trip and I’m going down to Pedregal this season to do a big Chef Series dinner down there. I just discovered the joys of Todos Santos, down in Baja which has great surfing and fishing. We caught a Marlin the last time we were down there. Cabo is a true treasure that is so very close to us, it’s not that big of a commitment to get to.

LATM: Tell our readers about your new endeavors?

BM: Chef’s Life Oils – I figured out that too many people were cooking with Extra Virgin Olive Oil, I had to teach them that you need the right oil to cook with. But EVOO is one of the products you need, so we came up with a three-pack. So we have cooking oil, a blending oil, and a finishing oil. We got picked up by Kroger’s Nationwide, which is Ralph’s here in CA.  It’s coast to coast and it’s hitting bigger than I thought. The best threesome you’ll ever have!

We also have the Chef’s Life clothing line coming out. Which is the new Chef’s jacket of the future, incredible aprons, highest quality and made here in California. We are going to be launching our aprons in time for the Holiday season and then probably the first quarter of next year, we will be launching our Chef jackets – which are more than just chef jackets.  They are a fashion statement, and anyone can wear one at any time. It’s going to be the parachute pants of 2022 – everybody’s going to want one.

LATM: Which chefs inspired your journey and where do you find your creativity these days?

BM: As I said, my creativity comes from all these young chefs that I’ve worked with who are now running my restaurants. There’s Carlos Achoa, Sara Harris, Tara Monsod – these people are out there, they are pioneers, and they are taking the food scene to a whole new level. It’s not fussy and finicky, it’s just full flavor and confidence in their cooking. My favorite chefs that inspired me are the Bordains of the world, for their attitudes. For badass cuisine, David Chang is a monster. For refinement, Ludo Lefebvre, keeping French Tradition alive and then there are so many of the peers I get to cook with. On the tournament of champions, all the amazing chefs there: Christian Petroni, Booke Williamson, The Voltaggio Brothers, there are so many great chefs and I’m very fortunate that I get to hang out with and competitively cook against them.  I’ll see something that Antonia Lofaso does, and I’ll be like, “Ahh that’s so good” and I’ll put it in my pocket.

LATM: Any tips you have learned throughout your travels you can share?

BM: When I was in Tulum and I realized that their local cuisine is cooked on a wood fire, and then I have people I am working with going we don’t have enough equipment to do this or that.  It makes me think, “Where there’s a will, there is a way, my friend.” You must get more creative. You don’t need all the fancy kitchens and you don’t need all the fancy gismos. You just have to have the desire to make something fantastic. Cooking is kind of caveman. We have fire, oil, and knives. We butcher. So, I love the primal part of cooking and using your hands. It’s good for me to go to places like Mexico and Tulum and Baja, Central America, and Costa Rica, where they don’t have all the luxuries that we have here. Yet their food is as good if not better than ours. It makes you realize that you can accomplish a lot with very little.

LATM: What are your next big goals for 2022?

BM: We have the clothing line coming out. We’re looking to launch Chef’s Life into many more markets, and many more grocery stores, so we are excited about that. We also have more grocery products coming under the Chef’s Life label that we are excited to launch. We’re just going to hang out with the restaurants we currently have. It’s nice to have this product line and shoot a ton of online cooking classes. This is a new direction for us. A wise person once said to me, “You have to make money when you sleep.” I was only making money when I was awake, and people were eating at my restaurant. Now we’re selling in grocery stores across the country, we’re starting to make some money while we sleep. So that’s a good thing!

Southern California is the place to be. It’s been a wild ride, but you can never take away our sunshine, you can never take away our good vibes, and I am Southern California through and through forever. I’ll pay my sunshine tax to continue living this amazing life.