When you meet Chef Brian Whetsels, you are automatically drawn to his simplicity, his humility and his kindness. Left handed, with a purple Chef jacket, a bandana in his hair, and sunglasses on top of his head, it totally set the mood for this incredible and memorable meeting!
35 years old, Chef Whetsels, traveled so much overseas as a young man, including Italy, Ireland, and France. It inspired him for the creations he comes up with daily.
Chef Brian went to College in Asheville and then decided to move back to the Triangle after he graduated.
With many friends in the culinary field, Brian was offered a job at the Federal located in downtown Durham, NC, across from Brightleaf Square.
The executive Chef at the time saw big potential in Brian and gave him the flexibility to grow in the field.
Brian, with a degree in science, was fascinated by food and has become an amazing “self-made” chef, as good as any chef that graduated from the Culinary Institute of America.
Chef Whetsels prepared four of the specials of that day for me to sample.
I was able to see how “in-sinc” he is with his staff and how respected he is as they prepared the specials for me to take photos. The food was plated in a way that is very unusual for bar food, incredibly appetizing and worthy of an upscale restaurant.
I was then invited to sit down and enjoy the food expertly prepared.
As I sat down in the restaurant to try each dish, I was overwhelmed by all the incredible smells!
I decided to start by the saffron truffle risotto, with shiitake mushrooms, Chablis brussels sprouts, roasted red peppers, red onion, pickled radish, parmesan, and shaved winter truffle. “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” started playing…the entire night there was an incredible synergy between the food and the music. The truffle was not overpowering but was definitely there! The risotto had the saffron taste, and was cooked to perfection. The presentation was beautiful.
Next, I moved to the large pan seared scallops, sautéed with shallots, sweet peppers and served in brandy cream sauce. Eric Clapton “Layla” started to play. The dish was elegantly presented with beet juice. The scallops were tender, juicy and melted in my mouth. The dish was unexpectedly spicy, but in a mild way. As Chef Whetsels came to check how I was enjoying the food, I asked about the mild spiciness, he told me that in the sauce, there was a bit of hot sauce. I thought at this point that it would be my favorite special. I was far from correct!
My third dish was the buffalo buttermilk fried cauliflower, with garlic, parsley, buffalo sauce, and blue cheese crumble. This is basically a vegetarian version of buffalo wings. The breading was not thick and somehow fine to the taste, the blue cheese was not overpowering and the Cauliflower still crunchy. In a way, I would refer to this dish as delicate.
Tom Petty “free falling” led the way to my “Piece de Resistance”, the famous chicken liver, shiitake and jasmine tea pate that Chef Whetsels and I have been talking about for the past two months! It was earthy, smooth and not too salty. It was served with an old fashion grain mustard, regular mustard, the color of the pate was amazing, and absolutely perfect. It was served with a local moonshine jelly, and fig and ginger jam. It also came with capers, and Crostini. As I finished my diner it was the Beatles “Let it be”, which finished my night!
Chef suggested that I drink French 75, a drink that was created in Paris around 1915. It became popular around World War I. It is a drink that is compose of gin, Champagne, lemon juice, and sugar. It was a great choice for my four Specials.
Chef Whetsels came back to my table to check on me and to make sure I knew that his kitchen would not have the success it does without his staff. That says a lot about him and how he runs his kitchen! He leads his kitchen with respect for his staff!
The Federal is conveniently located in Durham’s Historic Brightleaf District at 914, W Main St.