At over six feet tall, Brandon Arms is hard to miss, especially in his kitchen. The chef and part owner of Garden at the Cellar—a Cambridge gastropub that for years has served some of the most creative, delicious dishes in the area—
his size could have made him an intimidating figure, but he has a genuine and relaxed smile that puts everyone at ease.
On the menu you’ll find exotic ingredients that are staples of some of the city’s finest restaurants, like foie-gras, sweetbreads, next to the more familiar fare, such as burgers and grilled cheese sandwiches. Chef Arms is comfortable working with both.
After relocating to the East Coast for culinary school, he worked with Chef Ken Oringer at Clio, one of the most molecular kitchens in the city, and came to Garden at the Cellar in 2009 as sous chef to Chef Will Gilson. After Gilson left to pursue new ventures (he’s planning to open Puritan and Co. in Inman Square in the next month or so),
Arms was tapped as head chef and has been kicking ass in the kitchen ever since.
How did your career in food start?
I got my first cooking job at Rocky RoCoco’s Pizza in Madison, Wisc. It’s a midwest thing—it makes me sad that people out here don’t know what that restaurant chain is.
I was a pizza cook at 12 years old. Child labor laws were a little different back then.
I had cooking jobs at various places in Madison after that. I worked at this place called Ella’s Deli that was pretty cool. There was a carousel out front and toy trains. After 11 years of cooking, I decided I needed to take the next step and go to school. That’s when I moved to Vermont and went to the New England Culinary Institute.
How would you describe Garden at the Cellar to a person who has never been there?
I’d say it’s a casual, seasonally inspired restaurant with good variety. We try to give a lot of variety on our menu and use local ingredients that reflect the seasons.
How do you come up with a dish?
Basically, I just keep in communication with my purveyors.
What’s in season, what’s available and work from there. I base my decisions for dishes on what’s available.
When you’re not in the kitchen, where can we find you?
I try to get out and do some fly fishing, or go out to eat. I’m an outdoorsman. As long as there aren’t too many bugs around.
Best kitchen story?
Back when I was in Wisconsin, I told a prep cook to make this recipe: five times the batch, just follow the directions. The last step said to mix by hand. I come back into the kitchen a little later and he’s elbows deep in a massive mixing bowl.
I was like, “what are you doing?!”
If you weren’t a chef, what would you be doing?
I think I might be a farmer or hang out with farmers. Or I’d probably still be a firefighter or a marine biologist. Now that I think about it, I guess that’s why I cook: All of those things kind of meet in the middle.
I get to work with plants, I get to work with animals, and I get to work with fire all day.
GARDEN AT THE CELLAR
991 MASS AVE.
DINNER: TUE-SAT 5PM-11PM
LUNCH: MON-SAT 11:30AM-2:30PM
BRUNCH: SUN 11AM-2:30PM